China's navy cruises into Pacific ascendancy

Discussion in 'China' started by ajtr, Apr 24, 2010.

  1. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    China's navy cruises into Pacific ascendancy
    By Peter J Brown

    In mid-April, two Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (MSDF) destroyers, the Choukai and Suzunami, unexpectedly encountered several Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warships, including a pair of submarines and eight destroyers, approximately 140 kilometers west-southwest of Okinawa near the Nansei (Ryukyu) Islands.

    The Chinese warships were heading out of the East China Sea and into the Western Pacific. They passed north of Miyako Island - the northernmost island in the Nansei group - through the

    Miyako Strait and then proceeded to head southeast.

    They were there to practice anti-submarine warfare, underway refueling and helicopter flight training, to name a few of the procedures.

    During one PLAN helicopter flight, the Suzunami was subjected to a close encounter which prompted a formal protest by Japan's SDF Joint Staff Office. The presence of the PLAN subs also sparked a protest.

    Japan's Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi was upset that so many Chinese warships had sailed so near to Japan on their way to the western Pacific Ocean without any prior notification by China. [1]

    Kitazawa said nothing about whether or not any of the five new Chinese earth observation/military reconnaissance satellites launched since late 2009 were engaged in assisting the PLAN warships during their unannounced passage.

    Gary Li, a PLA specialist at the London-based Institute of International and Strategic Studies (IISS) said the PLAN's actions in this instance were very significant. Li describes the incident as unprecedented and an attempt by China to "send a very clear message to the region that it should be prepared to see a China unafraid to really test its reach and move into new areas". [2]

    Drew Thompson, director of China Studies at The Nixon Center in Washington, DC, did not agree with Li, adding that the recent PLAN "blue water" activity off Japan did not prove that the PLAN has entered a disturbing new phase in its development.

    "Calling this a new phase is overly dramatic. The PLA has been working for a long time on expanding their ability to operate farther from their shores and conduct joint operations closely coordinating air, land and sea platforms," said Thompson. "These PLAN exercises certainly demonstrate expanded capabilities, or at least the willingness to exercise the hardware they have more vigorously, but it should be viewed as part of a continuum rather than a departure from a previous period of development."

    Certainly, it is not getting any easier for the US and the rest of Asia to determine where exactly China is heading and what China's exact intentions are.

    "Reports of a transit by the PLAN forces close to Okinawa only remind US allies in Japan and throughout the Asia-Pacific, that China's future course is unclear," said Abraham Denmark, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC. "It is important to retain a military hedge against the possibility that China could become confrontational and militarily aggressive."

    The PLAN has long been charged with two primary tasks: defending the mainland and operations related to a Taiwan contingency, which would primarily involve anti-access/area denial operations in the Western Pacific, according to Denmark.

    This exercise may be further evidence of the growing emphasis placed by the PLAN on protecting vital so-called "Sea Lines of Communication" (SLOCs). Chinese President Hu Jintao has referred to this role as one of the PLA's "new historic missions".

    "China's leaders have slowly come to recognize that its continued economic development relies on access to foreign resources and markets. For example, 80% of China's oil imports flow through the Strait of Malacca, yet the PLAN currently does not have the capability to protect Chinese vessels far from home," said Denmark. "This has made China's military leaders begin to examine a third role for the PLAN, which would entail SLOC protection."

    Richard Fisher, senior fellow at the Washington, DC-based International Assessment and Strategy Center, described this recent East China Sea exercise by the PLAN as representing "a significant step in reaping the past decade's investments".

    "The PLAN deployed at least two small multi-platform surface action groups to include submarines, long-range anti-air defenses, logistic support ships, supported by new long-range ground based and space-based surveillance, and reportedly, significant ground-based air," said Fisher. "This was a multi-fleet operation that reportedly involved Airborne Warning and Control System [AWACS] aircraft and fighters, which if true would constitute a major expansion of the PLAN's operational capabilities."

    v For Taiwan and for any US forces that may have to break a future PLAN blockade, the message is clear.

    "In a decade, there could be two carriers, larger destroyers, and, even ship- and submarine-launched anti-ship ballistic missiles [ASBMs] in the mix. Absent a sustained investment by the US and Japan in space defenses, naval energy weapons to counter ASBMs, plus their own, and, fifth and sixth generation fighters for air force and naval deployment, they will lose maritime dominance in the Western Pacific by the mid-2020s," said Fisher. "These investments are less likely as long as Washington and Tokyo remain transfixed by the mirage that Beijing will become their 'pivotal partner' in meeting future challenges, they simply want to ignore the fact that it is China which is the challenge."

    As for the role of space assets and space defense-related issues, they have slipped under the radar in large part thus far. What is unfolding overhead in support of any or all of the PLAN operations may be the most significant aspect of this recent Chinese war gaming in the Western Pacific. In fact, absent evidence to the contrary, the presence aloft of so many new Chinese earth observation/military reconnaissance satellites is what sets this exercise apart from all previous PLAN exercises.

    According to Associate Professor Andrew Erickson with the China Maritime Studies Institute at the US Naval War College, China is rapidly improving its increasingly diverse network of space-based Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) sensors in support of military land, sea and air operations.

    "Synthetic Aperture Radar [SAR] in particular offers wide coverage at sufficient resolution. Maritime surveillance, prioritized at the national level under China's 863 State High-Technology Development Plan, is receiving significant funding," said Erickson.

    Over the past decade, China has launched two Haiyang (Ocean) maritime observation satellites, and a third is now scheduled for launch this year after its original launch date in 2009 was scratched. In addition, China's has recently expanded its fleet of Yaogan satellites, which China describes as merely engaging in civilian earth observation missions. However, many experts identify them as dual role, military reconnaissance satellites. The Yaogans carry a mix of optical as well as radar-based sensors.

    "Of particular note are the five Yaogan satellites that China has launched in the past five months. Yaogan 7 and 8 were launched in December. Yaogan 7 is optical and Yaogan 8 appears to be equipped with SAR," said Erickson. "Yaogan 9A, 9B, and 9C, launched in March, share the same orbit, suggesting that they have a special mission to perform."

    Interestingly, when the official announcement was made by China's Xinhua news agency of the pending Yaogan 9 launch - a day before it took place as is the custom whenever secret Chinese military payloads in particular are ready to go up - Xinhua reported that a large satellite, and not a payload consisting of three smaller formation-flying satellites, was sitting on the launch pad. [3]

    All of these Chinese satellites, together with China's development of ground-based over-the-horizon radars, suggests that China is developing unprecedented capability to monitor and conduct operations along its disputed maritime periphery, according to Erickson. He marks this exercise as proof positive that the PLAN is now finally and fully prepared to meet strategic goals originally articulated by Admiral Liu Huaqing, who headed the PLAN from 1982 to 1988. In effect, PLAN is now starting to conduct "far seas operations" beyond the so-called "First Island Chain".

    US Navy Admiral Robert Willard commands the US Pacific Fleet. His testimony in March that China is "developing and testing" an ASBM only adds to the sense that China is fast assembling a far more formidable naval force.

    "Such PLAN operations at increasing range from China's shores are ever-better-supported by improving satellite-based communications, positioning, and surveillance capabilities," said Erickson. "Unprecedented and innovative use of satellite communications has been a major highlight of China's counter-piracy deployments in the Gulf of Aden; there the PLAN apparently relied solely on indigenous capabilities for the first time. While US and most Western [as well as the former Soviet] navies have engaged in related operations for years, this was a new and important step for the PLAN."

    In advance of the PLAN's December 2008 deployment to the Gulf of Aden, PLAN commander, Admiral Wu Shengli, and PLAN political commissar, Admiral Liu Xiaojiang, demanded "comprehensive coverage, all-time linkage, and full-course support".

    The PLAN's newspaper, People's Navy, reported that the PLAN Political Department worked with the PLAN Headquarters Communications Department and the State Information Center to improve a platform that:

    ntegrates a land base information collection and transmission system, an information integration and distribution system, a shore-to-ship information wireless transmission system, and an information terminal receiving system. They also sent technical personnel to Sanya [on Hainan Island] to conduct satellite receiving equipment debugging, system installation, and personnel training on the three combat ships that were about to set sail for escort operations. Moreover, they specially developed and improved a total of seven information processing software programs, which can send text, images, as well as video and audio documents quickly.

    Satellite-based navigation and positioning via China's Beidou-1, currently a 4-satellite constellation, has very limited range and can support ship-positioning on China's immediate maritime periphery, but not further afield.

    "It could not be used [during a missile attack] for short-range precision guidance because it is too slow, allowing for insufficient information [flow] during a missile's relatively short flight time," said Erickson "In part to support broader operations, China is deploying a 35-satellite Beidou-2/Compass system that would provide much improved accuracy, with regional navigation and communications coverage anticipated by 2011 and global navigation coverage by 2015-20. Three Compass satellites have been launched thus far."

    While the PLAN is gradually increasing focus on areas beyond mainland China, this is part of a two-level process - Erickson refers to a "tale of two navies" - with nearby priorities still at the core.

    "Preparing to defend China's territorial and maritime claims by asymmetric means is likely to remain the PLAN's focus for the foreseeable future, even as it pursues secondarily lower intensity missions further afield," said Erickson "China's capabilities are clearly growing, but its naval intentions - at least beyond asserting control over its claimed territorial waters, to include Taiwan - are somewhat unclear."

    Fisher finds no lack of clarity, however, when it comes to the steady progression in the core Chinese military strategy including its military space strategy which reinforces the PLAN's operational prowess at every turn.

    "The PLAN's first requirement for regional and global projection is dominance of the Low Earth Orbit theater of operations. We know that this is now a very high priority for the PLA, not just to enable an array of PLAN weapons," said Fisher. "The PLAN will eventually field anti-satellite weapons, other space combat capabilities, and, submarine and ship - launched ASBMs."

    Fisher identifies submarines as the second major PLAN program of global importance.

    "These will be much quieter, and improved versions may allow the beginning of independent deep water ballistic missile-equipped submarine operations."

    A third program is the construction of as many as four aircraft carrier and large amphibious ship battle groups by the late 2020s.

    "There is also a fourth essential program, the PLA's ability to sell world class naval and other military technologies, which together with commercial envelopment, forms core strategic relationships that will yield maritime alliances," Fisher said.

    Denmark cautions that whatever conclusions are drawn, there is no question that PLAN still has a long way to go before it can be classified as a formidable "blue water" naval force.

    "The PLAN currently does not have the experience required to operate for extended periods of time far from home, nor does it have sufficient numbers of ships to be able to operate in the Indian Ocean without significantly diminishing its ability to respond to threats closer to home," said Denmark. "Moreover, the PLA is traditionally dominated by leaders with experience in ground operations, and significant doctrinal and conceptual changes will have to take place within the PLA before the PLAN would be able to protect SLOCs."

    Despite the Gulf of Aden missions to date, SLOC protection, specifically in the Indian Ocean, remains very challenging for the PLAN.

    "China has no military bases in the Indian Ocean, and its ships conducting counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia are primarily supported by oilers from China. If the PLAN develops the capability to establish a regular presence in the Indian Ocean, such a force would either be dependent on logistical ships transiting back and forth through Indonesia or on a network of regional support bases or ports," said Denmark. "While much has been written about Chinese involvement in port development in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Burma [Myanmar], these ports appear to be commercial only. Still, it is conceivable that the PLAN could use commercial ports in the Indian Ocean, especially in friendly countries, for logistical support during peacetime."

    Whether the five new Chinese satellites launched since late 2009 may have been tasked to assist the PLAN warships during their April exercise far from the shores of China remains open to question. However, there is no denying that those same satellites were still stuck on the ground the last time any prior large-scale PLAN exercises took place in the same vicinity.
  3. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Chinese submarines, destroyers spotted in high seas near Okinawa

    TOKYO —
    Two Chinese submarines and eight destroyers were spotted by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force on Saturday in the high seas between the main island of Okinawa and Miyako Island in the southernmost prefecture, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said Tuesday.

    The defense chief said the Chinese submarines and destroyers were navigating southeastward, adding that Tokyo has never before confirmed such a large number of Chinese vessels near Japan.

    The Joint Staff Office of the Self-Defense Forces later said that Chinese submarines were seen on the sea surface near Japan for the first time and that Beijing had not notified Tokyo of the fleet navigation in the East China Sea toward the Pacific Ocean.

    Two MSDF destroyers Choukai and Suzunami spotted the fleet of Chinese combatant craft in the sea near the Nansei Islands about 140 kilometers west-southwest of the Okinawa main island around 8 p.m. Saturday. Those Chinese vessels conducted refueling on the sea on Sunday, according to the office.

    Flight training of helicopters aboard some of the Chinese destroyers was conducted between last Wednesday and Friday in the East China Sea and one of the choppers flew some 90 meters away from the MSDF destroyer Suzunami, the office said.

    Japan has made an inquiry to China through diplomatic channels about the submarine navigation and lodged a protest over the helicopter’s proximate flight, which it deems dangerous, according to the office.

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

    Feb 16, 2009
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    when US has no more bases in Japan then China may ascend to something but right now the Pacific fleet would decimate the Chinese navy.
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2010
  5. bengalraider

    bengalraider DFI Technocrat Stars and Ambassadors

    Oct 10, 2009
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    in a fast food joint next to the imperial shipyard
    Actually LF i believe if push came to shove the Japanese maritime self defense force packs a big enough wallop for the PLAN, backed up by land based F-15's operating out of japan the Japanese could potentially sink anything the PLAN sent their way.
    Though i must admit it's times like these when i think just maybe japan should return to the times when the IJN ruled the eastern pacific.
    LETHALFORCE likes this.
  6. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Chinese Military Seeks to Extend Its Naval Power

    YALONG BAY, China — The Chinese military is seeking to project naval power well beyond the Chinese coast, from the oil ports of the Middle East to the shipping lanes of the Pacific, where the United States Navy has long reigned as the dominant force, military officials and analysts say.

    China’s Oil Imports
    China calls the new strategy “far sea defense,” and the speed with which it is building long-range capabilities has surprised foreign military officials.

    The strategy is a sharp break from the traditional, narrower doctrine of preparing for war over the self-governing island of Taiwan or defending the Chinese coast. Now, Chinese admirals say they want warships to escort commercial vessels that are crucial to the country’s economy, from as far as the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca, in Southeast Asia, and to help secure Chinese interests in the resource-rich South and East China Seas.

    In late March, two Chinese warships docked in Abu Dhabi, the first time the modern Chinese Navy made a port visit in the Middle East.

    The overall plan reflects China’s growing sense of self-confidence and increasing willingness to assert its interests abroad. China’s naval ambitions are being felt, too, in recent muscle flexing with the United States: in March, Chinese officials told senior American officials privately that China would brook no foreign interference in its territorial issues in the South China Sea, said a senior American official involved in China policy.

    The naval expansion will not make China a serious rival to American naval hegemony in the near future, and there are few indications that China has aggressive intentions toward the United States or other countries.

    But China, now the world’s leading exporter and a giant buyer of oil and other natural resources, is also no longer content to trust the security of sea lanes to the Americans, and its definition of its own core interests has expanded along with its economic clout.

    In late March, Adm. Robert F. Willard, the leader of the United States Pacific Command, said in Congressional testimony that recent Chinese military developments were “pretty dramatic.” China has tested long-range ballistic missiles that could be used against aircraft carriers, he said. After years of denials, Chinese officials have confirmed that they intend to deploy an aircraft carrier group within a few years.

    China is also developing a sophisticated submarine fleet that could try to prevent foreign naval vessels from entering its strategic waters if a conflict erupted in the region, said Admiral Willard and military analysts.

    “Of particular concern is that elements of China’s military modernization appear designed to challenge our freedom of action in the region,” the admiral said.

    Yalong Bay, on the southern coast of Hainan island in the South China Sea, is the site of five-star beach resorts just west of a new underground submarine base. The base allows submarines to reach deep water within 20 minutes and roam the South China Sea, which has some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and areas rich in oil and natural gas that are the focus of territorial disputes between China and other Asian nations.

    That has caused concern not only among American commanders, but also among officials in Southeast Asian nations, which have been quietly acquiring more submarines, missiles and other weapons. “Regional officials have been surprised,” said Huang Jing, a scholar of the Chinese military at the National University of Singapore. “We were in a blinded situation. We thought the Chinese military was 20 years behind us, but we suddenly realized China is catching up.”

    China is also pressing the United States to heed its claims in the region. In March, Chinese officials told two visiting senior Obama administration officials, Jeffrey A. Bader and James B. Steinberg, that China would not tolerate any interference in the South China Sea, now part of China’s “core interest” of sovereignty, said an American official involved in China policy. It was the first time the Chinese labeled the South China Sea a core interest, on par with Taiwan and Tibet, the official said.

    Another element of the Chinese Navy’s new strategy is to extend its operational reach beyond the South China Sea and the Philippines to what is known as the “second island chain” — rocks and atolls out in the Pacific, the official said. That zone significantly overlaps the United States Navy’s area of supremacy.

    Japan is anxious, too. Its defense minister, Toshimi Kitazawa, said in mid-April that two Chinese submarines and eight destroyers were spotted on April 10 heading between two Japanese islands en route to the Pacific, the first time such a large Chinese flotilla had been seen so close to Japan. When two Japanese destroyers began following the Chinese ships, a Chinese helicopter flew within 300 feet of one of the destroyers, the Japanese Defense Ministry said. Since December 2008, China has maintained three ships in the Gulf of Aden to contribute to international antipiracy patrols, the first deployment of the Chinese Navy beyond the Pacific. The mission allows China to improve its navy’s long-range capabilities, analysts say.

    China’s Oil Imports
    A 2009 Pentagon report estimated Chinese naval forces at 260 vessels, including 75 “principal combatants” — major warships — and more than 60 submarines. The report noted the building of an aircraft carrier, and said China “continues to show interest” in acquiring carrier-borne jet fighters from Russia. The United States Navy has 286 battle-force ships and 3,700 naval aircraft, though ship for ship the American Navy is considered qualitatively superior to the Chinese Navy.

    The Pentagon does not classify China as an enemy force. But partly in reaction to China’s growth, the United States has recently transferred submarines from the Atlantic to the Pacific so that most of its nuclear-powered attack submarines are now in the Pacific, said Bernard D. Cole, a former American naval officer and a professor at the National War College in Washington.

    The United States has also begun rotating three to four submarines on deployments out of Guam, reviving a practice that had ended with the cold war, Mr. Cole said.

    American vessels now frequently survey the submarine base at Hainan island, and that activity leads to occasional friction with Chinese ships. A survey mission last year by an American naval ship, the Impeccable, resulted in what Pentagon officials said was harassment by Chinese fishing vessels; the Chinese government said it had the right to block surveillance in those waters because they are an “exclusive economic zone” of China.

    The United States and China have clashing definitions of such zones, defined by a United Nations convention as waters within 200 nautical miles of a coast. The United States says international law allows a coastal country to retain only special commercial rights in the zones, while China contends the country can control virtually any activity within them.

    Military leaders here maintain that the Chinese Navy is purely a self-defense force. But the definition of self-defense has expanded to encompass broad maritime and economic interests, two Chinese admirals contended in March.

    “With our naval strategy changing now, we are going from coastal defense to far sea defense,” Rear Adm. Zhang Huachen, deputy commander of the East Sea Fleet, said in an interview with Xinhua, the state news agency.

    “With the expansion of the country’s economic interests, the navy wants to better protect the country’s transportation routes and the safety of our major sea lanes,” he added. “In order to achieve this, the Chinese Navy needs to develop along the lines of bigger vessels and with more comprehensive capabilities.”

    The navy gets more than one-third of the overall Chinese military budget, “reflecting the priority Beijing currently places on the navy as an instrument of national security,” Mr. Cole said. China’s official military budget for 2010 is $78 billion, but the Pentagon says China spends much more than that amount. Last year, the Pentagon estimated total Chinese military spending at $105 billion to $150 billion, still much less than what the United States spends on defense. For comparison, the Obama administration proposed $548.9 billion as the Pentagon’s base operating budget for next year.

    The Chinese Navy’s most impressive growth has been in its submarine fleet, said Mr. Huang, the scholar in Singapore. It recently built at least two Jin-class submarines, the first regularly active ones in the fleet with ballistic missile capabilities, and two more are under construction. Two Shang-class nuclear-powered attack submarines recently entered service.

    Countries in the region have responded with their own acquisitions, said Carlyle A. Thayer, a professor at the Australian Defense Force Academy. In December, Vietnam signed an arms deal with Russia that included six Kilo-class submarines, which would give Vietnam the most formidable submarine fleet in Southeast Asia. Last year, Malaysia took delivery of its first submarine, one of two ordered from France, and Singapore began operating one of two Archer-class submarines bought from Sweden.

    Last fall, during a speech in Washington, Lee Kuan Yew, the former Singaporean leader, reflected widespread anxieties when he noted China’s naval rise and urged the United States to maintain its regional presence. “U.S. core interest requires that it remains the superior power on the Pacific,” he said. “To give up this position would diminish America’s role throughout the world.”
    LETHALFORCE likes this.
  7. threadbrowser

    threadbrowser Regular Member

    Mar 29, 2009
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    If the PLAN gets capable enough we will probably see a big increase in the JMSDF sub strength perhaps even a few nuke boats. I wonder if the japanese government will become concerned enough to contemplate the first japanese CBGs since WW II

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