With lax labor laws and rapidly growing shipbuilding capacity, a United States Navy (USN) official said on Tuesday China could out-produce the United States in warship construction—and he might be just right.

USN Secretary Carlos Del Toro spoke at a National Press Club Headliners luncheon in Washington, DC, about the persistent endeavors of Beijing “to violate the maritime sovereignty and economic well-being of other nations,” especially to allies situated around the highly-disputed South China Sea.

Carlos Del Toro
Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro speaking during a ceremony at Mahan Hall in Annapolis, Maryland, February 17, 2023. (Image source: DVIDS)

Because of its rapidly growing naval fleet, China has become more daring and aggressive in its military expansion and activities near the waters it claims to be historically theirs, which, if ignored, could spiral out of control.

They got a larger fleet now so they’re deploying that fleet globally,” Del Toro said, stressing more than ever the urgent need for the modernization and shipbuilding expansion of the US Fleet. “We do need a larger Navy, we do need more ships in the future, more modern ships in the future, in particular, that can meet that threat.”

China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) currently boasts approximately 340 ships and might ramp up its fleet to 60 more in the near future. Meanwhile, the US Navy maintains less than 300 warships, which could further shrink as several old vessels are scheduled for decommissioning, according to a November report by the US Congressional Budget Office. Not to mention the Navy’s plans to replace the retiring fleet with more sophisticated next-generation warships, the expected number of 350 manned ships by 2045 remains a hundred-plus short of China’s projected fleet.

‘Quality’ Couldn’t Always Win Over ‘Quantity’

This urgent call from Del Toro isn’t new, as many experts have previously highlighted the outnumbered fleet issue of the USN.

Yes, our fleet is no doubt more sophisticated, powerful, and capable, with thousands of competent and highly skilled sailors on board, but as history has shown us— particularly in naval warfare, the side with “the larger fleet almost always wins.”

CVN 77
A C-2A Greyhound aircraft takeoffs from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) on February 21, 2023. (Image source: DVIDS)

Retired USN Captain Sam J. Tangredi tackled this in the January issue of the US Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine. He examined 28 naval wars—from the Greco-Persian Wars of 500 BC to the recent Cold War proxy conflicts and interventions—and found only three instances of quality defeating quantity.