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.

“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.

 

For the Warship Geeks in the Group–China’s Type 055

Image Analysis of photo of Chinese shipyard showing multiple warships at various stages of … [+]H I Sutton, with permission from @Loongnaval

The US Naval War College Digital Commons has made available an evaluation of China’s new 12,000 ton cruiser, the type 055, and its place in the PLAN based primarily on Chinese sources. It looks to be balanced and talks about both the ships and the systems on board.

They are building a lot of these.

 

China’s Warship Construction. More Surface Warships Launched in 2019 than the USN has Commissioned in Five Years

Chinese warships launched in 2019.

Earlier I noted that the Chinese seemed to be building an incredible number of warships. Found this chart of surface warships launched in 2019. I have been unable to find the original source, the style appears to be from http://www.military-today.com/, but in any case, it appears to be correct.

16 Type 056 corvettes, 8 Type 052D destroyers, two type 055 destroyer/cruisers, a Type 071 LPD, and a Type 075 LHD. 28 surface warships total. It is possible some of the Type 056s are intended for export or for the China Coast Guard.

By way of comparison, over the last five years, 2015 through 2019, as nearly as I can tell, the US Navy commissioned 15 Littoral Combat Ships, five Burke class destroyers, two Zumwalt class destroyers, two LPDs, no big deck amphibs (LHD or LHA),  and one aircraft carrier. That is 25 surface warships total. The conclusion is a bit startling.

The Chinese launched more surface warships in 2019, than the US Navy commissioned in the last five years. 

The 19th and 20th Type 052D destroyers are launched in Dalian on May 10 (Image: 香港 文匯 網)

The LCS program is coming to an end, but there are still 16 to be commissioned. Generally the program has funded four per year, The FFG(X) program is expected to replace the LCS program in the Navy budget with one FFG funded in the first year followed by two frigates in each year to a total of 20. Combined with the LCS this should give the Navy 55 “small surface combatants.” The Chinese have about 50 frigates but this number is likely to decline as older ships are decommissioned, as their current frigate program, the Type 054A, is nearing completion.

The USN’s Zumwalt class destroyer program will end with three ships when the Lyndon B. Johnson is commissioned in the near future.

The Burke class DDG program was expected to continue building twelve ships over the next five years, but there has been a recent report that DOD would like to cut five ships to make room in the budget for development of more unmanned systems. Also suggested is that Ticonderoga class cruisers be retired early and that the first four LCS be decommissioned.

It is comforting to assume that Chinese systems and their training are inferior. We had similar assumptions about the Japanese before WWII. It is extremely dangerous to assume your own superiority. Plus while the US Forces spread all over the world, the Chinese are concentrated in their own theater of interest.

“The Chinese Navy Is Building An Incredible Number Of Warships” –Forbes

Image Analysis of photo of Chinese shipyard showing multiple warships at various stages of … [+]H I Sutton, with permission from @Loongnaval, (This is not a naval base just one of several shipyards-Chuck)

Forbes provides a reminder of the rate at which the Chinese Navy is overtaking the US Navy.

We did discuss this earlier, “Comparison, the Chinese Navy of 2030 and USN.”

The Chinese have begun building large surface combatants (destroyers and/or cruisers) at rate faster than that of the US (The US generally commissions two per year). The number the Chinese are expected to have commissioned in 2019 and 2020, as many as twelve, is staggering. Their first very large aircraft carrier equipped with catapults and arresting gear is expected to be commissioned in 2022, only three years after their first (smaller) domestically built aircraft carrier (The US builds one every five years). They seem to have begun building large amphibious warfare landing ships at about the same rate as the US. In addition they have built types with no counterpart in the US Navy including 60 Type 022 missile armed fast attack craft and Type 056 corvettes, 64 ordered to date, with about 8 built per year. They also have about 60 conventionally powered submarines and about 54 frigates while the US has neither type currently. 

If you would like to look into this in more detail. I would suggest the following Congressional Research Service Report.
“Table I, Numbers of Certain Types of Ships Since 2005,” on page 20 is particularly illustrative. You can see the trend with total number of Chinese vessels growing while the number of USN ships has remained relatively stable. It notes that the number of Chinese ships does not include auxiliary and support ships while the USN figure does not include patrol craft (the number given for 2015 actually does include the 13 Cyclone class patrol craft). If we counted the USN ships in the same way the Chinese ships are counted, by subtracting auxiliaries and support ships, and adding in the 13 Cyclone class Patrol Craft, the numbers for 2019 would be China 335, USN approximately 239. It is also worth noting that the Chinese fleet is younger than the US Navy fleet.
The US Navy is still larger in terms of both personnel and tonnage and has an overwhelming advantage in aircraft. The USN still has far more carriers (11 of which 5 are more than 30 years old), nuclear submarines, and destroyers and cruisers. But here, as elsewhere, the trend is against the US. (The number of USN nuclear submarines is actually expected to decline, but should exceed those of the Chinese Navy for the foreseeable future.)
Thus far the Chinese have succeeded in creating a situation where the USN operating inside the “First Island Chain” during hostilities would be exceedingly difficult. They clearly intend to have a local superiority. It the imbalance in ship construction continues they may achieve an absolute superiority.
They have now begun creating a Blue Water Navy with the capability to intervene virtually anywhere, following the USN model. This will give them the option of insuring that all those preditory loans they have been making are repaid or the collateral handed over.
China ultimately plans to bring Taiwan back into the fold, by force if necessary, but ferrying the necessary number of troops would be a herculean task, not unlike the Normandy invasion. The force of 38 large amphibious warfare ships that has, for many years, been the US Marine Corps stated objective, would have lifted only two brigades, not the multiple divisions that would likely be required to take Taiwan. Their large Coast Guard (248 ships according to the CRS report and growing) and maritime militia is as likely to be as instrumental in any invasion as the large amphibs they are currently building.

 

“China Can’t Be Trusted in the Arctic –USNI

A picture taken on November 16, 2011 from a South Korean helicopter shows Chinese fishermen wielding sticks to stop an attack by South Korean coastguard commandoes armed with clubs aboard rubber boats during a crackdown on alleged illegal fishing in South Korean waters in the Yellow Sea off the southwestern coast county of Buan. South Korea’s coastguard mobilised 12 ships, four helicopters and commandoes for a special three-day crackdown on illegal fishing by Chinese boats this week. REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT AFP PHOTO / DONG-A ILBO (Photo credit should read DONG-A ILBO/AFP/Getty Images)

The US Naval Institute Proceedings has a post by Commander William Woityra, U.S. Coast Guard

China’s failure to enforce treaties and sanctions and lack of corporate accountability should serve as a warning for the international community when it comes to Chinese participation in international agreements and instruments. Of recent interest is their 2018 signature of the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean. The signatory parties committed to curbing high seas commercial fishing in the Arctic until the ecosystem is better understood, no sooner than 2034. Beijing’s participation in the negotiations, and signing of the fisheries moratorium, helps bolster its long-term narrative of China’s identity as a “near-Arctic state” with a legitimate right to involve itself in decisions about the future of the region.

Lately I have come to suspect that China’s lax attitude toward Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) Fishing is not due to poor enforcement or even corruption, but that it is actually state policy and a part of a strategy to impoverish third world countries dependent on fishing, so that, encouraged by bribery, they will turn to China for loans for poor investment, that will default and ultimately allow the Chinese to take over their assets. Overfishing is perhaps an element in a new form of economic colonialism.

“It’s Time for a ‘Quad’ of Coast Guards” –Real Clear Defense

A Japan Coast Guard helicopter approaches an Indian Coast Guard patrol vessel during a joint exercise off Chennai, India, January 2018 (Photo: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty)

Real Clear Defense has an article which first appeared in the Australian think tank Lowy Institute‘s publication “The Interpreter,” advocating greater cooperation between the Coast Guards of Australia, India, Japan, and the US.

“The so-called Quad group of Indo-Pacific maritime democracies – Australia, India, Japan, and the United States – is a valuable grouping, although it is still under utilized in many ways. One of the most effective ways that these countries could work together to enhance maritime security in the Indo-Pacific would be through coordinating the work of their coast guard agencies.”

While India in particular, is adverse to committing to a military alliance, these nations share a commitment to a rules based international system.

Quadrilateral cooperation through the countries’ coast guards could provide an answer to this political problem. As principally law-enforcement agencies, coast guards can provide many practical benefits in building a stable and secure maritime domain, without the overtones of a military alliance.

Using ship-riders, this sort of cooperation could go beyond capacity building and uphold the norms of international behavior. It might lead to the kind of standing maritime security task force I advocated earlier. When coast guards are in conflict, having multiple coast guards on scene could insure that instead of a “he said, she said” situation, we could have a “he said, we say” situation that would show a united front against bullying.

Given Bertholf and Stratton‘s stay in the Western Pacific and Walnut and Joseph Gerczak‘s support of Samoa, which was coordinated with Australia and New Zealand, it appears we may already be moving in this direction.

 

“Icebreaker Xuelong 2 joins service on China national maritime day” –Global Times

China’s first domestically built polar research vessel and icebreaker, Xuelong 2 docks at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai on Thursday morning. Photo: Polar Research Institute of China

Global Times is reporting completion of China’s first domestically produced Polar Icebreaker. (Their existing polar icebreaker was built in the Ukraine.)

According to Wikipedia, she was designed by Finnish firm Aker Arctic Technology. Specs are as follows.

  • Polar Class 3
  • Double Acting, can break ice going ahead or astern
  • Displacement of 14,300 tons
  • Length: 122.5 metres (402 ft)
  • Beam: 22.3 metres (73 ft)
  • Draft: 8.3 metres (27 ft)
  • Max Speed: 15 knots
  • Accommodations: 90 Passengers and crew
  • Diesel-electric propulsion system, two 16-cylinder, two 12-cylinder engines, both Wärtsilä 32-series, drive through two 7.5 MW Azipods. Just under 20,000 HP

It is a lot smaller than the planned Polar Security Cutter, but it is also larger and about as powerful and almost certainly more effective than the Glacier that served the US effectively for many years.

The hull and power plant looks like something we might want for our medium icebreakers, and I note, it looks like this size could negotiate the Saint Lawrence Seaway. That would mean a similar ship could potentially operate both on the Great Lakes and support Atlantic Fleet operations if required.

Thanks to Tups for bringing this to my attention.