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According to this CNN article China either already has, or is on course to have a larger number of 'battle force ships' than the USA.

Is this true?

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    Welcome to Skeptics.SE! Do you have any particular reason to doubt the claim? – F1Krazy Mar 7 at 7:58
  • The US is widely known for spending more money on its military than the next 10 countries combined so anybody doing something bigger militarily is a surprise. – chicks Mar 10 at 18:14
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According to the US Navy, yes.

The CNN article references Advantage at Sea: Prevailing with Integrated All-Domain Naval Power and Dr. Andrew Erickson Professor of Strategy in the U.S. Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) who writes in The Chinese Naval Shipbuilding Bookshelf...

Sometime between 2015 and 2020, China’s Navy crossed a critical threshold: it fielded more battle force ships than the U.S. Navy, making it the world’s latest navy numerically. Today, at around 360 hulls, it exceeds its American rival by more than sixty warships.

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Dr. Erickson's article is full of additional information and context.

Whether the Chinese have confirmed this is another matter, but as their main adversary it's the US Navy's job to know these things.

Is This Number Meaningful?

As the article notes, number of hulls is not a great measure. Types can also be deceiving: a Chinese "destroyer" is larger than a US "cruiser"; the US no longer operates "frigates" nor "corvettes", they're "littoral combat ships", etc. Tonnage and capabilities would provide a more accurate picture. For example, the table above lumps together "Aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers" hiding the 11 US nuclear carriers to China's 2 conventional ones.

If you want details, GlobalSecurity.org has a complete breakdown of the ships in the Chinese navy. The numbers do differ a bit from the table above.

Still, the growth of the Chinese navy, in particular dabbling with aircraft carriers, indicates they will be able to project their power out further into the world.

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  • If you match up the ships by tonnage and purpose, China's big advantage is in light combatants (frigate-size and smaller), with a five-to-one advantage in blue-water ships and a 30-to-1 advantage in patrol boats and the like. China has a small numeric advantage in attack submarines, though most of them have conventional propulsion, not nuclear. In every other class, the US has the advantage of numbers. – Mark Mar 11 at 3:15
  • @Mark: Please provide references. – Oddthinking Mar 14 at 12:27
  • @Oddthinking, comparison of the lists at globalsecurity.org/military/world/china/navy.htm and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… (itself sourced to nvr.navy.mil). – Mark Mar 15 at 20:27

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