In-Depth Analysis Of The Chinese Navy Reality

Hello Defence Lovers, On the occasion of the Chinese Navy Day on 23rd April let’s conduct a comprehensive analysis of the capabilities of the Chinese Navy. The Chinese Navy is the largest in the world as of today. However, in terms of its capabilities, it is far inferior to its western counterparts.

The PLA(N) operates some pretty old ships, leading to a technology gap between its adversaries. Most of its equipment is reverse engineered, leading to a considerable drop in performance. Earlier this year, Germany prohibited the sale of German submarine engines to China for Thailand’s procurement of S26T submarines over fears of reverse engineering. However, it is in the process of modernizing its Navy, which will take another 15-20 years. An ever-increasing budget and rapid modernization make China a formidable adversary, and we should remain cautious of it.

It mainly aims to deploy its Navy in the South China Sea to protect its interests and expand its territories. China seeks to rival the naval capabilities of the USA. Hence it is increasing its fleet at a rapid rate.

Sub Standard Export Equipment

In the past, China has exported some pretty low-quality equipment to its customer nations. A comprehensive analysis is conducted below:


According to Reports [Source], China had provided Bangladesh with two obsolete 1970s era Ming class Type 035G submarines at $100 mn each in 2017 (recommissioned as BNS Nobojatra and BNS Joyjatra). These were initially used as training vessels for PLAN and had outlived their utility. The condition of these submarines was so bad that reportedly they were lying unserviceable for a considerable amount of time. In April 2003, the PLA Navy Ming Class submarine 361 suffered a major mechanical failure in the Yellow Sea, killing all of its 70 crew members.

The recently acquired Chinese 053H3 Frigates (BNS Umar Farooq and BNS Abu Ubaidah) arrived at Mongla Port Bangladesh in 2020 after experiencing multiple defects en route. These include a non-functioning navigation radar and gun system. The Chinese have asked for additional payment to repair these boats. 

The Bangladesh Air Force, which purchased three K-8 aircraft from China National Aero Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC), has been facing trouble over the “armament problem of hung ordnance”. The CATIC also defaulted in supplying engines for PT-6 aircraft for the air force and could only deliver three out of the ten promised.

China also supplied the short-range air defence system FM-90 to Bangladesh, but its system component CV-102 was found defective due to a sudden power surge, causing damage to klystron sparking and filament, according to those in the know. China Vanguard Industry Company Limited supplied the component. 

With regard to naval platforms built by China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Co Limited, major issues are poor metallurgy, lack of spare part support, machinery failure, defective radars and inferior armaments. 


According to Reports [Source], Tatmadaw’s senior leadership is disappointed over the quality of Chinese equipment supplied to them but is helpless due to a lack of sources of equipment. However, they have started diversifying their imports, in the process looking towards India. 

China is also supplying the militant groups (Arakan Army) fighting the Tatmadaw with high-quality, sophisticated weapons (including SAMs), which is also a source of annoyance to them.

“Tayokeset tayet-soke” (“Chinese machine, broken in a day”) is a well known and often used phrase in Myanmar.

Also Read, Chinese Aircraft Engines Are Actually “Chinese”


Six China-made Y12e and MA60 aircraft, already rejected by Bangladesh, were purchased by Nepal for its national airlines but now are lying useless as they are not suited for Nepal’s terrain and spare parts are not available. The Chinese have blatantly refused to consider Nepal’s requests to replace them.


Pakistan has suffered tremendously under China’s so-called ‘ironclad friendship’ as it has become the dumping ground for all types of obsolete, discarded and sub-standard equipment.

The refurbished Chinese F22P frigates for Pak Navy are riddled with various technical malfunctions. In September 2018, the Pakistani Navy requested China to undertake the Mid-Life Upgrade/overhaul of these ships. However, China seeing no profit, turned a blind eye, forcing the Pakistani Navy to turn to Turkey.

The Pakistan Army had procured nine systems of LY-80 LOMADS from China. It had signed two separate contracts for the purchase of AD Systems and the IBIS-150 radar. The delivery of all nine systems was completed in 2019. Out of nine, three of the systems are non-functional due to faults in the guidance, search, and firing vehicles. The Pakistani Army has conveyed to M/s Aerospace Long-March International Co Ltd (ALIT) that these need to be addressed on priority.

The recently acquired UAVs from china are currently grounded due to significant failure in the GPS and the SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar). Also, significant nitrogen leakage in the EO/IR cameras mounted on the UAVs was seen.

The Chinese supplied HQ-9B air defence system failed to track and neutralise the Bramhos missile that was misfired by the Indian Air Force. This reinforces the poor functionality of Chinese systems in the export market.


When Kenya bought the Norinco VN-4 armoured personnel carrier, China’s sales representative refused to sit inside the vehicle during trials. Kenya went ahead with the purchase anyway in 2016. Since then, dozens of Kenyan personnel have been killed in these vehicles. The VN-4, aka the “Rhinoceros”, is manufactured by the state-owned Chongqing Tiema Industries.


Algeria lost 3 of its VH-4B UCAVs in accidents. The accidents were later attributed to the issue of loss of control during landing at altitudes below 200m. 


It purchased six CH-4B UCAVs in 2016. After three years, the kingdom had put them up for disposal with their sale advertised in Jun 2019.

The International Angle

The QUAD group was raised to counter the alarming economic rise of China. China has become a frontrunner in AI publications and patents. This suggests that China could also potentially become a leader in AI-empowered businesses, such as speech and image recognition. This is alarming as such technologies have wide military applications. China files more AI patents than any other country consistently. The number of Chinese AI firms reached 1,189 in March 2019, second only to the US, with more than 2,000 active AI firms.

It has also made astonishing progress in the field of hypersonic flight. It continues to launch cyberattacks against other countries and tries to steal classified and unclassified data. It is also investing heavily in space assets, and it is constantly working on making them more secure. All these factors make China a formidable enemy.

Also Read, Chinese Submarines An “Underwater Orchestra”

The Indian Angle

The Indian Navy has been making rapid strides towards modernisation and self-reliance. They are the only wing of the armed forces that are actually utilizing their budget to its complete potential. They are one of the most experienced navies in the world and are doing a great job at adapting and updating their arsenal to counter any future threats.

Keep in mind that China is highly secretive and that most of the information it publishes is unreliable. The capabilities of the PLA(N) as painted by the CCP should be taken with a pinch of salt. This includes neither overestimating nor underestimating the capabilities of the PLA(N). However, in lieu of national security, we must remain vigilant and be ready for any circumstances. China is expected to deploy a carrier battle group in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). We must prepare for this eventuality. The Indian Navy has already started taking steps in this regard. We must also upgrade our ASW capabilities to thwart the plans of the Chinese submarines.

India needs to update its cyber capabilities. It’s high time we brought a shift in our perception of war and we equipped ourselves for the battlefield of tomorrow. Many steps have been taken, but they pale in comparison to what is required.


Kanak Agarwal

Kanak Agarwal is a third year Aeronautical Engineering student at MIT Manipal, Karnataka, India. An avid reader and a military aviation enthusiast.

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