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#China's Military Modernization Push Remains a Work in Progress - China trails the #US in terms of nuclear attack submarines, aerial refueling & a sufficient amphibious capacity, & it is unlikely to close the gap in the immediate future. worldview.stratfor.com/article/chinas…
Over the past 20 years, China has made tremendous progress in improving its military capabilities, but its modernization program will remain a work in progress in the decade to come.
China trails the US in terms of nuclear attack submarines, aerial refueling & amphibious capacity. Beijing will continue to develop its capabilities on these fronts, but based on current projections, it will not reach parity with the US by 2030.
There's no question that China has moved at breakneck speed to modernize its military over the past few decades. With the 2nd most powerful navy in the world, China restructured its military, overhauled its command & control, introduced new capabilities & expanded its logistics.
Whether on nuclear-powered submarines, aerial refueling capabilities or the logistical ability to land a sufficient number of forces in Taiwan, Beijing still has plenty of work to do before it can finally attain some of its most cherished goals.
One prime area where China lags behind the US is in nuclear attack submarines. The number of nuclear-powered attack submarines remains inadequate to China's needs. In contrast to its 50 diesel attack submarines, China only operates an estimated 6 nuclear attack submarines.
Moreover, China's existing nuclear-powered submarines, including its latest Type 093 boats, still trail far behind both U.S. and Russian designs in terms of quality, as they are noisier, possess less advanced sensors and deploy propulsion technology that is not as capable.
Nuclear attack subs are vital for 2 reasons. 1st, they offer China the most effective way to project military power far from its shores. While China is building up a very capable surface fleet, it is not yet powerful enough to reliably break through the first island chain.
Due to their stealth factor, submarines offer China the hope of countering U.S. maritime operations far beyond the first island chain, even if Beijing cannot yet dream of exerting control over distant waters.
While diesel-electric submarines are well-suited for warfare within the first island chain, only nuclear submarines combine the stealth and the range necessary to engage in modern, long-distance operations.
Advanced nuclear attack submarines are also critical for China's navy because they provide another powerful means to counter its adversary's own submarines. In fact, submarines remain one of the most effective ways of hunting down other such vessels, particularly in deep waters.
While China has developed a host of capabilities to counter an encroaching enemy surface fleet, it is still developing its own anti-submarine warfare capabilities and, once again, only in a fashion that will be effective in the first island chain.
Another Chinese shortcoming, especially relative to the United States, centers on its aerial refueling capacity. China maintains a partial fleet of around a dozen H-6U and IL-78 tankers, but that is not nearly enough to service an air force the size of China's.
There is another shortcoming related to Taiwan, whose reunification is a critical Chinese goal & for which the China' military plan & train. At this stage, China simply lacks sufficient sealift capacity to transport enough forces to conduct a mass amphibious invasion of Taiwan.
Even with the most optimistic estimates — which includes the increased number of Type 071 amphibious transport docks (six) and landing ships (60) — the Chinese could land no more than four divisions (about 40,000 troops) in a mass invasion scenario.
Although China could bolster these numbers by sending subsequent landing waves, conducting airborne drops or mobilizing commercial shipping, it is unlikely to overcome Taiwanese defenses.
Ultimately, even as China builds up its amphibious capacity by constructing more Type 071 vessels and new Type 075 amphibious assault ships, it is unlikely to have the wherewithal to present a credible invasion threat to Taiwan for at least another decade.
That is not to say that China does not possess other means by which to coerce or even defeat Taiwan, but the chances of a sudden and immediate victory through a massive landing operation appear remote.
Together, these gaps in capability — whether they restrict China's ability to compete with the United States, pursue its primary goal of reunifying with Taiwan or engage in expeditionary operations — will continue to weigh down Beijing's geopolitical ambitions.
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