The Chinese Coast Guard to Build World’s Largest Offshore Patrol Vessel–and More

This is a post I prepared for CIMSEC. It reiterates material we’ve already discussed, but also adds some additional thoughts.

File:JapanCoastGuard Shikishima.jpg
Japanese Coast Guard Cutter Shikishima, this class of two are currently the largest offshore patrol vessels in the world. Photo from Japanese Wikipedia; ja:ファイル:JapanCoastGuard Shikishima.jpg
Since its formation in 2013 by the consolidation of four previously independent agencies into a single entity (notably excluding the SAR agency), the Chinese Coast Guard has been experiencing phenomenal growth and has become China’s instrument of choice in its “small stick diplomacy” push to claim most of both the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
They commissioned two 4,000 ton cutters in January alone. It appears the growth will continue. The Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Company has just been awarded a contract for four new 5,000 ton cutters, and China Ship-building Industry Corporation has been contracted to build two additional surveillance ships, one of 10,000 tons and another of 4,000-tons.
The US Coast Guard’s largest patrol cutters are the 418 foot, 4,500 ton full load Bertholf Class National Security Cutters. The illustration that accompanies the story of the four new 5,000 ton cutters shows a ship, in many ways similar to the National Security Cutter. It appears there is a medium caliber gun on the bow. (This would be a significant but not unexpected change for the Chinese Coast Guard.) There is a frame over what appears to be a stern ramp not unlike that on the NSC. The hull shape also appears similar to the NSC.
The “10,000 ton” cutter is likely to look similar to the Japanese Coast Guard’s two 492 foot, 9,350 full load, Shikishima class high endurance helicopter carrying cutters seen in the illustration above, but they may actually be much larger. Comparing their new ship to the Japanese cutters, the displacement of the Japanese ships was quoted as 6,500 tons, their light displacement. If the 10,000 tons quoted for the Chinese cutter is also light displacement, it could approach 15,000 tons full load. As reported here the new Chinese OPV will have a 76mm gun, two 30mm, facilities to support two Z-8 helicopters, and a top speed of 25 knots.
The size of the helicopters is notable. The Z-8 is a large, three engine, 13,000 kg helicopter based on the Aérospatiale SA 321 Super Frelon. The transport version of this helicopter can transport 38 fully equipped troops. The same airframe is also used for SAR, ASW, and vertical replenishment.
Undoubtedly the new vessels tonnage would give it an advantage in any sort of “shoving match” with vessels of other coast guards, but why so large?
The original justification for the Japanese cutters was to escort plutonium shipments between Japan and Europe, but the second cutter was built long after that operation was suspended, so clearly the Japanese saw a different justification for the second ship of the class.
Even so the Chinese ship may prove larger still. Other than prestige, why so large? China’s EEZ is small (877,019 sq km) compared to that of the US (11,351,000 sq km) or even Japan’s (4,479,358 sq km). Even adding the EEZ of Taiwan and other areas claimed by China, but disputed by others (3,000,000 sq km), the total is only 3,877,019 sq km, and patrolling it does not require the long transits involved in patrolling the US or even the Japanese EEZ.
10,000 tons is about the size of a WWII attack transport, and with its potential to embark two large helicopters China’s new large cutter could certainly exceeds the capability of WWII destroyer and destroyer escort based fast transports (APD). Using its helicopters and boats it could quickly land at least an infantry company as could many of the smaller cutters. Chinese Coast Guard ships are already a common sight throughout the contested areas of the South China and East China Seas. Will Asia wake up some morning to learn there have been Chinese garrisons landed throughout the contested areas by the now all too familiar Chinese Coast Guard Cutters.

19 thoughts on “The Chinese Coast Guard to Build World’s Largest Offshore Patrol Vessel–and More

  1. This is just a naval expansion under the color of a semi-civilian agency. These are the units they need to bully their way around in the Paracels and Senkaku Islets. These types of vessels will handle a quasi-war and appear less provocative than a missile destroyer, carrier, or SSNs. As usual smart strategy from China, but this isn’t a CG, but in name only…

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  3. Pictures of the ship under construction here:

    Notably, “At last week’s maritime work conference, Liu, the SOA head, named the major goals set for this year, including fostering the “combat capability” of the CCG, which was established last July…He also vowed to strengthen the Chinese maritime law enforcement force’s regular presence at sea and deepen the CCG and military’s coordination in their maritime operations.”

  4. The worlds largest seagoing…tripwire. Just enough firepower to sink or damage smaller vessels, including most Japanese cutters, and yet has that happy little inoffensive racing stripe. Apparently China has remembered that a Coast Guard does have military roles unlike some in the US.
    Maybe the NSC needs a little more oomph itself, like maybe the very small Hellfire VLS that may go on the LCS or better yet Chuck’s idea of torpedoes.

  5. You can see a photo of one of these ships here. As I have said before, these could make very effective attack transports. Could move a useful number of troops and put them ashore fairly quickly. They could even do a little shore bombardment.

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  9. From “The Diplomat;”

    “Unlike actual surface naval combat, in hostile encounters between coast guards the size of the ship plays a large role, particularly in the South China Sea, which has seen numerous instances of ‘ramming contests’ with two vessels often engaging in games of chicken trying to scare the other vessel off,” I noted.

    Given the ship’s size, it is clear that China will be deploying its new “monster” cutter to maintain the upper hand in such encounters. The CCG has commissioned over a hundred vessels since 2012 and currently consists of 220-230 vessels of all types.

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