China Has 6 ‘Highly Capable Vessels’ in Middle East: Military Expert

  • The Chinese navy has deployed “six highly capable vessels” to the Middle East, says RAND’s Bryden Spurling.
  • He told Newsweek that the ships “reflect the rapid growth in the sophistication” of China’s navy.
  • But he added that China still “has a long way to go” before it can match the US. 

China’s navy has deployed “six highly capable vessels” to the Middle East, a feat that “a lot of countries in the world could not manage,” says Bryden Spurling, a researcher with the RAND think tank.

“Though they’ve never been tested in conflict, these ships have significant capability and reflect the rapid growth in the sophistication of the Chinese Navy,” Spurling, a former civil servant with Australia’s Department of Defence, told Newsweek in a report published on Wednesday.

Six Chinese warships were stationed in the Middle East last week, per reports from China Military Online, a Chinese state-linked military news outlet.

“Six highly capable vessels in the theater at this time is a deployment that a lot of countries in the world could not manage,” Spurling said.

While Spurling acknowledged the significance of China’s deployment, he told Newsweek that China still “has a long way to go before it can match the reach of the U.S. military.”

“The network of bases and partnerships the US has around the world, and its familiarity with operating globally, is still leagues ahead of what China can do. And it’s arguable whether China will be able to match it in future, even if they would like to do so,” he said.

The US has ramped up its military presence in the Middle East amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. On October 7, Hamas launched attacks on Israel by land, air, and sea, killing hundreds of people in Israeli towns, military bases, and at a music festival.

The US has since deployed two carrier strike groups to the region. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Saturday that these deployments “further increase our force posture and strengthen our capabilities and ability to respond to a range of contingencies.” 

Bolstering its naval capabilities has long been a goal for China. In July, a leaked US Navy briefing slide reported that China’s shipbuilding capacity is currently 232 times greater than the US. A US Navy spokesperson confirmed the leaked material’s authenticity to Fox News Digital in an article published on September 14. 

According to a US Naval Institute report from 2021, China has the world’s largest navy, with more than 355 vessels in its fleet. The Pentagon’s 2022 annual report on China’s military development forecasted China’s fleet to reach 400 ships by 2025 and 440 ships by 2030.

Nonetheless, the US Navy is still widely considered to be the world’s most powerful. This is despite it having a smaller fleet of 296 ships, per a 2021 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Then US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said at a RAND Corporation event in 2020 that ship numbers do not reflect the US Navy’s true capabilities. 

“They do not address the types of ships and the capabilities of the vessels being counted; the skill of the crews that operate them; the prowess of the officers that lead them; or the ways in which we fight and sustain them,” said Esper. 

Representatives for China’s national defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider sent outside regular business hours.

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