More on China in the Arctic

Video: Russian nuclear powered icebreaker NS 50 Let Pobedy (Russian: 50 лет Победы), translated as 50 Years of Victory or Fiftieth Anniversary of Victory. The new Chinese Nuclear icebreaker will be similar in size.  

Some recent writings on China’s increasing interest in the Arctic caught my eye.

First there is this piece, “Opinion: China Is Joining the Rush for Arctic Riches.” by former NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis noting China’s apparent high level interest in the Arctic and its increasing military, political and economic alignment with Russia.

A wide ranging article from the Canadian Naval Review looks at “China’s Arctic Policy and its Potential Impact on Canada’s Arctic Security.” The author sees the roots of the Chinese policies in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) quest for legitimacy. As a result China has asserted “rights in respect of scientific research, navigation, overflight, fishing, laying of submarine cables and pipelines, … and rights to resource exploration and exploitation in the Area,” The author also suggests the Chinese see the Northern Sea Route as a way to avoid the US Navy’s potential blockage of the Straits of Malacca, but I cannot see that as a possibility, given the US possession of the Eastern half of the Bering Strait.

Lastly, some details about the new Chinese icebreaker have been reported by NavyRecognition. It is going to be very large.

“Next, came the official announcement that China intends to build a nuclear icebreaker. It will be 152 meters in length, 30 meters wide, and will displace 30,000 tons.”

High Latitude Challenges from Russia and China

Map of the Arctic region showing shipping routes Northeast Passage, Northern Sea Route, and Northwest Passage, and bathymetry, Arctic Council, by Susie Harder

Two recent articles, first from the Institute for the Study of War, a discussion of how the Russians appear to be following the lead of the Chinese in the South and East China Seas by militarizing the Arctic and attempting to thwart the concept of innocent passage just as they have at the Kerch Strait connecting the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea.

Keep in mind the Navy had asked the Coast Guard to provide an icebreaker to conduct a Freedom of Navigation Exercise in the Arctic, but the Coast Guard felt it would be unable to provide because of the state of the icebreaker fleet.

It also considers the apparent frienemy relationship between Russia and China. Russia needs China’s investment, but distrust China’s long term motivation.

Thanks to Sven for bringing this to my attention

Second, an article from the US Naval Institute discussing Chinese ambitions in the Arctic and Antarctica, “China’s Activities in the Polar Regions Cannot Go Unchecked.”

Apparently they are planning a permanent airport in Antarctica.

“Beijing claims the new airfield would support scientific research and economic tourism. But like many overseas Chinese facilities, it could be quickly, easily, and covertly repurposed for military use.”

‘The Chinese government currently spends more than any other state on new Antarctic infrastructure—bases, planes, and icebreakers intended to underpin China’s claimed Antarctic resource and governance rights.”

In the Arctic, China is making,

“strategic investment in infrastructures and resources that may serve military or security as well as commercial purposes (but which often make little economic sense), and scientific research that advances both military and commercial interests.”

It appears the Chinese, in addition to their interests in the Arctic for transportation and resource exploitation, may be positioning themselves to make extensive claims in Antarctica when the current treaty system expires in 2048 or if it should be annulled earlier.

Frankly I feel we are going to see a land rush in 2048, with all the craziness that can bring.

China Developing Containerized Cruise Missile Launchers

Above: Marketing video for comparable Russian system

The Washington Free Beacon is reporting that China is developing containerized cruise missiles launch systems for a land attack version of its 290 mile range YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missile which is a reverse engineered version of the Russian Klub-K cruise missile.

“China is building a long-range cruise missile fired from a shipping container that could turn Beijing’s large fleet of freighters into potential warships and commercial ports into future missile bases.”


“China operates or is building deep water ports in several strategic locations, including Bahamas, Panama, and Jamaica that could be used covertly to deploy ships carrying the YJ-18C.”

The Washington Free Beason may not be the gold standard in reporting, but I would have been surprised if the Chinese were not developing such systems. The Russians have been marketing such systems for about a decade. The Israelis have launched semi-ballistic missiles from a merchant ship and are marketing such a system.

In China, every enterprise is ultimately an arm of the State, ready to do the States bidding. We have seen their fishing fleet serve as a naval militia, it is likely their merchant marine would also serve military purposes beyond simply carrying cargo. In fact they have announced that that is their intent.

 

Once Again Argentine Coast Guard Fires on Chinese F/V

We have multiple reports  (here) (and here) that an Argentine Coast Guard vessel, PNA Doctor Manuel Mantilla, fired several shots into Chinese fishing vessel Hua Xiang 801

This is not the first time a Chinese fishing vessel refused to stop, attempted to ram an Argentine Coast Guard vessel, and was fired into. It happened in Mar. 2016 when the Chinese vessel was sunk. It happened again in Feb. 2018.

Chinese Actions:

The Chinese vessel was reportedly not using an Automatic Identification System (AIS). The vessel refused to stop when directed to do so. Ignored warning shots across the bow, followed by shots in the forward part of the ship. At one point it appeared they attempted to ram the Argentinian vessel.

Media in Argentina have not been able to identify who owns the Hua Xiang 801 and, China’s Fisheries Management Bureau at the Agricultural Ministry, which licenses China’s distant-water fleet, hasn’t divulged the ownership details of the Hua Xiang 801.

The Chinese claim that this was a result of Argentina not providing details of the coordinates for the limits of its EEZ. The fishing vessel was reportedly less than a mile inside the Argentine EEZ, but this sounds to me like an attempt to shift the burden of responsibility to Argentina. 

The Chinese have repeatedly shown a refusal to submit to boarding and seizure (and here).

Argentine Actions:

The Argentines clearly wanted to avoid killing anyone. They warned the Chinese vessel in Spanish, English, and what I presume to be Mandarin, that they would be firing into the vessel and where they intended to hit it. Shots were aimed at the bow and above the waterline.

Why couldn’t the stop this fishing vessel?:

Whatever you may think of the Argentine decision, they attempted to stop a fishing vessel and they failed. The cutter which is similar in size to a 210, is reportedly armed with a 40mm/70 mount like the one illustrated below, and a pair of .50 caliber machine guns.

Bofors SAK-40/L70-315 naval mounting. This was a fully manual mounting intended for light patrol craft. Picture copyrighted by Bofors Defence.

On a video of a ship of this class I observed that their 40mm had been replaced by a Nexter 20mm gun like the one below.

 

If they really needed to stop this fishing vessel they needed to hit it in the engineroom. They might have attempted this after warning the fishing vessel of their intention. Both weapons are probably accurate enough to ensure rounds go where intended if fired in a single shot mode.

Also don’t see why they would not fire at the waterline. Would have probably limited their ability to escape. The new 30 mm swimmer round might have helped in this regard if they had been so equipped.

 

Alameda-based Coast Guard cutter and crew depart for Western Pacific patrol


Got a news release reporting the departure of Bertholf from Alameda California for a Patrol in the Western Pacific which I have quoted below. Normally I would leave reporting of ship deployments to other sites, but, I don’t think this is routine.

We have sent cutters into the Western Pacific (since Vietnam). Munro (WMSL-755) visited Fiji and the Solomon Islands in 2018 (Paying More Attention to the Western Pacific, Dec. 8, 2018). Waesche made the trip back in 2012 (Waesche Enroute to SE Asia Apr. 4, 2012).There could have been others, but I don’t think there were a lot more, but coming on the heels of Munro’s deployment this may be a trend.

There is also a video here. The Captain tells the crew, “We’re going to be doing a national security mission. When we get underway, we are going to be working for the United States Indo-Pacific Command, Combatant Commander. We’re going to be executing national security operation throughout the Pacific.”

What is the mission? Certainly they will be doing some capacity building, exercising with partner navies and coast guards. They will probably do some fisheries enforcement both, in the US EEZ and with shipriders to assist in the EEZs of friendly nations, certainly in Oceana and perhaps in SE Asia. We have a huge expanded Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument wit  490,000 square statute miles or about 390,000 square nautical miles of Ocean to police (Huge New Marine Reserve, Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, Sep. 26, 2014). Plus there are the island nations of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau joined with the U.S. in “Compacts of Free Association.”

There have been calls for more US Coast Guard presence in the Pacific from New Zealand and from the 7th Fleet. Some, including the previous Commandant see the US Coast Guard as a counter weight to China Coast Guard in the South China Sea.

Maybe Bertholf will stop in at Guam and check it out as a possible future base for Offshore Patrol Cutters. We already have indication three Webber class FRCs will replace the two 110s currently there.) Will they operate in the South China Sea? Will they do Freedom of Navigation Ops? Taking Vietnamese ship riders aboard and doing fisheries enforcement in the Vietnam EEZ inside the Chinese claimed Nine Dash Line, could get exciting. Guess we will have to wait and see.

Will they have a UAS aboard? And If we have no budget or continuing resolution to pay our people, how are we paying for fuel?

The News Release

On a gray and foggy morning, tears intermingled with rain as family members braved the elements to say goodbye to the 170 crewmembers of Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL-750), a 418-foot national security cutter, which departed Alameda, California, Sunday for a patrol in the Western Pacific Ocean.

The U.S. Coast Guard has an enduring role in the Indo-Pacific going back over 150 years. The service’s ongoing deployment of resources to the region directly supports U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives in the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the National Security Strategy.

“The United States is a Pacific nation,” said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander Coast Guard Pacific Area, who was present to see the cutter depart. “We have deep and long-standing ties with our partners in the region, and more importantly, we share a strong commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, governed by a rules-based international system that promotes peace, security, prosperity and sovereignty of all nations.”

Bertholf will be operating in support of United States Indo-Pacific Command, which oversees military operations in the region. As part of its planned operations, the cutter will engage in professional exchanges and capacity building with partner nations.

“Security abroad equals security at home,” said Fagan. “Enhancing our partners’ capabilities is a force multiplier in combating transnational criminal and terrorist organizations and deterring our adversaries.”

As both a federal law enforcement agency and an armed force, the Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to conduct defense operations in support of Combatant Commanders on all seven continents. The service routinely provides forces in joint military operations worldwide, including the deployment of cutters, boats, aircraft and deployable specialized forces.

“I’m excited to see Bertholf sail today to the Indo-Pacific region of operations,” said Fagan, who described the cutter as one of the most capable in the Coast Guard fleet.

“They will be serving alongside other DoD military forces, particularly the U.S. Navy, and I know they will contribute key capabilities to that mission set. This crew has worked incredibly hard to get ready for today’s sailing, and I can’t think of a better ship and crew to be sending to the Indo-Pacific.”

Commissioned in 2008, Bertholf is the first of the Coast Guard’s legend class national security cutters. These advanced ships are 418-feet long, 54-feet wide, and have a 4,600 long-ton displacement. They have a top speed in excess of 28 knots, a range of 12,000 nautical miles, endurance of up to 90 days and can hold a crew of up to 170.

The cutter is named for Coast Guard legend Ellsworth P. Bertholf, who served as captain of the Revenue Cutter Bear during the famous Overland Relief Expedition, earning the Congressional Gold Medal. As the Coast Guard’s fourth commandant, Bertholf oversaw the transfer of the Coast Guard into the Department of the Navy during World War I and advocated for the successful postwar reconstitution of the service.

National security cutters feature advanced command and control capabilities, aviation support facilities, stern cutter boat launch and increased endurance for long-range patrols to disrupt threats to national security further offshore.

The Coast Guard is scheduled to commission its seventh national security cutter, the Coast Guard Cutter Kimball, in 2019. Kimball, along with the Midgett, which is currently under construction, will be homeported in Honolulu and will enhance the Coast Guard’s presence throughout the Indo-Pacific.

“The U.S. Coast Guard’s unique authorities, capabilities, and missions make us the maritime safety and security partner of choice for sea-going countries around the world,” said Capt. John Driscoll, Bertholf’s commanding officer. “Our increased presence throughout the Indo-Pacific will enhance regional stability and improve maritime governance and security.”

In an address to the families and crew before the cutter set sail, Driscoll emphasized how critical family support is to crew wellbeing and readiness.

“Support from our families, wherever they live, is vital to ensuring we are ready to sail and answer the demands of our nation,” Driscoll said. “We must ensure our families are ready to weather the storm at home. We operate in a dangerous and high-consequence environment, and your ability to focus on mission can become easily compromised if you are worried about family.”

Fagan acknowledged the current lapse in appropriations and government shutdown has added stress and feelings of uncertainty to the typical emotions that surround a cutter departure.

“I know it is hard for these crews to be leaving behind their dependents and spouses – it’s a thousand times more so when everyone is wondering when our next paycheck will be, and how they can support the family they are leaving behind,” Fagan said.

“There has been an incredible outpouring of support for the families here in the Alameda area, but the tension and the anxiety for the crew is real,” said Fagan. “We are standing by to help support those families who are left behind the same way that we are going to support the crew as they sail for the Western Pacific.”

China to build their first Battery Powered Cutter

Huangpu Wenchong to build China’s first all-electric government vessel

BairdMaritime reports the Chinese are building an all electric vessel for their Maritime Safety Administration, to be used as a command ship for use in emergency pollution response, particularly in instances of pollution involving dangerous gases at sea.”

Specs are:

  • Length: 78 meters (256 feet)
  • Beam: 12.8 meters (42 feet)
  • Design speed: 18 knots
  • Range 1,000 nautical miles

Reportedly ower is to be provided by two sets of 650kWh high-performance lithium battery packs.

Maybe there is an error here? That only amounts to 1,743.3 HP/hours. My estimate would be that that would allow only about a half hour at 18 knots, an hour at 14, and two hours at 10, perhaps four hours at six. Appears it would take about 75,000kWh to go 1000 miles at 10 knots. Why would it even have a stack if there is no diesel engine?