The United States plans to expand its naval fleet to over 500 ships by 2045 amid a strategic rivalry with China, described in a recent report as “both a current and long-term challenge ”. The US Navy said the expansion, as part of America’s strategy of “integrated deterrence,” was critical to maintaining maritime dominance. Chinese military experts, however, believe the US plans face serious financial constraints. They also said the Chinese navy still lags behind in terms of fleet tonnage and technology, and the size of its fleet should not be used as an excuse to justify an expansion of the cash-strapped US Navy. According to a USNI News report on Tuesday, the latest US naval plan calls for a fleet of 373 manned ships by 2045, supported by about 150 unmanned surface and underwater vehicles. Navigation Plan 2022 released here: https://t.co/uQpNbm8Vqg pic.twitter.com/oWBqDKwmDy — USNavyCNO (@USNavyCNO) July 26, 2022 China’s rapid expansion and modernisation of its military “hold US naval forces at risk,” says the latest Navigation Plan (NAVPLAN) report from Admiral Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations. “China is building all-domain military capabilities to challenge the United States. Its aggressive behaviour is threatening US interests, undermining alliances and partnerships, and undercutting the rules-based system,” Gilday writes. “China designs its force for one purpose: to reshape the security environment to its advantage by denying the US military access to the western Pacific and beyond.” “This is a critical decade. As global challengers rise to threaten US interests, America must maintain maritime dominance,” asserts the report. This comes as China-US relations continue to worsen, with tensions rising in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, especially over a possible visit to Taiwan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Last week, the Chinese military slammed Washington for its frequent “provocations” after guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold sailed through the Taiwan Strait. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has the largest navy in the world by number of warships, and the launch of a third aircraft carrier last month takes it closer to its goal of building a blue-water navy with at least six aircraft carrier battle groups by 2035. A US Defence Department report released last November said China has the world’s biggest maritime force, with an inventory of about 355 vessels, expected to increase to 420 in about four years’ time, and to 460 by the year 2030. However, most of the fleet is made up of smaller classes of ships, Chinese analysts noted, saying the growth of Chinese maritime forces should not be used as an excuse for the US Navy to seek more funding. “Our overall numbers may exceed them, but the tonnage is smaller. [The US] has a huge number of aircraft carriers and amphibious ships,” retired Beijing-based naval analyst Li Jie said. “The US has deliberately hyped up the number of Chinese vessels, and is selling the China threat theory to the world and its own people,” Li said. China’s most advanced assault ship enters service Gilday’s report has the US Navy calling for 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile nuclear submarines, 12 aircraft carriers, 96 large and 56 small surface ships, 31 big-deck amphibious and 18 light amphibious warships, about 150 unmanned surface and undersea vessels, and more. It also wants about 1,300 carrier-based aircraft and some 900 anti-submarine and anti-ship aircraft. Faced with the high maintenance costs of soon-to-be-retired carriers and other large warships, the US Navy “has nothing to persuade Congress [with], and that leads it to using the China [threat theory] as an excuse,” Li noted. Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank in Beijing, agreed that the US is under pressure due to strategic rival China’s military modernisation, but said its latest plans are unlikely to be achieved because money is short. “They wasted too much money in the past, and it is difficult for them to achieve [this goal],” Zhou said. Shanghai-based military analyst Ni Lexiong drew attention to the US focus on unmanned vessels, saying it is in line with the development of future military technologies that emphasise “unmanned, stealthy and intelligent” combat. Ni also noted that China still lags behind the US in terms of key naval forces technologies, and know-how restrictions imposed by the US remain a challenge for the Chinese military in its pursuit of modernisation.