Since the year 2000, China has made significant advancements in its national defense strength. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has witnessed rapid development, with continuous installations of advanced domestic weapons and equipment. This progress has garnered the attention of foreign military experts, who often offer divergent opinions on China’s military capabilities. Some experts believe that the PLA lacks formidable opponents in the Western Pacific. In contrast, others argue that there is still a significant gap between the PLA and the US military, particularly in maritime operations.

Assessing the Chinese Aircraft Carriers

The question arises: if war were to break out, would the Chinese aircraft carriers succumb to destruction by the US military? Australian military expert Peter Layton, a former officer of the Australian Air Force, recently raised this concern. Layton expressed the view that the two Chinese aircraft carriers, Shandong and Liaoning, would be easily destroyed by their US counterparts due to certain limitations in their combat systems.

Unveiling China's Military: The Hidden Powerhouse Ready to Conquer
Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong.

Layton specifically highlighted the lack of fixed-wing carrier-based early warning aircraft on the Chinese carriers, which hampers their air information support for carrier-based aircraft duels. In contrast, the US Navy’s aircraft carriers possess multiple advanced E-2D early warning aircraft, granting them a significant advantage in this aspect.

Understanding the Comparative Strengths

Layton’s viewpoint holds some truth when considering the performance of the aircraft carriers alone. The 60,000-ton Shandong and Liaoning ships indeed possess certain gaps when compared to the 100,000-ton nuclear-powered aircraft carriers of the US Navy. The US carriers have a larger tonnage, more carrier-based aircraft, and employ advanced catapult systems for improved take-off efficiency.

Unveiling China's Military: The Hidden Powerhouse Ready to Conquer
Ford Aircraft Carrier

Additionally, they benefit from the inclusion of fixed-wing carrier-based early warning aircraft, enabling them to master air situation information better. Acknowledging these shortcomings is crucial as it paves the way for recognizing and addressing areas for improvement.

The Importance of the Combat System

However, Layton’s assertion that the Chinese aircraft carriers would be destroyed solely based on these considerations fails to grasp the broader concept of modern naval warfare. Naval conflicts do not revolve around the confrontation of individual equipment but rather the entire combat system. The Chinese aircraft carriers, Shandong and Liaoning, form only a part of the PLA’s naval combat system, but they are not the sole determining factor in China’s defense strategy. The PLA possesses various efficient combat systems, including its anti-ship ballistic missiles.

Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles: A Formidable Weapon

China’s publicly displayed anti-ship ballistic missiles, such as Dongfeng-21D and Dongfeng-26, play a critical role in its naval defense capabilities. With a range of approximately 1,500 kilometers and over 4,000 kilometers, respectively, these missiles can effectively target US aircraft carriers within striking distance.

Even the shorter-range Dongfeng-21D surpasses the combat radius of the US Navy’s carrier-based aircraft. Consequently, if a conflict were to arise and the US carriers ventured within 4,000 kilometers of the Chinese coastline, they would face the threat of Dongfeng-26. Approaching within 1,500 kilometers would expose them to Dongfeng-21D. The Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles thus pose a formidable challenge to the US aircraft carriers.

Comprehensive Air Combat Capabilities

Another crucial component of the PLA’s naval attack system lies in its advanced fighter jets. As a nation, China has never initiated warfare, particularly in the Eastern Pacific, against the US Navy. In the event of a naval conflict between the Chinese and US forces, it would likely be due to US military intervention in the Taiwan Strait or other reasons.

In terms of fighter jets, the PLA boasts a significant number of land-based heavy fighters, such as the J-20, J-16, and J-11. Even if the US military were to assemble ten aircraft carriers in the Western Pacific (although it lacks such capabilities), their fleet would comprise only around 500 carrier-based fighters. Meanwhile, the PLA’s deployment of third-generation, third-and-a-half-generation, and stealth fighters exceeds 1,000, providing a numerical advantage.

Unveiling China's Military: The Hidden Powerhouse Ready to Conquer

Strengths in Early Warning and Electronic Warfare

Regarding early warning capabilities, while the US aircraft carriers possess fixed-wing carrier-based early warning aircraft, the People’s Liberation Army can effectively deploy its land-based Air Police systems, including Air Police-500, Air Police-200, and Air Police-2000, in combat scenarios.

Additionally, in the field of electronic warfare, the PLA’s Yun-8 electronic warfare aircraft and J-16D electronic warfare aircraft are capable of matching the EA-18G. The PLA also boasts over 100 H-6K bombers and approximately 200 JH-7 fighter-bombers. Supported by the J-20 and other advanced fighters, four H-6K aircraft formations can unleash 24 air-based YJ-12A anti-ship missiles with a terminal penetration speed surpassing Mach 3. This combination poses a significant threat to US Navy aircraft carriers.

The Strength of the Combat System

Even in a direct confrontation between the Chinese Navy’s aircraft carrier and the US Navy’s aircraft carrier, the latter would not achieve an easy victory. Australian expert Peter Layton focused solely on the performance advantages of the US aircraft carrier while disregarding the entire combat system employed by the PLA.

The pressure exerted during the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis prompted the development of the PLA’s robust anti-access/area denial combat system, capable of responding to provocations from any hostile nation. The People’s Liberation Army possesses both the strength to maintain the territorial integrity of the motherland and the determination to defeat any invading enemy. Any country daring to provoke the PLA would pay an exorbitant price that they cannot afford.


China’s national defense strength has made remarkable strides since 2000, bolstering its land, sea, and air forces with advanced weapons and equipment. While foreign military experts often debate China’s military capabilities, it is crucial to understand the comprehensive combat system employed by the PLA. The limitations of Chinese aircraft carriers alone do not dictate the outcome of potential conflicts.

The PLA’s deployment of anti-ship ballistic missiles, advanced fighter jets, early warning systems, electronic warfare capabilities, and other strategic assets form a robust defense apparatus. The Chinese military’s resolve to protect its territorial integrity remains resolute, and any nation challenging the PLA would face grave consequences.