China recently added three new vessels to its growing navy on the same day. The move was a first for the service and one that highlights its expanding ability to fight at sea.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) commissioned the Jin-class (Type 094A) ballistic-missile submarine Changzheng-18, Renhai-class (Type 055) destroyer Dalian, and Yushen-class (Type 075) amphibious assault ship Hainan on Friday.
During the joint ceremony, the new warships were added to the South Sea Fleet, which is responsible for operations around Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea. Chinese leader Xi Jinping was in attendance at the commissioning.
The Changzheng-18 is a part of the submarine class that serves as China’s sea-based nuclear deterrent, the Dalian is one of a new class of advanced destroyers built in part to escort China’s expanding carrier fleet, and the Hainan is the first of a new class of warship that can carry aircraft, watercraft, and Marine infantry for amphibious assault operations.
China’s state-affiliated Global Times, citing military analysts, said that the three new warships deliver important “nuke retaliation, [South] China Sea security, [and] island seizing” capabilities.
Chinese state-run media CGTN also highlighted the potential roles of the Changzheng-18 and Hainan in “nuclear retaliation” and “taking islands” in its reporting on the new warships.
Following the unusual commissioning ceremony, Chinese media, in coordination with the Chinese military, released video footage of the destroyer and amphibious assault ship in action during military exercises. Global Times characterized the display as a “powerful deterrent” message to the US, Taiwan, and others.
US military leaders have called China a “pacing” challenge, and concerns have been raised repeatedly about the increased capacity and capability of the Chinese navy.
China “has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines including over 130 major surface combatants,” the Pentagon assessed in its 2020 China Military Power report.
The Pentagon also reported that “China is the top ship-producing nation in the world by tonnage,” adding that the country is currently working hard to increase “its shipbuilding capacity and capability for all naval classes.”
Last week’s unusual commissioning “is a sign of the pretty impressive advances that the PLAN has had in the past few years,” Timothy Heath, senior international defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, told Insider.
“The Chinese are launching ships at an impressive rate, and not only is it an impressive rate of production, but the capabilities of the ships are impressive too,” he said.
Heath said that the simultaneous entry of three warships into service is a “good symbol of some broader trends,” explaining that it shows a “Chinese navy that is confident, clearly well resourced, and that is producing high-quality, advanced warships at a very rapid rate.”
Toward the end of the Trump administration, the Pentagon unveiled a plan calling for a 500-ship navy by 2045 to counter China at sea. The plan called for significant numbers of manned and unmanned naval assets.
“The United States must be ready to deter conflict, and if necessary, fight and win at sea,” former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in September, adding that the US needs a “more lethal, survivable, adaptable, sustainable, modern, and larger force than we have seen in many years.”
It is not yet clear how the Biden administration intends to move forward on efforts to maintain the US military overmatch at sea, but Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has made it clear that China is a priority for the Department of Defense.
Austin explained in a message to the force in early March that “the Department will prioritize China as our number one pacing challenge and develop the right operational concepts, capabilities, and plans to bolster deterrence and maintain our competitive advantage.”