“China Accused of Building on Unoccupied Reefs in South China Sea” –gCaptain

Satellite images obtained by Bloomberg News depict physical changes to a layered land feature at Sandy Cay between 2009 and 2021. Credit: Bloomberg

gCaptain reports,

China is building up several unoccupied land features in the South China Sea, according to Western officials, which they said was part of Beijing’s long-running effort to strengthen claims to disputed territory and potentially bolster its military presence in a region critical to global trade.

Apparently, China is not satisfied with the military outposts they have created in the South China Sea and are in the process of creating more. These actions may be taken by the Chinese both in support their systematic theft of EEZ resources from other nations and as support for a future blockade of Taiwan.

Certainly, these will be upgraded to military installations just as has been done with other artificial islands.

The nations whose EEZs are being violated by these activities have an opportunity to put a stop to it, while they are being done by fishing vessels, before there is a Chinese military presence, if they act quickly and aggressively to stop this illegal activity.

GLSDB, Perhaps a Low Cost, Containerized, Precision, Shore Bombardment and Anti-Ship Weapon / Maybe Taiwan Could Use It Too

The Drive reports on the possible provision of a weapon system to Ukraine, the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB). (I am suggesting that we could launch it from ships, so Surface Launched might have been more appropriate).

This weapon might have a place as a replacement for the big guns that once provided Naval Gun Fire Support. It also has potential as an anti-ship weapon.

The system consists of a hybrid of a normally air launched, precision guided, winged bomb, the “small diameter bomb,” flung into the air by a rocket booster used in an early Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) munition, the M26.

The M26 was the first rocket developed for the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). It is spin-stabilized by 4 fins, has a range of 32 km (20 miles) and is armed with 644 bomblets, anti-personnel/anti-materiel grenades. These bomblets have fallen out of favor because the dud rate creates potential for collateral damage that may occur long after the conflict that prompted their use. To create the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb, the grenades are replaced by a Small Diameter Bomb.

A guest inspects a new Boeing small-diameter bomb (SDB) in it’s flight configuration at the roll-out ceremony Monday, May 22, 2006, in St. Charles, Mo. (Tom Gannam/AP)

Small Diameter Bombs:

There are four different “Small Diameter Bombs”:

“The bomb can use GPS/INS to guide itself into the general vicinity of a moving target during the initial search phase, with course correction updates provided using a Link 16 over UHF data link…The weapon is capable of fusing the information from the sensors to classify the target and can prioritize certain types of targets as desired when used in semi-autonomous mode.”

How does it compare to Naval Guns?:

These are small bombs, developed to increase the number of precision munitions an aircraft can carry in a single sortie. Four of these replace a single 2,000 pound bomb.

SDBs are small bombs but compared to most naval guns, they pack a pretty big punch. Because of their precision, the relatively small bomb is still adequate to destroy many targets including tanks, aircraft shelters, bunkers, and strong points.

 “Warhead penetration is 3 ft (1 m) of steel reinforced concrete under 3 ft of earth and the fuze has… selectable functions, including air burst and delayed options.”

The GBU-39’s 36 pound bursting charge is 50% larger than that of the last 8″ projectiles used by the US Navy and more than four and half times that of current 5″ projectiles. (The bursting charge in the 16″ High Cap projectiles fired by Iowa class battleships was only 153.6 lbs. (69.67 kg)).

Perhaps most importantly, this weapon out-ranges all existing naval guns with a range of 150 km / 81 nautical miles.

Why it will be difficult and expensive to shoot down:

Now anything can be shot down, from artillery and mortar rounds to ICBMs. Because these are glide bombs it might be assumed they would be easy to shoot down, but that is not necessarily the case. Their small size means they have a small radar cross section. Because they are a glide bomb, unlike aircraft or cruise missiles, they have little or no IR signature. That means they are not good targets for IR homing missile such as man portable air defense systems (MAPADS). Because the round is maneuverable, there may be opportunities to avoid heavy concentrations of AA.

It is probably going to require high quality AAW missiles to bring one of these down, meaning the cost exchange is likely to be favorable for the SDB. Being cheap they can be traded off against the more expensive missiles required to bring them down, depleting the enemies air defenses. That could result in making it safer for our manned aircraft.

Why not let Naval Air just drop the Small Diameter Bombs:

That is certainly an option, but if surface launched Small Diameter Bombs are available it can free aircraft for more demanding missions like air superiority and suppression of air defenses. Surface launched SDBs and aircraft could be complementary,

There is also the possibility that the carrier(s) may be called away or their flight deck might be damaged precluding air ops.

Where could we mount them?:

The video shows a six-tube launcher inside what is almost certainly a 20x8x8 foot container. That suggests that there are many options available including multiple launcher installations on Offshore Support Vessels, either manned or unmanned as well as many existing vessels.

As defensive weapons, the widespread use of 20x8x8 containers means that it is going to be very hard to single out those that mount these weapons. A “shell game” can make them very difficult to recognize and neutralize.

The Cost Exchange Ratio:

What makes these a game changer? It is the precision and range combined with its low price. The War in Ukraine has shown the rapid expenditure of munitions. There is a need for weapons with longer range and greater survivability, but they will cost much more. We cannot afford to expend weapons that cost millions on every target. There are times when it is necessary to expend an expensive weapon on a far less expensive target, but that can’t become the norm. We need weapons that can be produced in huge numbers at a reasonable cost.

Now About Taiwan:

If the Chinese are to invade Taiwan, it will be comparable in scope to the Normandy Invasion. The Chinese Navy can transport only a small percentage of the troops that would need to land on the first day of the invasion. They will need to mobilize a very large number of civilian craft including ferries and fishing boats to transport the number of troops that will be required.

If the Taiwanese are to stop the invasion, they are going to have to sink a very large number of craft as they transit the Taiwan Strait. (The Strait is 130km wide at its narrowest point.) Most of these craft will be relatively small and have little or no self-defense capability.

Using the GBU-53B, with its tri-mode seeker, the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb appears ideal for this purpose. Given the bombs, the Taiwanese could probably quickly devise an even longer-range booster and launcher.


Under NOAA auspices, the U. S. Interagency Working Group on IUU Fishing has issued a five year strategy to address IUU fishing.

There are three identified objectives:

  • Promote Sustainable Fisheries Management and Governance
  • Enhance the Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance of Marine Fishing Operations
  • Ensure Only Legal, Sustainable, and Responsibly Harvested Seafood Enters

Five nations have been identified as priorities for development of self sufficiency in the prevention of IUU fishing: Ecuador, Panama, Senegal, Taiwan, and Vietnam. These “Priority States” were selected because their “…vessels: “actively engage in, knowingly profit from, or are complicit in IUU fishing” and, at the same time, the priority flag state “is willing, but lacks the capacity, to monitor or take effective enforcement action against its fleet.”

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 8, 2009) The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Legare (WMEC 912), left, patrols along side the Senegalese Navy vessel, Poponquine, during joint operations as part of the Africa Partnership Station. The Legare is deployed off the west and central coast of Africa for the six-day joint U.S/Senegalese operation, during which several Senegalese naval vessel boarding team members embarked aboard the Legare and participated in joint boarding and training exercises. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas M. Blue/ Released)

It is likely the Coast Guard will be spending time helping these states build capacity in their navies, coast guards, or maritime police.

The Missing Air Element  

One of the great strengths of the US Coast Guard is its fleet of fixed wing aircraft. They provide an essential detection capability. An air search capability allows the patrol vessels to do less searching and more boardings. Most smaller nations’ maritime law enforcement agencies have only limited, or in many cases, no comparable organic air search capability. Frequently, if they are to have an air search, they require cooperation of another service.

What I have seen of our capacity building efforts, seem to have been focused on surface operations and boarding team work.

Recognizing fishing vessels is not in the skill set of most air force crews. Frequently communications between surface vessels and air units are not compatible. In many air forces their aircraft virtually never go out over blue water.

The US Coast Guard could certainly help build capacity on the air side, as well as the surface side of the IUU fishing problem.

Land based Unmanned Air Systems now appear to be a way maritime law enforcement agencies might have an organic fixed wing air search capability at a lower cost. Unfortunately the US Coast Guard still is not particularly experienced in this area. The Japanese Coast Guard might be able to provide valuable advice to at least Taiwan and Vietnam in the use of UAS, as they gain experience with their newly acquired MQ-9Bs.

“Taiwan’s Coast Guard Tests Its Ability To Turn Cutters Into Ship Killers” –The Drive

Taiwan Coast Guard Vessel Anping firing missile

The Drive/The War-Zone reports,

During the test conducted on May 23, officials said that the HF-2 missiles were launched from the cutter off the coast of the Jiupeng Base and successfully hit a target ship that was located 62 miles off the coast of Lanyu, near Orchid Island. According to Taiwan’s Liberty Times Net reporter Zheng Jingyi, “this live ammunition firing specifically verifies the integration of the naval forces and sea cruisers under the ‘peace-to-war conversion.’”

This was a test and the missile launch equipment was removed immediately after the test. The launch and control was conducted by Taiwanese Navy personnel, temporarily assigned for the test.

Since the cutters are a version of a missile equipped Taiwanese Navy corvette, there would seem little reason to believe the test would not have been successful.

Reportedly twelve corvettes and twelve cutters are planned, but the prototype Navy corvette was commissioned in 2014, the second not until 2021, and none since. On the other hand four of the cutters have entered service beginning 2020 with two more under construction.

The normal armament of these and other Taiwanese cutters includes an unusual 42 round, remote controlled, “Zhenhai” 70mm/2.75″ rocket launcher. It is unclear if these rockets have a guidance system like APKWS. Photos below from Wikipedia.

Taiwan Anping-class offshore patrol vessel onboard multi-barrel Zhenhai rocket system

Anping-class offshore patrol vessel onboard 42-barrel Zhenhai rocket system, looking forward

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

Taiwan Building Four 4,000 ton Cutters

Photo: CSBC Corporation

BairdMaritime reports that Taiwan is building four 4,000 ton Coast Guard Cutters. Asian nations tend to use light displacement when reporting their ship size, so these may actually be larger than the Bertholf class National Security Cutters.

The first is expected to enter service in 2021 and all four to be delivered by 2027.

Taiwan has been beefing up their Coast Guard. A report on a previous class here. A report from 2011 here. An interesting note is that Taiwan actually has a pair of 270s built to a modified design.

Taiwanese cutters appear to be built to merchant standards and are lightly armed.