USN, Russian Navy and PLAN: A tale of three navies. The US Navy currently fields 490 ships, including 290 combat vessels.The Chinese Navy fields over 600 vessels, 442 of which are combat vessels.The Russian Navy operates 321 vessels.
The US Navy leads by total tonnage (4.6 million tons) and by the amount of offensive missiles embarked (12.000). The PLN ships are good for 1.8 million tons and 5,200 offensive missiles.The Russian Navy trails behind with a total tonnage of 1.2 million tons and 3,300 offensive missiles.
The USN has been fighting for a while to add new ships to its fleet. In the past 5 years, they added 46 new vessels to it. They plan to reach 355 ships, but the goal is seen as overly ambitious: So far, the new ships procured are replacing obsolete ships being retired instead of adding to the total number. The USA is lacking shipyard output. Said shipyards have (partly) been kept busy with prestige/high tech projects such as the Gerald Ford and Zumwalt’s classes as well as with the LCS program. America also has a maintenance backlog to catch up to: Ships that should be on patrol are instead queuing up in docks, waiting for maintenance, or are sent on patrol with defective/inoperable systems. A picture of all 6 Eastern Coast USN carriers at docks released in October 2019 is a symbol of this. However, the idea of fielding “crewless” remotely operated vessels to the fleet has been floated around as a way of reaching that 355 ship fleet goal!
Russia, meanwhile, has incorporated 25 new ships to its navy in 2019 alone! This figure, however, does not tell the whole story: Out of those 25 ships, the majority were auxiliary vessels. The rest was made up of Corvette sized ships and two submarines. Russia is currently without a carrier, its destroyer fleet is ageing, its cruiser fleet is down to single figures, Yassen submarine production is too slow and the Lada class submarine has a problem with its AIP system which is delaying the whole project.While Russia inducts a fair amount of new ships to its navy, said amount is not enough to keep up with the obsolescence rate of the bulk of its fleet. In real terms, the Russian navy total amount of ships is dwindling. Worse, so is the total tonnage: Russia has been unable to build anything larger than a destroyer since the fall of the Soviet Union. As many of its capital ships are nearing the end of their useful cycle, Moscow’s navy is slowly turning into a brown water one…
As for the Chinese, they are producing ships at an alarming rate: 14 to 18 a year! At some point in 2017, one single shipyard (Jiangnan Changxing) was working on 16 different ships simultaneously! The Chinese not only run their shipyards 24/7 on three shifts per day, they churn out large vessels such as destroyers and cruisers! It’s not all rosey, though: China has churned out so many vessels in the past few years that its navy is now short of experienced crews and captains. The training regimen and doctrine applied to those new platforms and their (new) weapon systems are also lagging behind. Finally, it was recently announced that China was cancelling plans for a 5th and 6th carriers. Those were supposed to be nuclear powered and equipped with EMALS… But China depends on Russia for such type of nuclear powered powerplants and Beijing’s scientists have apparently hit a snag with the electromagnetic catapults… Cost was also a factor, apparently…
All in all, the USN remains the most potent fleet in the world, in terms of logistics, doctrine, capabilities and firepower. But the Chinese Navy is slowly catching up. As for the Russian Navy, while it is being modernised, its size is shrinking and so is the size of its vessels. We are not far from a time when Russia’s naval posture will be mainly defensive, with small but hard-hitting platforms operating along the Russian littoral under the umbrella of Coastal AA and AshM batteries while the offensive role of the fleet will rest on submarines. This would make the Russian Navy one with limited means of projection, but also a tough nut to crack at home.
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