By: Micaela Burrow, Daily Caller News Foundation
Leaked U.S. Navy intelligence shows a growing gap in the capacity of China and the U.S. to construct naval vessels amid growing concern about Washington’s ability to stand up to Beijing in a fight, according to documents confirmed by The War Zone.
Beijing’s shipbuilders can utilize roughly 23,250,000 million tons of shipbuilding capacity versus less than 100,000 tons available in the U.S.; in other words, China can construct about 232 times more surface ships and submarines in terms of gross tonnage than the U.S., according to the slide, which circulated social media and was confirmed as authentic to The War Zone by the U.S. Navy. Recent reports have dampened confidence in the U.S. ability to construct and maintain a Navy large enough to take on China.
“One shipyard has more capacity than all of our shipyards combined,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro told members of Congress at a hearing in February, CNN reported. “That presents a real threat.”
The Office of Naval Intelligence projected the gap between the size of the U.S. and Chinese navies would grow significantly between 2020 and 2025, the slide shows. At this rate, the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will boast 475 vessels in its “battle forces” while the U.S. will operate as few as 305.
As of 2020, China has 355 battle force ships in its fleet and the U.S. had 296, according to The War Zone.
“China is the world’s leading shipbuilder by a large margin” and “controls ~40% of [the] global commercial shipbuilding market,” the Office of Naval Intelligence materials stated. However, the absolute difference between the U.S. and China is obscured by China’s mixed military-civil shipbuilding model; most PLAN vessels are constructed by commercial companies.
The slide also depicts relative naval production as a percentage of “overall national shipbuilding revenue” estimated at 70% in China and 95% for the U.S., the slide shows.
“The slide was developed by the Office of Naval Intelligence from multiple public sources as part of an overall brief on strategic competition,” a U.S. Navy spokesperson told The War Zone.
“The slide provides context and trends on China’s shipbuilding capacity. It is not intended as a deep-dive into the PRC [People’s Republic of China’s] commercial shipbuilding industry,” the spokesperson added, suggesting the data will change as China continues to pursue naval expansion.
The Navy has consistently requested a fleet smaller than Congress generally wants to authorize as the Navy’s readiness and mission capability decreased since 2017, according to a government watchdog. The service has consistently failed to rectify long-running challenges in keeping ships at congressionally-mandated conditions and has accumulated a maintenance backlog of $1.8 billion, according to the report.
Most recently, newly-disclosed data from the Navy showed that nearly 40% of U.S. attack submarines are non-operational at a given time due to shipyard delays.
Experts worry that the deficit in submarine readiness could lead to “a period of weakened conventional deterrence against potential adversaries such as China,” the report noted.
The U.S. Navy did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.