The U.S. Navy has a larger submarine force than China. 68 submarines compared to an estimated 66. This makes the U.S. Navy the second largest submarine force in the world, after North Korea. Our estimate for North Korea is 71 subs, although they are barely comparable to the other countries on the list. So China is currently third, and Russia forth with 64. These are the four big players in terms of fleet size. Exact numbers are open to interpretation, but this order is generally agreed.
The next ten years could see a major shift in the rankings however. Based on current plans and projections, the U.S. and China will trade places by 2030.
By then the Chinese Navy, known as the PLAN (People’s liberation army Navy) may have around 10 more submarines than America. This will make the PLAN the largest submarine force in the world, surpassing even North Korea (who anyway are projected to fall).
A report to Congress on the annual long-range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels lays out the U.S. Navy’s submarine force over the next 30 years. The plan is to build more submarines, increasing the rate to three a year for the Virginia Class. This will grow the force from 70 in 2022 to 92 in 2051. However, there will be a dip in numbers before it rises again as older boats will be decommissioned quicker than new ones can be built. The low-point will be between 2025 and 2030. This is also when China’s investment in new construction facilities is expected to pay off.