Recently leaked images from the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) have set the alarms ringing over China's incredible shipbuilding pace, dwarfing that of the U.S.
The leaked slide, vouched for by the Navy, compares the shipbuilding capacities of the two superpowers. It's a staggering difference, with China's shipyards handling over 23.2 million tons, a whopping 232 times more than the U.S.'s less than 100,000 tons. This immense capacity has boosted the Chinese navy, forecasting China with around 475 naval vessels by 2035 compared to the U.S.'s projected 305-317.
Brent Sadler, a top naval expert at the Heritage Foundation, painted a sobering picture for Fox News: "The Chinese see this decade as a strategic opportunity. I don't see any near-term bending of the curve where we actually start closing the gap with the Chinese.”
Interestingly, around 70% of China's shipbuilding revenue stems from naval production, while the U.S. relies on it for about 95%. Sadler warns that this disparity isn't just a naval issue. China's dominance in the commercial shipping sector could be a strategic game-changer.
For the past three decades, China has blended its commercial and naval shipbuilding, using shared resources and infrastructure. This contrasts with the U.S., where shipbuilders primarily cater to the federal government, leaving little room for commercial shipping innovations.
Fox News reported:
The slide also shows the "battle force composition" of the countries' two navies side-by-side, which includes "combatant ships, submarines, mine warfare ships, major amphibious ships, and large combat support auxiliary ships." The ONI estimated that China had 355 such naval vessels in 2020 while the U.S. had 296. The disparity is expected to continue to grow every five years until 2035, when China will have an estimated 475 naval ships compared to 305-317 U.S. ships.
Another section of the slide provides an estimate on the percentage each country allocates to naval production in its shipyards, with China garnering roughly 70% of its shipbuilding revenue from naval production, compared to about 95% of American shipbuilding revenue.
The implications stretch beyond military power. The U.S. economy heavily relies on shipping, with much of it connected to the Chinese market. From diaper shipments to critical medical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, any hiccup in the supply chain can ripple across the U.S., with empty store shelves being a stark reminder.
Moreover, in a possible Taiwan-centric showdown, China's shipping muscle could allow it to counter any U.S. sanctions effectively, causing a potential economic upheaval.
"Shipbuilding is a strategic industry, and they realized that a long time ago," Sadler said. "The first part was build up your commercial shipbuilding sector … commercial shipbuilding really was the genesis for all of this massive capacity. It's a lesson that you can't have naval shipbuilding without a commercial shipbuilding sector and the Chinese have been doing that for 30 years."
Recent buzz from the South China Morning Post also hints at China ramping up its military shipbuilding efforts with a new amphibious assault ship in the works. If direct conflict were to arise, China's superior shipbuilding capacity would grant it an upper hand in naval warfare, outproducing, repairing, and replacing its fleet faster than the U.S.
Despite these warning signs, Sadler laments the U.S.'s apparent inertia in enhancing its naval strength. "Every budget for the last three years during the Biden administration … the long-range plans have all laid out a reduction in the size of the Navy when the danger is going in the other direction, it's going up," he remarked.