China might soon shift the world naval balance and unseat the US as the modern master of the seas. The process appears to already be under way, and there is little that Washington can do about stopping it.
Visibly shaken by what it has seen on a photo showing just one of China's military shipyards near Shanghai, the business magazine Forbes recently told its readers an alarming story about the "impressive rate" and "vast scale" of Chinese naval modernization.
The shipyard in question indeed appears to be an impressive sight to behold. There, one can see a total of nine newly constructed destroyers lined along the quay and docked in an inner shipyard basin. By contrast, the entire UK Royal Navy has a total of just six similar-class vessels, Forbes notes.
As if it was not enough, the same shipyard is also building China's newest aircraft carrier – the third in a row. The second one, called the Shandong, was commissioned by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) earlier this week. Designed to carry 36 J-15 fighter jets, it is China's first fully domestically produced carrier.
The one under construction at the Shanghai shipyard is expected to be even bigger and better. In particular, it will have an electromagnetic catapult – just like the US Navy’s newest carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford.
More importantly, this one shipyard is but a sneak peek into China's real capabilities as there are "many yards across China, which are similarly impressive," Forbes warns its readers.
'Good reason' to worry
What might have come as a surprise for Forbes has been occupying the minds of all sorts of analysts for quite some time. The US media and think tanks alike are all united in their concerns about Beijing's growing military power.
In June, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a Washington-based think tank, argued that China's industrial and technological capabilities might help it "beat the Americans at their own game"and get an edge in the new arms race.
Similarly, a whole range of media outlets from The Diplomat to the National Interest spared no efforts telling their readers that China's military modernization poses "a challenge" to the US and gives Washington "good reasons" to worry. Harvard Policy Review made a step further and wondered whether Beijing's strategy could put it on a "path to hegemony," eventually admitting that it mostly depends on "how far China is willing to go."
Meanwhile, the RAND Corporation – a premier US military think tank -- showed in its research that China's rapid military development program has already allowed it to drastically close the gap in power and technology, and even to put the US at a disadvantage in certain scenarios.
The think tanks and the media apparently believe it is high time Washington started worrying about losing its military superiority to the Chinese dragon, which seems to be just spreading its wings. But when it comes to naval power, it might already be too late.
'Unprecedented program Americans cannot even dream of'
Beijing has made its naval forces the cornerstone of its military modernization, analysts tell RT. China is actively pursuing the role of a global military power able to project its force to any corner of the earth, and the US may not have the sheer industrial capacity to compete.
"It is easier for China to increase its fleet numbers as it is the world's biggest shipbuilder. They have immense shipyard capacities, which the US lacks, as its commercial shipbuilding has been thrown into disarray over the past decades," says Vasily Kashin, Far East researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Political scientist and military expert Aleksandr Khramchikhin, deputy head of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, described the Chinese navy development program as "totally unprecedented."
One cannot even count all the ships being built there. The modern Chinese program is unrivaled throughout the world and the Americans cannot even dream of such pace.
Khramchikhin believes that Beijing might be able to rival Washington in terms of the sheer fleet size in a decade or so. He particularly noted that China has been able to build frigates, corvettes and even destroyers by the dozen over the past decades.
"Ten years ago, the US had 15 aircraft carriers and China had none. In ten years, they might become even… They have more shipbuilders than the rest of the world together."