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.

New Chinese Cutters–How Many?–Sorry, I’ve Lost Count

The China Defense Blog has three new posts with several photos of new Chinese Coast Guard Cutters.

The first is news of the award of a contract for four new 5,000 ton cutters. and while the text says they will be similar to an earlier 5,000 ton cutter (CMS01), the illustration that accompanies the story shows a very different 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 second post reports the commissioning of the second of two 4,000 cutters commissioned this month.

A third post asks, “What would a 12,000 ton Coast Guard Cutter Look Like?” reports as was reported here earlier, China’s intention to build the world’s largest Offshore Patrol Vessel. They don’t have any illustration of the new ship, but they do say it 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 equipped troops. The same airframe is also used for SAR, ASW, and vertical replenishment. The post also says it shows photos of new 3,000 ton cutters, but all the photos except those of hull number 3306 were referred to elsewhere as 4,000 ton cutters.

New hull numbers seen in this series of posts are 1401, 2401, 3401, 3306, and MSA-01). Unlike most earlier Chinese cutters, all of these ships have helicopter decks.

This is the fruition of their earlier stated ambition to build 36 cutters in three years for the Chinese Maritime Surveillance Agency (CMS, only one of four agencies that combined to form their Coast Guard).

Chinese to Build World’s Largest Cutter

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

German Navy blog “Marine Forum” reports (21 January) that the

China Ship-building Industry Corporation has been contracted with developing and building a 10,000-ton and another 4,000-ton surveillance ship.
(rmks: for paramilitary China Coast Guard or China Marine Surveillance)

Meanwhile, in a move designed to bolster their claims in the South China Sea, they also report,

With Vietnam: China will expand paramilitary infrastructure at Sansha City (Paracel Archipelago) in the South China Sea … permanently base a 5,000-ts patrol ship (rmks: prob. China Marine Surveillance – CMS) and begin regular patrols.

Don’t expect China’s new 10,000 ton cutter to look like a US Coast Guard Cutter. The Chinese seem to measure their Coast Guard primarily in comparison to the Japanese Coast Guard which has until now operated the largest cutters in the world, two 9,350 full load, Shikishima class high endurance helicopter carrying cutters. Like their Japanese counterparts, they are likely to be built to merchant standards, will be only lightly armed, but will have excellent aviation facilities. The additional tonnage is likely to give them an advantage if they get in a “shoving match” with opposing coast guards, and they are likely to have a secondary military transport role. With a relatively large number of boats, they could probably land a fair number of personnel in a relatively short time. By way of comparison the National Security Cutters are 4,500 tons full load.

Two More WHECs, if You Please–Philippines?

File:PF-15 and SARV-002 CARAT 2013.jpg

Photo Credit: United States Navy with the ID 130629-N-YU572-530, by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jay C. Pugh, PHILIPPINE SEA (June 29, 2013) The Philippine Coast Guard vessel Edsa (SARV 002), left, and the Philippine Navy frigate Gregorio Del Pilar (PF 15) steam in formation during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Philippines 2013.

Global Post is reporting the Philippines is looking for two more “frigates” from the U. S. It is not clear they are referring to Hamilton Class Cutters, but it seems likely. Referring to the two WHECs they already have, the article states,

“The Philippines has already acquired two refurbished American frigates in the past two years, and they now lead patrols in the South China Sea.”

The request might conceivably refer to retiring Perry Class navy frigates, but that would introduce an additional set of systems to the Philippine Navy and the gas turbine powered FFG-7s are not as economical to operate as the normally diesel powered Hamiltons with their combined diesel or gas turbine (CODOG) power plant. The redundancy offered by the cutters’ four engine, two shaft power plant may also be seen as an advantage over the FFG-7’s two engine, single shaft propulsion.

More Chinese Misbehavior in the South China Sea

China imposes fishing curbs: New regulations imposed Jan. 1 limit all foreign vessels from fishing in a zone covering two-thirds of the South China Sea.

Credit for Chart: “China Orders Foreign Fishing Vessels Out of Most of the South China Sea,” The Washington Free Beacon

China is again pushing for a “new norm” that would make the South China Sea essentially Chinese sovereign territory. In clear violation of the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, the Province of Hainan has declared that, as of Jan. 1, all foreign vessels must get their permission to fish in approximately two thirds of the South China Sea including waters that are clearly within the Exclusive Economic Zones of the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia, an area reportedly five times the size of the state of Texas.

In addition to the report credited below the illustration, here is a Wall Street Journal Report and Reuters reports the diplomatic sparing between the US and China.

Their likely instrument in this push is the newly organized Chinese Coast Guard. Naval War College professor James R. Holmes, offers some thoughts on “The Return of China’s Small Stick Diplomacy in South China Sea.”

China is Building Cutters

German Navy blog Marine Forum has two reports on shipbuilding programs for the Chinese Coast Guard.

“Huangpu shipyard launches the second of four 4,000-ton China Coast Guard patrol ships, HAI JING 2401.” (reported 12 Sept)

“Xingang Shipyard (Tianjin) launches paramilitary China Marine Surveillance (CMS) 600-ton patrol vessel HAI JIAN 3012 … 14 such ships ordered/under construction, also at Wuhan.” (reported 9 Sept.)

You can be sure they are building them fast.

PLAN (Chinese Navy) in US EEZ

The Diplomat is reporting that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has acknowledged that they have begun to operate in the US EEZ off Guam and Hawaii (and presumably other US territory in the Western Pacific). This is actually seen as a positive step in that, by taking this step, China is recognizing that US Navy operations inside the Chinese EEZ are not illegal.

Still this means Coast Guard assets may encounter PLAN units, and as yet there is no counterpart to the INSEA (Incidents at Sea) agreement we had with the Soviet Union to minimize the chances for a misunderstanding.

A more aggressive, adventuresome, and far reaching PLAN might also be seen as a reason to consider reanimating the ASW mission in the Coast Guard.

Expansion of China’s “coast guard” Fleets

Informationdissemination has a short report on the ongoing expansion of the fleets of China’s five law enforcement agencies. Several things stand out. This expansion is massive. The charts in the report may be difficult to read, but it is clear they are building at a furious rate while also taking in former Navy platforms. It is also clear that while some are very large, these are relatively simple and because of the low cost of ship building in China, very inexpensive ships.

These agencies still have relatively few aircraft so they will remain ship rich, aircraft poor.

China has apparently found their maritime law enforcement agencies useful in asserting control over disputed areas.

For reference while the US EEZ is 11,351,000 km2, China’s internationally recognized EEZ is only 877,019 km2 and they claim another approximately 3,000,000km2.