China, Ready to Pick the Low Hanging Fruit?

Taiwan Coast Guard cutter KAOSHIUNG

BairdMaritime has a column suggesting China is training for an  “…invasion of Pratas Reef (Dongsha), a Taiwanese-garrisoned outcrop, situated some 170 nautical miles southeast of Hong Kong.” Possibly “…followed by an attack upon another Taiwan-manned islet, namely Taiping (Itu Abu), the largest and most habitable of the Spratly islands in the SCS. The two Taiwanese outposts, which are manned by Taiwan Coast Guard Administration (TCGA), retain some strategic value, particularly as both feature airfields, but the main advantage to be reaped by the PRC by their seizure would probably be political.”

That they feel the US will not intervene because, “the US Congress’ Taiwan Relations Act requires the US to come to the aid of Taipei in the event of a PRC attack on Formosa, or the Pescadores (Penghu), situated in the Taiwan Straits, but excludes Taiwan’s more distant territories.” 

Certainly any such attack, if successful, and unopposed by the US would seriously undermine American credibility as an ally, regardless of the specifics of US formal obligations to Taiwan.

“Launch of 600-ton catamaran-hull patrol vessel Anping CG601 for Taiwanese Coast Guard” –Navy Recognition

New patrol vessel Anping CG601 for the Taiwanese Coast Guard launched. (Picture source Jong Shyn Shipbuilding Group)

NavyRecognition reports that,

“…on April 28, 2020, the first 600-ton catamaran-hull patrol vessel, Anping (CG601) for the Taiwanese Coast Guard was launched in the southern port city of Kaohsiung.”

This is the first of twelve ordered for the Taiwanese Coast Guard. The design is based on the Tuo Chiang-class stealth missile corvette in service with the Republic of China Navy.

An earlier post, from 2014, talked about these cutters and included a video of the Navy version of the design underway.

I am a bit surprised this program is not moving more rapidly. According to Wikipedia, work did not begin on these cutters until 2019. It appears the Taiwanese Navy still only has one of the 12 Corvettes planned. They may have had some problems.

Model of Tuo Chiang-class corvette armed with 76mm gun, Palanx CIWS, 8 × Hsiung Feng II and 8 × Hsiung Feng III, and 2 × Mark 32 triple torpedo launchers . Photo credit: Solomon203

“Guangzhou Wenchong Ship Factory to build new 10,000-ton cutter for China Maritime Safety Administration” –NavyRecognition

Drawing of future 10,000-ton cutter for China Maritime Safety Administration. (Picture source China Blog)

NavyRecognition is reporting that China is building an over 10,000 ton cutter for their Maritime Safety Administration (MSA). MSA is the only one of the five Chinese Maritime coast guard like organizations that was not incorporated into the China Coast Guard.

“According to information published by the Guangdong Maritime Safety Administration, the new cutter will have a total length of 165 meters, a width of 20.6 meters, a depth of 9.5 meters, and a displacement of 10,700 tons.”

That is 541 feet in length, 67.6 feet of beam, and 31.2 feet of draft. The displacement is probably light displacement rather than full load.

The China MSA appears less militant than the China Coast Guard. No weapons are evident, but that does not mean they don’t have a plan of how to use the ship in wartime. Like some of the large China Coast Guard cutters, this looks like it could be used as an attack transport.

“Islands of ire: The South Korea–Japan dispute” –Baird Maritime

The Liancourt Rocks, known as Dokdo (or Tokto, 독도/獨島, literally “solitary island”) in Korean, as Takeshima (竹島, Takeshima, literally “bamboo island”) in Japanese., Author: 머찐만두 at Naver

Why two nations that should be allies cannot get along.

Baird Maritime has a short feature on the background of the dispute between Korea (both North and South) and Japan over 0.072415 square miles of rocks in the Sea of Japan. Also known as the Liancourt Rocks, they are Dokdo to the Koreans and Takeshima to the Japanese. The post also talks about other sources of bad feeling.

The US would very much like to see more defense cooperation between the two, but history and pride keep getting in the way. As an indicator of how strongly the South Koreans feel about this, they named their largest warship Dakdo after the island group.

Japan should take their case to the international tribunal and then accept the result.

Are PATFORSWA WPBs Being Equipped With a Target Designation System?

Crewmembers aboard the U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Adak (WPB-1333) raise the American flag. Adak is assigned to CTF 55, supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Frank Iannazzo-Simmons

NavyRecognition has some more details about the multi-unit exercise that prompted recent Iranian harassment of Navy and Coast Guard vessels, “U.S. Navy Surface Forces and Army Helicopters Conduct Live Fire Exercise in North Arabian Gulf.”

The ships involved in the event included Navy Expeditionary Landing Base ship USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3), coastal patrol ships USS Sirocco (PC 6), USS Whirlwind (PC 11), USS Firebolt (PC 10 ), USS Tempest (PC 2), Coast Guard patrol boats USCGC Adak (WPB 1333), USCGC Maui (WPB 1304), USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332), and guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60).

In addition, there were Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters operating from USS Lewis B. Puller. What I found particularly interesting was:

On the ships involved without organic aircraft control capabilities, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) was embarked to communicate directly with the aircraft and provide targeting information.

Does this mean that the Island class WPBs are getting a form of data link to allow them to pass targeting information to the Army attack helicopters? Other DOD aircraft?

Will the Webber class WPCs expected to go to PATFORSWA going to get these?

“IRGCN Vessels Conduct Unsafe, Unprofessional Interaction with U.S. Naval Forces in Arabian Gulf” –US CENTCOM

NORTH ARABIAN GULF (April 15, 2020) Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels conducted unsafe and unprofessional actions against U.S. Military ships by crossing the ships’ bows and sterns at close range while operating in international waters of the North Arabian Gulf. U.S. forces are conducting joint interoperability operations in support of maritime security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo)

The following is a news release from US Fifth Fleet Public Affairs: (I bet one of those long range acoustic projectors could be really unpleasant if someone shouted over one of them at you at close range. Maybe every cutter should have them.)

On April 15, eleven Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels repeatedly conducted dangerous and harassing approaches of the USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3), USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60), USS Firebolt (PC 10), USS Sirocco (PC 6), USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332) and USCGC Maui (WPB 1304) while the U.S. vessels were conducting joint integration operations with U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack helicopters in the international waters of the North Arabian Gulf.

The IRGCN vessels repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the U.S. vessels at extremely close range and high speeds, including multiple crossings of the Puller with a 50 yard closest point of approach (CPA) and within 10 yards of Maui’s bow.

The U.S. crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio, five short blasts from the ships’ horns and long range acoustic noise maker devices, but received no response from the IRGCN.

After approximately one hour, the IRGCN vessels responded to the bridge-to-bridge radio queries, then maneuvered away from the U.S. ships and opened distance between them.

The IRGCN’s dangerous and provocative actions increased the risk of miscalculation and collision, were not in accordance with the internationally recognized Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) “rules of the road” or internationally recognized maritime customs, and were not in accordance with the obligation under international law to act with due regard for the safety of other vessels in the area.

The U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Marines and Army have been conducting joint interoperability operations in the North Arabian Gulf since late March.

U.S. naval forces continue to remain vigilant and are trained to act in a professional manner, while our commanding officers retain the inherent right to act in self-defense.

NORTH ARABIAN GULF (April 15, 2020) Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels conducted unsafe and unprofessional actions against U.S. Military ships by crossing the ships’ bows and sterns at close range while operating in international waters of the North Arabian Gulf. The expeditionary mobile sea base USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3) is conducting joint interoperability operations in support of maritime security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo)

“Cooperative Maritime Law Enforcement and Overfishing in the South China Sea” –CIMSEC

Republic of Korea Coast Guard vessel #3006 in company with U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Boutwell (WHEC-719) during the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum in August 2007. This forum was created to increase international maritime safety and security in the Northern Pacific Ocean and its borders. The Boutwell worked with the Korean coast guard while on their way to Yokosuka, Japan. The Japanese coast guard is one of the six nations involved in the forum.

CIMSEC brings us a discussion of the possibility of cooperative fisheries enforcement in the South China Sea to stop both overfishing and Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported (IUU) fishing and perhaps bring China into a more mutually beneficial relationship with her neighbors.

Earlier, I had a suggestion about how we might form an instrument of cooperative enforcement by forming a “Combined Maritime Security Task Force Pacific,” a law enforcement alliance rather than a military one.

Probably before that could be fully realized, the various nations with competing claims to the waters of the South China Sea, need to take their claims to the UN’s International Tribunal. The more nations use it, the more pressure on China to participate. If, they do not present a cases before the international their claims will be weakened.