Aug 30, 2012
By Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins
China is building a two-layered navy with a high-end Near Seas component and a limited, low-end capability beyond. It is not poised to speed across the Pacific to threaten America.China’s navy is not poised to speed across the Pacific to threaten America the way the Soviet Union once did, if not worse…
China has already developed, and continues to develop rapidly, potent high-end navy and “anti-Navy” capabilities. Like their other military counterparts, they are focused almost entirely on contested areas close to home. It is also developing low-end capabilities. They are relevant primarily for low-intensity peacetime missions in areas further afield. These two very different dynamics should not be conflated. The second area has attracted headlines recently. China is in the process of developing a limited out-of-area operational capability to extend political influence and protect vital economic interests and PRC citizens working abroad in volatile parts of Africa and other regions. In essence, China seeks the bonus of being able to show the flag outside East Asia without the onus of assuming the cost and political liabilities of building a truly global high-end naval capability. But while selected PLA Navy (PLAN) vessels make history by calling on ports in the Black Sea and Mediterranean to include first-ever visits to Israel and Bulgaria, the majority (like the rest of China’s armed forces) are focused on areas closer to home—primarily still-contested territorial and maritime claims in the Yellow, East China, and South China Seas. From a Sino-centric perspective, these are, logically, the “Three Seas”(三海), or“Near Seas” (近海).It is here, and largely only here—at least in a direct sense—that U.S. and Chinese military maritime approaches conflict.
- As an established superpower that has played a critical role in establishing the post-War world order, Washington seeks to work with allies, friends, and potential partners to maintain a single global trade system by preserving unfettered access to a secure commons for all, and to prevent the threat or use of force from being used to resolve political or territorial disputes.
- As a great power that feels wronged by recent history, Beijing seeks space to rise again and reassert control of previous claims by carving out a Near Seas zone of exceptionalism in which established global maritime norms do not apply.
Given Beijing’s substantial focus on issues unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, it is hardly surprising that there are no reliable indications at this time that China desires a truly-global blue water navy akin to that of the U.S. today, or which the Soviet Union maintained for some time, albeit at the eventual cost of strategic overextension. China does seeks to develop a “blue water” navy in the years to come—but one that is more “regional” than “global” in nature. Chinese strategists term this a “regional [blue-water] defensive and offensive-type” (区域防御进攻性) navy.
China has three key interests in the maritime domain.
- The first concerns the Near Seas (primarily the East and South China Seas) and their immediate approaches in the Western Pacific, where China vies for regional influence with maritime neighbors such as Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines, as well as the U.S. Fault lines are hardening in regional maritime disputes, as shown by the July 2010 ASEAN Regional Forum, where the bloc betrayed a deepening schism between the countries such as Cambodia, which are largely continental in their strategic orientation, and/or share land borders with China; and those such as the Philippines which share disputed maritime claims with Beijing but enjoy the buffers of water and alliance with the Washington.
Second, China’s natural resource supply chain has become truly global, and in areas such as the Indian Ocean region Beijing faces threats from pirates and non-state actors. Key areas of interest are the deep-water passages through Southeast Asia—especially the Malacca, Sunda, and Lombok straits—and the key shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean emanating from the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Eastern Africa. The PLAN’s ongoing anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden is the centerpiece example of a limited out-of-area naval operation in pursuit of China’s national interests.
- Third, a growing number of Chinese citizens are working abroad in volatile areas, where a growing constellation of Chinese-owned economic assets have been invested. As the PLAN becomes more capable, there is growing nationalist pressure for Beijing to show the flag in support of PRC expats under threat from civil strife and other dangers. The result is that in future crises, the PLAN is likely to respond as it did in February 2011 when the missile frigate Xuzhou was dispatched to the Mediterranean to signal that Chinese citizens trapped in Libya could not be harmed with impunity.
Based on these potential contingencies, we believe Beijing is building a navy to handle a high-intensity conflict close to home where it can be supported by its large fleet of conventionally-powered submarines and shore-based missiles and aircraft. Vessels such as China’s soon-to-be-commissioned aircraft carrier and Type 071 amphibious assault ships could be helpful in certain limited conflict scenarios against far-less-capable opponents—particularly in the South China Sea. Yet these large but limited capital ships’ most likely use will be for handling missions geared toward:
1. The regional mission of showing the flag in disputed areas and attempting to deter potential adversaries;
2. Handling non-traditional security missions both in the East Asian/Western Pacific and Indian Ocean regions such as suppression of piracy, protecting and evacuating Chinese citizens trapped abroad by violence, and disaster response; as well as
3. Making diplomatically-oriented cruises such as the recent visits to Black Sea ports, which are aimed at showing the flag and showing foreign and domestic audiences that China is becoming a truly global power.
By contrast, there is currently little evidence that China is building a blue water capability to confront a modern navy like the U.S beyond the PLAN’s East/Southeast Asian home-region waters. Beijing is accruing a limited expeditionary capability, but is not preparing to go head-to-head with U.S. carrier battle groups outside of East Asia and the Western Pacific…
The bottom line is that China’s present naval shipbuilding program aims to replace aging vessels and modernize the fleet, not to scale-up a modern fleet to the size and composition necessary to support and sustain high-end blue water power projection. China is building a two-layered navy with a high-end Near Seas component and a limited, low-end capability beyond, not the monolithic force that some assume.
The growth of Chinese power, the decline of US power and the resulting remilitarisation of Japan.
January 21, 2011
By John Hemmings
…From a distance, it’s hard not to be alarmed at the three trends that have dominated the region over the last decade:
the growth of Chinese power,
the relative decline of US power and
the resulting remilitarisation of Japanese power.
Indeed, given the growth in importance of the region to the global economy, these trends are as alarming as they are dangerous since they have the capacity to be self-fulfilling, driving a cycle of mistrust and spiralling arms spending. And, since Japan’s defence posture automatically includes the United States (which is obliged by treaty to come to Japan’s defence) any potential conflict has all the ingredients for
a ‘great power war.’
How did this happen to
- a China that seemed intent on managing a history defying ‘peaceful rise’? How did this happen to
- a United States that has sought to reassure China and give Beijing a seat at the table? And how did it happen to
- a pacifist Japan, led by a newly-elected political party that looked intent on building closer ties with China?…
Following the 1853 US intrusion on its sleepy isolation, Japan began its rise as a great power by focusing on economic and military power. Using the slogan Fukokyu Kohei, ‘rich country, strong military,’ Japan emulated the strategic thinking of the West, with particular focus on the kind of naval power projection discussed by Alfred Thayer Mahan
Japan’s quicker development reversed its historic relationship with China, and by the time of the Boxer Rebellion in 1899, Japan was fighting alongside British, French and German forces and carving out its own trade empire on the Chinese mainland.
While China’s rise over the last 20 years has done much to restore the historic balance between the two states, it’s more than possible this historical experience continues to shape current Chinese policy and the attitudes of policy-making elites.Defence spending, for example, has surged—doubling every five years—with much going into developing China’s blue-water naval capabilities…
In addition, Sino-Japanese relations remain beset by historical tensions: Japan’s history textbooks stirred controversy in China in the 1990s, while former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine—a site commemorating the Japanese war dead, including Class A war criminals—sparked major anti-Japanese riots in China in 2005, and a cessation of senior level talks. For its part, China has allowed further anti-Japanese sentiment to develop in its own history books, and the establishment of a number of war museums dedicated to revealing atrocities committed by Japanese forces during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). But above all, Chinese military leaders are cognizant of the fact that
modern Asian security is dominated by US military power. The US Pacific Fleet is the largest naval command in the world and includes six aircraft carriers, 2000 aircraft and over 125,000 personnel deployed across bases in Japan, South Korea and other locations on China’s immediate borders.
Back in 1985, there was a significant shift in Chinese naval strategy, from
- one of defending Chinese coastlines to
- one of meeting threats at sea, called Offshore Defence.
It’s arguably this policy that has had the biggest influence on strategic thinking in the region, both as an expression of growing Chinese power and as a cause of friction with the United States and other Asian states. Coming three years after the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea had internationalised sea resource and maritime territorial issues, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) doctrine of ‘Offshore Defence’ conceived of two island chains forming geographic defence barriers to any attacking opponent.
- The first island chain supposedly stretches from the southern tip of Japan to the South China Sea and encompasses many of the region’s most important sea lanes of communication (as well as its richest fishing waters), while
- the second chain is supposed to stretch out into the Pacific, and includes Indonesia, Borneo, the Bonins, the Carolinas and the Philippines.
The development of a Chinese submarine and anti-ship missile systems became a priority for the PLAN over the next decades, something that was hastened by the 1995/1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, in which Bill Clinton reacted to Sino-Taiwanese tensions by sending two carrier battle groups into the waters around Taiwan to demonstrate US willingness to defend the island. Such US muscle-flexing met with a Chinese response. Between 2002 and 2006, the Pentagon estimates that
- Russia sold over $11 billion in military craft to China, including Su-27 Flanker and Su-30 Flanker interceptors, 3M-54E (SS-N-27B) anti-ship cruise missiles, Il-78 Midas in-flight refuelling tankers, Il-76 Candid transport planes, Kilo-class diesel submarines and Sovremenny Class destroyers.
And, alongside this build-up, China has developed naval facilities that have extended its reach into South East Asia, including a submarine base on Hainan Island, as well as developing long-distance operations through anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden. Mahan, a US naval thinker who had a strong influence over Japan, is said to be in vogue again, this time amongst Chinese naval strategists. Diplomatically, Beijing has sought to balance these increased capabilities with reassurances to Japan and other Asian powers that its intentions are benign. And, until recently, most states had been content to accept the notion of a ‘peaceful rise.’ Unfortunately, 2010 saw a marked increase in incidents involving Chinese naval units, unequivocal or non-compromising statements on maritime disputes and a crisis in relations with nearly all of China’s maritime neighbours.
So how will traditional rival Japan respond? For nearly two decades, Japan’s remilitarisation has piggy-backed on North Korean bellicosity and the desire to be a more ‘normal’ country—an equal partner to the United States.
But as the ‘unipolar moment’ of dominant US economic and political power has receded in the
shadow of two costly wars,
burgeoning national debt and the
lingering effects of the financial crisis,
Japan has begun to realise that it must be able to defend its interests in the same way that other normal states do, namely with economic and military hard power. In addition, Japan has also noted the immense inroads that Chinese trade missions have made in Africa, South-east Asia and the Middle East, many at Tokyo’s expense…
While Japan’s military budget continues to fall this year and is under one percent of GDP, it remains one the largest in the world—usually among the top ten. Japan has particularly strong maritime capabilities, and is developing better counters to Chinese anti-access strategies including a larger submarine fleet, a campaign to get a new fighter and a new helicopter-carrier in the design phase. And there are also plans to deploy ground forces with anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles to the various islands that make up Japan’s southernmost territories.
In addition, Japan’s relative new governing party, the Democratic Party of Japan, has backed away from its initial pan-Asian policies in favour now of consolidating and strengthening the alliance with the United States…
John Hemmings isthe co-ordinator and a research analyst for the International Security Studies department at the Royal United Services Institute in London,
The Navy preserved development of future combat power over the next five years in its Fiscal Year 2015 $148 billion budget submission to Congress… The procurement documents…emphasize weapon systems over the Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP) that will fit into future Navy constructs…designed to prosecute high-end air wars in the 2020s as well as next generation surface ship weapons. The request is split between $45 billion for military personnel, $38.4 billion for ships, aircraft, weapons and Marine Corps gear, $16.3 billion in research and development, and $46.8 billion in operations and maintenance funding…
JANUARY 24, 2014
The Navy has already made some powerful assumptions about its next fight in the air.
- It’ll be away from home.
- It will be against a sophisticated and well-armed enemy.
- It’ll depend as much on information technology as it will on bombs or missiles. And it’s a fight for which the service isn’t ready.
When Adm. Jonathan Greenert – the current Chief of Naval Operations – took over the service in 2011, he laid out three basic tenets to sailors and all the ships at sea: “War Fighting. Operate Forward. Be Ready.” The subtext was clear; the service had spent more than a decade supporting the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, and as a result, its capability to fight a high-end war at sea and in the air had degraded. The might of the U.S. carrier fleet was used to drop bombs on Taliban fighters and others that did not have the benefit of high technology anti-air weapons. The United States easily dominated the battlefield, but has realized in the past few years the next air war won’t be nearly as easy…