In Wednesday remarks Secretary of Defense Mark Esper touted complete US naval superiority over China, stating firmly, "I want to make clear that China cannot match the United States when it comes to naval power."
Esper addressed a RAND Corporation event and underscored the major communist power which the US Navy is increasingly butting up against in the South China Sea is ultimately too far behind to close the gap in terms of maritime capability, despite it leading the world in simple ship numbers. He reminded his audience that numbers aren't everything.
"Even if we stopped building new ships, it would take the [People's Republic of China] years to close the gap when it comes to our capability on the high seas," Esper said. "Ship numbers are important, but they don't tell the whole story."
"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," Esper added.
He further emphasized that the Department of Defense remains resolved in maintaining that clear dominance, as there are navy plans to expand its overall number of ships, saying "We must increase funding for shipbuilding and the readiness that sustains a larger force."
On the future of unmanned military vehicles, he said: "This fleet will need to be made up of more and smaller surface combatants; optionally manned, unmanned, and autonomous surface and subsurface vehicles; unmanned carrier-based aircraft of all types; a larger and more capable submarine force; and a modern strategic deterrent."
His comments raised eyebrows also given it's widely acknowledged that China has the largest navy in the world, as the Pentagon's recently issued annual China Military Power report underscored.
"China has already achieved parity with — or even exceeded — the United States in several military modernization areas," the Pentagon report stated. "The PRC has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines including over 130 major surface combatants," the report said.
The report said that China is "the top ship-producing nation in the world by tonnage."
But considering aircraft carriers alone, for example, it's easy to visualize America's superiority.
The US Navy has 21 total aircraft carriers, among these 11 large nuclear-powered fleet carriers, while China has a mere two with a third on the way.