China now has more submarine vessels than the United States. According to top U.S. Navy Admiral Joseph Mulloy, China has also simultaneously increased the geographic reach of the submarines and the length of time they stay at sea.
The United States Department of Defense’s last annual report to Congress put China’s submarine count at 60, although current estimates suggest that the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s submarine program has since grown. Compared to the U.S. Navy’s 71 vessels and the Russian Navy’s 63, China now has around 80 vessels (including experimental vessels), and continues to develop more. Mulloy told a congressional subcommittee though, that China’s submarine quality is still “inferior.”
While China’s submarines have been regularly patrolling the Philippine Sea, they are now frequently sailing through Southeast Asia and into the Indian Ocean. Deployment times have also increased with China now keeping vessels at sea for as long as 95 days.
China has both nuclear-powered submarines and diesel-powered vessels, and the East Asian nation continues to develop and test ballistic-missile submarines. According to U.S. naval officers, China has yet to deploy vessels carrying armed nuclear missiles, although it has launched several tests. According to the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, these submarine-launched missiles, if fired from East Asia, will have a range that encompases Hawaii and Alaska.
In the past few years, China has made no effort to hide its desire to increase its military footprint and capability in the region. Besides a growing submarine program, Beijing has also invested in other vessels and technology including anti-ship missiles, larger aircraft carriers and fast attack craft.
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