30 May 2017

“China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress”—Newest Edition of Ronald O’Rourke’s Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report

Happy to see my colleagues Peter Dutton, Ryan Martinson, and Conor Kennedy cited so extensively in this report!

Ronald O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 12 May 2017), RL33153.


China is building a modern and regionally powerful navy with a limited but growing capability for conducting operations beyond China’s near-seas region. The question of how the United States should respond to China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, is a key issue in U.S. defense planning. 

Observers of Chinese and U.S. military forces view China’s improving naval capabilities as posing a potential challenge in the Western Pacific to the U.S. Navy’s ability to achieve and maintain control of blue-water ocean areas in wartime—the first such challenge the U.S. Navy has faced since the end of the Cold War. More broadly, these observers view China’s naval capabilities as a key element of an emerging broader Chinese military challenge to the long- standing status of the United States as the leading military power in the Western Pacific. 

China’s naval modernization effort encompasses a broad array of platform and weapon acquisition programs, including anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), submarines, surface ships, aircraft, and supporting C4ISR (command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) systems. China’s naval modernization effort also includes improvements in maintenance and logistics, doctrine, personnel quality, education and training, and exercises. 

Observers believe China’s naval modernization effort is oriented toward developing capabilities for doing the following: addressing the situation with Taiwan militarily, if need be; asserting or defending China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea; enforcing China’s view that it has the right to regulate foreign military activities in its 200-mile maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ); defending China’s commercial sea lines of communication (SLOCs); displacing U.S. influence in the Western Pacific; and asserting China’s status as a leading regional power and major world power. Consistent with these goals, observers believe China wants its military to be capable of acting as an anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) force—a force that can deter U.S. intervention in a conflict in China’s near-seas region over Taiwan or some other issue, or failing that, delay the arrival or reduce the effectiveness of intervening U.S. forces. Additional missions for China’s navy include conducting maritime security (including anti-piracy) operations, evacuating Chinese nationals from foreign countries when necessary, and conducting humanitarian assistance/disaster response (HA/DR) operations.

Potential oversight issues for Congress include the following: 

  • whether the U.S. Navy in coming years will be large enough and capable enough to adequately counter improved Chinese maritime A2/AD forces while also adequately performing other missions around the world;
  • whether the Navy’s plans for developing and procuring long-range carrier-based aircraft and long-range ship- and aircraft-launched weapons are appropriate;
  • whether the Navy can effectively counter Chinese ASBMs and submarines; and 
  • whether the Navy, in response to China’s maritime A2/AD capabilities, should shift over time to a more distributed fleet architecture.


Click below for the full text of publications selected publications cited in O’Rourke’s latest CRS report:

Andrew S. Erickson, “Steaming Ahead, Course Uncertain: China’s Military Shipbuilding Industry,” The National Interest, 19 May 2016.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Naval Shipbuilding Sets Sail,” The National Interest, 8 February 2017.

Andrew S. Erickson, “How Good Are They? The Latest Insights Into China’s Military Tech,” War on the Rocks, 18 May 2016.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Clear Strengths, Fuzzy Weaknesses In China’s Massive Military Build-Up,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 9 May 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Raining Down: Assessing the Emergent ASBM Threat,” Jane’s Navy International, 16 March 2016.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Showtime: China Reveals Two ‘Carrier-Killer’ Missiles,” The National Interest, 3 September 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson and Gabriel B. Collins, “The Calm Before the Storm: China’s About to Find Out How Hard it is to Run an Aircraft Carrier,” Foreign Policy, 26 September 2012.

Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “The ‘Flying Shark’ Prepares to Roam the Seas: Strategic Pros and Cons of China’s Aircraft Carrier Program,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国) 35 (18 May 2011).

Andrew S. Erickson, Abraham M. Denmark, and Gabriel Collins, “Beijing’s ‘Starter Carrier’ and Future Steps: Alternatives and Implications,” Naval War College Review 65.1 (Winter 2012): 14-54.

Andrew S. Erickson, “A Work in Progress: China’s Development of Carrier Strike,” Jane’s Navy International, 19 June 2014.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Satellites Support Growing PLA Maritime Monitoring and Targeting Capabilities,” Jamestown China Brief 11.3 (10 February 2011): 13-19.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Eyes in the Sky,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 136.4 (April 2010): 36-41.

Andrew S. Erickson and Capt. Christopher P. Carlson, USNR (Ret.), “Sustained Support: the PLAN Evolves its Expeditionary Logistics Strategy,” Jane’s Navy International, 9 March 2016.