The United States cannot keep up with China's warship construction pace.
The United States cannot keep up with China's warship construction pace.

On Wednesday, the chief of the United States Navy stated that the Chinese Navy has substantial advantages over its American competitor, including a larger fleet and higher shipbuilding capacity, as Beijing strives to spread its might across the oceans.

U.S. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro made these claims in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, DC: “China systematically strives to violate the maritime sovereignty and economic well-being of other nations, including our allies in the China Sea.” 

“Now they have a bigger fleet, so they are deploying that fleet globally,” he said, adding that Washington must upgrade the US fleet in response.

“We need a bigger Navy, we need more ships in the future, more modern ships in the future, in particular, that can deal with that threat,” he said.

The current tally of ships in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy is 340. However, the Secretary of the Navy has stated that the number could rise to 400 in the near future.

Currently, there are fewer than 300 ships in the United States fleet. The US Navy 2022 Navigation Strategy, published last summer, states that the Military aims to have 350 manned ships by 2045, which is far fewer than the number predicted for the Chinese fleet.

Nevertheless, according to a report from the US Congressional Budget Office in November, the size of the US fleet is anticipated to decrease as older boats are decommissioned before that target is attained.

A PLA Navy Great Wall 236 submarine takes part in a naval parade on April 23, 2019.
A PLA Navy Great Wall 236 submarine takes part in a naval parade on April 23, 2019.

Del Toro’s claims

Del Toro said Wednesday that US shipyards could not match the Chinese output. As with fleet size, it’s all about numbers.

“They have 13 shipyards; in some cases, their shipyard has more capacity – one shipyard has more capacity than all our shipyards put together. That poses a real threat,” he stated.

Although Del Toro failed to provide specifics, both Chinese and Western sources agree that China is home to at least six large shipyards and two smaller ones dedicated to constructing military vessels.

In October, Brent Sadler of the Center for National Defense reported that seven US shipyards build large, draughty vessels for the Navy and Coast Guard.

But no matter how many shipyards there are, they need employees, and del Toro claims China has a numerical advantage in this respect, mainly because it is unburdened by the constraints, rules, and economic pressures that affect labor in the United States.

Analysts warn of intensifying arms race in Asia (November 2021)
Analysts warn of intensifying arms race in Asia (November 2021)

One of the big problems in the United States is finding a skilled workforce. “When the unemployment rate is less than 4%, it is very difficult to find workers for a restaurant or for a shipyard,” said the head of the Navy. He also asserted that China could do things that the United States could not.

“They are a communist country; they have no rules to live by,” he said. “They use slave labor to build their ships, it’s not the way we should do business, but that’s what we’re up against, so it presents a significant advantage,” he said. CNN has contacted the Chinese Foreign Ministry for its reaction to del Toro’s accusations.

The US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey refuels at sea with the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson on October 11, 2018.
The US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey refueled at sea with the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson on October 11, 2018.

Advantages for the US

Analysts have doubted that Beijing would resort to such a method, and Del Toro has provided no evidence to substantiate the slave labor claim.

“China has a large labor pool, and it would not make sense to use slave labor in a high-tech sector vital to its national security,” said Blake Herzinger, a non-resident researcher and defense policy expert in Indo-Pacific from the American Enterprise Institute.

Remarks from the Navy chief, according to Herzinger, are indicative of a trend in which the United States is paying too little attention to some problems and too much to others, to the detriment of its capabilities.

“This seems sadly commonplace, for the Navy leadership to throw stones at real or imagined flaws in Chinese shipbuilding, instead of taking into account the US failures over two decades to conceptualize, design and build ships for their own navy,” Herzinger said.

According to a November report from the US Congressional Research Service, the US Navy has addressed the gap with China, including allocating more of its fleet to the Pacific and using newer, more capable ships on duty. In the pacific. And del Toro said the US retains a big advantage over China: “our people.”

“In many ways, our shipbuilders are better shipbuilders, which is why we have a more modern, more capable, and deadlier Navy than they are,” he said. US military personnel are also doing better, del Toro said.

“They train their people to fight; we train our people to think,” he said.

“There is a fundamental difference in the way we train our Marines and our Sailors and our Soldiers and our Airmen and our Space Force in this country that gives us an inherent advantage over anything the Chinese can come up with.”