April 21, 2009 / 7:38 AM / 10 years ago

FACTBOX: China's naval modernization

(Reuters) - China this week marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of its navy with a parade in the seas off the northern port city of Qingdao.

Here are some facts about China’s navy and its modernization plans.

* China believes that as its international political and economic stature grows, it must have a navy capable of protecting its expanding interests. Much of the People’s Liberation Army’s growing budget has gone to building or buying new warships, submarines and other technology.

* Beijing recently signaled that growing ambition by sending warships to help an international effort against pirates menacing commercial ships off the Somali coast.

* Taiwan remains the focus of Chinese military concerns and its naval strategy.

* The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) has about 290,000 personnel, many working on aged vessels. The government has pushed a vigorous modernization, developing vessels at home or buying them from abroad, especially from Russia.

* China in recent years has bought eight Russian-made non-nuclear submarines, following four bought in the 1990s. It has also built or is planning its own new submarines, including nuclear-powered ones based on upgraded designs, to replenish its mostly aged fleet of nearly 60. Many of the newer submarines will be based on Hainan, an island-province near the recent confrontation between a U.S. navy ship and Chinese craft.

* The PLA Navy has about 72 combat ships and has been upgrading destroyers and frigates so they can range further and strike harder.

* Chinese naval commanders have been increasingly vocal about their hopes to acquire a working aircraft carrier and an official announcement could come in the next few months, Chinese newspapers have said. China bought the Varyag, a semi-finished Russian aircraft carrier, a few years ago. Analysts have been divided on whether the PLA Navy wants to put the Varyag into service or use it as a template and training deck to develop its own craft. Foreign defense publications have reported China has been negotiating with Russia to buy fighter planes capable of carrier landings.

* The last time China’s navy engaged in battle was in 1996, when three of its ships had a brief shootout with a Philippine gunboat near a group of disputed islands in the South China Sea. Its other military actions have also tended to be near China’s coast, and generally small-scale.

* Even with new vessels and technology, China has some way to catch up in mastering joint operations with other forces. And its mixture of old and new, home-built and foreign-made craft is unwieldy.

(Sources: Reuters; here; U.S. Department of Defense, "Military Power of the People's Republic of China 2007"; Congressional Research Service, "China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities")

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Bill Tarrant

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