In recent years, China’s People’s Liberation Army has undergone a massive modernization effort that has sought to not only expand their military presence around the world, but also to serve as the military backbone behind a broader diplomatic initiative. China wants to dethrone the United States as the most prominent super power on the globe, and in many respects, it’s well on its way. The Belt and Road initiative, for instance, will ensure China’s role as a central trading hub for the planet, while the loans it continues to offer to developing nations in the pursuit of that initiative continues to grant them leverage over national governments. China’s first military installation beyond its own borders was established in Djibouti, Africa last year, with others likely in the coming  years.

China’s Navy has expanded alongside its ambition, and thanks to a booming economy and massive labor force, an argument could easily be made that China represents the most pressing threat to American diplomatic and military dominance that the nation has faced since the end of the Cold War. But China’s rapid military expansion remains largely symbolic as a global competitor, and despite boasting the largest active duty military force on the globe, their troops currently pose little threat to the United States or its allies. While they continue to work to develop a truly blue-water Navy, there remains some significant limitations to their ability to field a ground presence in a conflict elsewhere in the world.

They lack a means of transporting their troops.

China’s active duty military stands at more than 2.6 million troops, with another half million reservists and and 619,000 more citizens fit for duty if the nation were to enact a military draft. Those numbers are not inconsequential regardless of the military technology at the disposable of any potential opponents, particularly because of China’s often successful efforts to steal and incorporate foreign technology into their own defensive enterprise. However, that massive troop count (the U.S. has only 1.3 million active duty personnel, as a comparison) comes with challenges all its own. Namely: a way to transport them.