Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

The U. S. Coast Guard in the South China Sea: Strategy or Folly?

By Michael D. Armour, Ph.D.

Introduction

Recently there has been discussions at the highest level of the U.S. military concerning the deployment of U.S. Coast Guard assets to the South China sea and integrating them into the freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) conducted by the U.S. Navy relating to the manmade atolls constructed by the Chinese and subsequently claimed as Chinese sovereign territory. It may be that these U.S. Coast Guard units, if deployed to the area, may turn out to be a combat multiplier or a diplomatic plus. However, given the meager USCG budget and the limited assets of the service, their deployment may prove to be insignificant or even fraught with danger.

Chinese Territorial Expansion Claims

The South China Sea (SCS) has become a flashpoint on the world stage. The People’s Republic of China has asserted territorial claims for many islands in the Spratly and Parcel groups that other nations, such as Viet Nam and the Philippines, claim as their own sovereign territory. In addition to these claims, the Chinese have occupied and militarized many of the manmade atolls which they have constructed in the same area. The photo below of Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly chain illustrates the militarization of these artificial atoll platforms and the amount of military hardware that has been installed on many of them.1

Fiery Cross Reef (CSIS AMTI)

Jeremy Bender reports that U.S. officials estimate that the Chinese construction at Fiery Cross Reef could accommodate an airstrip long enough for most of Beijing’s military aircraft and that China is also expanding manmade islands on Johnson South Reef, Johnson North Reef, Cuarteron Reef, and Gaven Reef around the Spratlys  He goes on to say that China appears to be expanding and upgrading military and civilian infrastructures including radars, satellite communication equipment, antiaircraft and naval guns, helipads and docks on some of the manmade atolls. These would likely be used as launching points for aerial defense operations in support of Chinese naval vessels in the southern reaches of the SCS.2 Additionally, China considers the waters surrounding these islands to be sovereign territory requiring foreign vessel notification before approaching the 12-mile limit.

U.S. Opposition

An international tribunal in The Hague ruled against China’s behavior in the SCS, including its construction of artificial islands, and found that its expansive claim to sovereignty over the waters had no legal basis. The tribunal also stated that China had violated international law by causing “irreparable harm” to the marine environment.3 In relation to this the U. S. Navy has conducted freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) around these atolls. On October 27, 2015, the guided missile destroyer USS Lassen transited within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, one of China’s artificially-built features in the SCS.4 On 10 May, 2016 the USS William P. Lawrence, a guided missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands.5 Also, in early 2016, USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54) came within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracels without prior notification.6 According to Alex Lockie the Trump administration may be willing to continue these confrontational FONOPs which will surely heighten tensions in the area.7

Enter the China Coast Guard

The China Coast Guard (CCG) is a critical tool in the effort to secure China’s maritime interests. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the enlargement and modernization of the China Coast Guard has improved China’s ability to enforce its maritime claims. In relation

to this, a survey conducted by China Power showed that of the 50 major incidents identified in the SCS, from 2010 onward, at least one CCG (or other Chinese maritime law enforcement) vessel was involved in 76 percent of incidents. Four additional incidents involved a Chinese naval vessel acting in a maritime law enforcement capacity, raising that number to 84 percent.8 China now possesses the world’s largest blue-water coast guard fleet and that it uses its law-enforcement cutters as an instrument of foreign policy.9 In relation to this, analysts conclude that in the flashpoints in the South China Sea, the Chinese are deploying coast guard ships and armed fishing vessels instead of its regular navy assets.10

Crest of the China Coast Guard

Enter the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)?

In January of 2017, Robbin Laird conducted an interview with the Commandant of the USCG, Admiral Paul Zukunft. He quoted the Admiral as stating the following in regard to the Coast Guard’s possible role in the SCS:

“I have discussed with the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) the concept that we would create a permanent USCG presence in the South China Sea and related areas. This would allow us to expand our working relationship with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. We can spearhead work with allies on freedom of navigation exercises as well.”11

The proposal to deploy USCG assets to the SCS was also espoused by David Barno and Nora Bensahel, who offered ways in which the United States could try to deter further Chinese encroachments in the SCS. One of their scenarios included the U.S. countering aggressive Chinese tactics by establishing a regular and visible Coast Guard presence in the area. They went on to say that:

“Only the United States has a major global coast guard capability, but some regional and even some international partners might be able to assist. As China has demonstrated, Coast Guard vessels are less provocative than warships, and their employment by the United States and partners could confront similar Chinese ships with far less risk of military escalation.”12

Others disagree with the above assessment. Brian Chao notes that the use of coast guard or constabulary forces in the South China Sea might actually increase the risk of war instead of easing tensions. He notes that using these forces as a diplomatic tool could lull all participants into a false sense of calm; however, these constabulary forces may be more willing to take aggressive actions because they may believe that the law is on their side.13

In addition to this negative stance, Aaron Picozzi and Lincoln Davidson question whether or not the U.S. Coast Guard could handle a mission in the South China Sea. They point out the reality that the U.S. Coast Guard lacks the capacity to base a “visible” presence in the SCS and that due to budget restraints, it simply does not have the ship capacity to carry out effective, sustained patrols in that area of operations. They also claim that the placement of U.S. Coast Guard cutters in the SCS would create a void in the service’s main mission, namely law enforcement, or search and rescue operations in home waters.14

If USCG assets are deployed to the SCS, it is hoped that because of the USCG’s good relations with its Chinese counterpart, tensions could be lessened and that U.S. interests could be better served. At this point, however, one must ask the following questions: What would happen if hostilities actually occurred and a situation arose pitting coast guard against coast guard? What kind of enemy capabilities and dangers would USCG personnel face?

The Capabilities, Structure, and Assets of the China Coast Guard

The China Coast Guard (CCG) was created in 2013 by the merging of five different organizations. These included the China Marine Surveillance (CMS); the Department of Agriculture’s China Fisheries Law Enforcement; the Ministry of Public Security’s Border Defense Coast Guard; and the Maritime Anti-Smuggling Police of the General Administration of Customs and the Ministry of Transport.15

The largest operational unit of the CCG is the flotilla, which is a regimental-level unit. Every coastal province has one to three Coast Guard flotillas and there are twenty CCG flotillas across the country.16 In 2015 the CCG possessed at least 79 ships displacing more than 1,000 tons, among which, at least 24 displace more than 3,000 tons. Most of these ships are not armed with deck guns but are equipped with advanced non-lethal weaponry, including water cannons and sirens.17  However, it seems that other CCG vessels are being armed with an array of more lethal weaponry. The China Daily Mail has reported that a number of CCG ships are being equipped with weapons which will give them greater strength to intensify law enforcement on the sea. The article also stated that China will transform many fishery administration and marine surveillance ships into armed coast guard cutters.18 The CCG has deployed a vessel (3901) that will carry 76mm rapid-fire guns, two auxiliary guns and two anti-aircraft machine guns. This monster ship, displacing 12,000 tons, is larger than U.S. Navy aegis-equipped surface combatants.          

Chinese Coast Guard Mega Cutter 3901 (China Defense Blog)

Jane’s 360 reported that images circulated on the Chinese internet indicate that the CCG has equipped its lead Type 818 vessel with the Type 630 30 mm close-in weapon system (CIWS).Two turrets of the system have been installed above the ship’s helicopter hangar, providing it with a means of defense against guided munitions and hostile aircraft. Information also indicates that the ship has also been armed with a 76 mm PJ-26 naval gun as its primary weapon.19

Lyle Goldstein relates that the Type 818 design discussed above can be rapidly configured into a naval combat frigate. He denotes the key characteristics for this class of ship, including, “134 meters in length, 15 meters at the beam, 3900 tons, and with a maximum speed of 27 knots. The ship is armed with a 76mm main gun, two heavy 30mm machine guns, four high pressure water cannons, and will also wield a Z-9 helicopter.”20

A photo taken by the Japan Coast Guard on Dec. 22 shows a Chinese coast guard ship equipped with what appear to be gun turrets (circled) cruising in a sea area near the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. (Japan Times)

Enter the Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM)

In addition to their coast guard assets, the Chinese also deploy a vast number of fishing and merchant vessels that comprise what is referred to as the Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM). China has the largest fishing fleet in the world and it uses these assets as a third force in their effort to control the South China Sea. The CMM is a paramilitary force that operates in conjunction with the CCG but is cloaked behind the international legal shield of being civilian commercial assets.21 A 1978 report estimated that China’s maritime militia consisted of 750,000 personnel and 140,000 vessels and a 2010 defense white paper reported that China had 8 million militia units with the CMM being a smaller subset of that group.

The CMM personnel are trained in activities such as reconnaissance, harassment and blocking maneuvers, and this organization possesses the potential to evolve into a more formidable maritime fighting force. Militia ships could be armed with light anti-ship missiles such as the C-101 or HY1-A and be trained in more elaborate tactics such as maritime swarm tactics interconnected by Network Centric Warfare (NCW).22

A crewmember on a Chinese trawler uses a grapple hook in an apparent attempt to snag the towed acoustic array of the military Sealift Command ocean surveillance ship USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS-23). Impeccable was conducting routine survey operations in international waters 75 miles south of Hainan Island when it was harassed by five Chinese vessels. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Conclusion

It is entirely possible that the introduction of U.S. Coast Guard assets into the South China Sea area of operations will result in positive results in the form of increased capabilities and support off U.S. FONOPS and that USCG “white hulls” will relieve tensions in a conflicted milieu. However, there is also a possibility that USCG forces may become embroiled in actual conflict in the area; therefore, a comprehensive risk analysis should be undertaken before any considerable commitment is undertaken and the mission should be considered a “go” only if the benefits heavily outweigh the costs.

If the U.S. Coast Guard is faced with conflict in the South China Sea, it will not be alone in the effort. The full weight of the U.S. military will also be present. U.S. forces will be confronted with three levels of threat. These include the formidable Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy, the China Coast Guard, and the Chinese Maritime Militia.  It is obvious that the main counter to these entities will be the U.S. Navy and the allied navies in the area. The assets that the U.S. Coast Guard could contribute to the effort would be limited and the cost might be considerable. While such a mission would enhance the Coast Guard’s image, it may turn out to be folly rather than strategy.

Michael D Armour, Ph.D, retired as a Colonel from the U.S. Army and is an  Instructor of Political Science at The University of Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee. He served as Adjunct Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and holds an M.S.S. in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College. He is a member of Flotilla 15-03, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, in Memphis, Tennessee.

References

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/07/30/world/asia/what-china-has-been-building-in-the-south-china-sea.html

[2] http://www.businessinsider.com/china-is-fortifying-position-in-south-china-sea-2015-1

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/13/world/asia/south-china-sea-hague-ruling-philippines.html

[4] https://www.csis.org/analysis/us-asserts-freedom-navigation-south-china-sea

[5] https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/us-navy-carries-out-third-fonop-south-china-sea

[6]  https://news.usni.org/2017/07/02/u-s-destroyer-conducts-freedom-navigation-operation-south-china-sea-past-chinese-island

[7] http://www.businessinsider.com/us-navy-freedom-of-navigation-south-china-sea-fonops-2017-2

[8] https://chinapower.csis.org/maritime-forces-destabilizing-asia/

[9] https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2015-04-0/chinas-second-navy

[10] https://chinadailymail.com/2017/06/17/china-marks-south-china-sea-claims-with-coast-guard-marine-militias/

[11] http://roilogolez.blogspot.com/2017/01/trump-kelly-us-coast-guard-in-south.html

[12] https://warontherocks.com/2016/06/a-guide-to-stepping-it-up-in-the-south-china-sea/

[13] http://nationalinterest.org/feature/coast-guards-could-accidently-spark-war-the-south-china-16766

[14] https://warontherocks.com/2016/06/can-the-u-s-coast-guard-take-on-the-south-china-sea/

[15] Martinson, Ryan D., “From Words to Actions: The Creation of the China Coast Guard” A paper for the China as a “Maritime Power” Conference July 28-29, 2015 CNA Conference Facility Arlington, Virginia, p.2.

[16] https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=China%20Coast%20Guard&item_type=topic

[17] Martinson, op cit, pp. 44-45.

[18] https://chinadailymail.com/2013/06/19/china-coast-guard-ships-now-carry-weapons-in-south-china-sea/

[19] http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/chinas-new-coast-guard-vessels-are-designed-rapid-conversion-18221

[20 http://www.manilalivewire.com/2016/02/china-is-arming-its-coast-guard-ships-with-sophisticated-weaponry-reports/

[22] Kraska, James and Monti, Michael, The Law of Naval Warfare and China’s Maritime Militia, International Law Studies, Vol. 91, 2015.

[23] http://dailycaller.com/2016/09/24/how-the-us-should-respond-to-chinas-secret-weapon/

[24] Armour, Michael D., The Chinese Maritime Militia: A Perfect Swarm? Journal of Defense Studies, Vol. 10, No.3, July-September 2016, pp. 21-39.

Featured Image: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell returns to homeport in San Diego after a 90-day counter drug patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Oct. 6, 2014. During the patrol, the Boutwell participated in six separate cocaine interdictions. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Connie Terrell)

The Advent of Feral Maritime Zones

By J. Overton

Massive amounts of seaborne debris were created from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. The debris fields caused alarm as they floated about the Pacific Ocean, reaching all the way to the western United States. Components of the debris field included marine waste, invasive species, toxic discharge, derelict vessels, and even some radioactivity. Individually, these components were nothing new in the maritime environment. However, as these components combined and spread over an area larger than any oil spill, they impacted many different countries. The debris fields were poorly understood and comparisons and analogies to previous situations fell short. Expert opinions ranged from “mostly dissipating before landfall” to “environmental catastrophe.” 

While the outcome has been less damaging than some warned, the situation was not totally innocuous, nor unrepeatable. More than six years after the event, nearly 300 different species have crossed the world’s largest ocean and landed in North America, helped along on “rafts” of unsinkable, long lasting, man-made products. Although none of the species have appeared to establish themselves on American shores, the same phenomenon could play host to the next wave of invasive species.2 

The giant, seaborne, evolving environmental and navigational hazard that escaped nation-state boundaries was perhaps the first emergence of a phenomenon best described as a feral maritime zone (FMZ).

The feral, that which is a product of civilization but is now in some manner wild, has always held a fascination and challenge for still-domesticated humanity. Entities that can become feral and ways in which that condition may be brought about have historically been limited and managed locally. The possibilities for greater impact, however, are expanding. In a 2003 edition of the Naval War College Review, Richard Norton posited the idea of a “feral city.” He described it as “…a metropolis with a population of more than a million people in a state the government of which has lost the ability to maintain the rule of law within the city’s boundaries yet remains a functioning actor in the greater international system,” and “…where state and international authorities would be massively ignorant of the true nature of the power structures, population, and activities…”3

The FMZ’s composition, size, complexity, and international impact make it, like the feral city, an occurrence only possible in the last half-century. Cities have always had areas of danger, disease, and crime. But these problems, like urban decay and violence, have remained local issues and could be mostly confined. In recent decades, with uneven and accelerating surges in technology and population, cities have gained the potential to become feral. Likewise, the same surges in technology and population has allowed for the possibility of a rudderless flotilla of debris, animals, and plants surviving for years and crossing thousands of miles of ocean. “Shoreline species usually don’t find a way to get across the Pacific,” said an Oregon State University biologist who specializes in invasive species. “But the combination of the tsunami and man-made objects such as docks and floats meant that Japanese species got a rare chance at a ride to the West Coast.” 4

Because this debris exists in an already volatile and mysterious medium, there is massive “ignorance of its true nature” and a lack of consensus on how to deal with it. The FMZ, like the feral city, is now a part of the greater international system which no state controls, nor fully understands. While it may be hard to imagine circumstances aligning to produce another FMZ with all the elements of that caused by the Japanese tsunami, the fundamentals remain present. There are more people living in large unstable areas, using technology and creating more waste as a consequence. In addition, human activity has long exacerbated natural disasters and natural disasters have in turn created more unstable societies. For example, thousands of non-native farm-raised salmon were released into Washington State’s Puget Sound when their net pen broke open. Through the confluence of these factors, a new major feral maritime zone seems inevitable.

Feral situations may not seem like a problem with military solutions. For example, the remediation plan for the accidental salmon release has been to encourage unrestricted fishing on the species. However, in the case of the Japanese tsunami disaster, political leaders described the tsunami debris field’s landfall as a national emergency. The U.S. military is often tasked with solving these “national emergencies” because of their range of capabilities and assets. The U.S. Coast Guard, perhaps the most logical service to respond to an FMZ, was used post-tsunami to sink a derelict Japanese fishing boat found adrift near Alaska. In addition, National Guard troops and the U.S. Navy have been used in the past for beach clean-up after oil spills and oil-spill response, recently used in the 2010 British Petroleum disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. 

GULF OF ALASKA – The Japanese fishing vessel, Ryou-Un Maru, is sunk in the Gulf of Alaska after receiving significant damage from the Coast Guard Cutter Anancapa crew firing explosive ammunition into it 180 miles west of the Southeast Alaskan coast April 5, 2012. (U.S. Coast Guard video by Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandon Thomas)

An effective and holistic response and recovery effort for
a more severe FMZ’s impact on land and sea would be a tremendous and taxing effort. Although the first occurrence of an FMZ was thankfully not as destructive as some predicted, as Norton wrote of feral cities, so too with feral maritime zones: “It is questionable whether the tools, resources, and strategies that would be required to deal with these threats exist at present.”7 Although the sea services face many challenges and competing priorities, now may be the time to at least consider how dealing with a future FMZ might fit into that mix.

J. Overton is a civilian writer/editor for Navy. He was previously an adjunct instructor in the Naval War College Fleet Seminar Program and the Marine Corps Command and Staff College Distance Education Program. J. served in the U.S. Coast Guard, and has worked in other public affairs and historian positions for the Navy and Army. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government.

References

[1]   “ Japanese tsunami debris: It’s not the problem California feared”  From March, 2016, http://www.mercurynews.com/2016/03/15/japanese-tsunami-debris-its-not-the-problem-california-feared/

[2] “Tsunami Debris Continues To Bring New Marine Species To The Pacific Northwest” at http://nwpr.org/post/tsunami-debris-continues-bring-new-marine-species-pacific-northwest

[3]  Richard Norton’s article “Feral Cities” in the autumn 2003 Naval War College Review.  http://www.iwp.edu/docLib/20131022_NortonFeralCities.pdf

[4]  Read or listen to the NPR story on tsunami debris washing up on the west coast of the U.S. at  http://www.npr.org/2012/06/19/155380945/officials-wary-as-japanese-tsunami-junk-washes-up

[5] “Washington State’s Great Salmon Spill and the Environmental Perils of Fish Farming” https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/washington-states-great-salmon-spill-and-the-environmental-perils-of-fish-farming and the now-debunked “Eclipse blamed for accidental release of thousands of Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound” – http://komonews.com/news/local/eclipse-blamed-for-accidental-release-of-thousands-of-atlantic-salmon-into-puget-sound

[6] “BP Oil Spill: Navy Sends MZ-3A Blimp to Help Survey Gulf of Mexico” at http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/bp-oil-spill-navy-sends-mz-3a-blimp/story?id=11096348

[7] See ‘Feral Cities’

Featured Image: Response crews battle the blazing remnants of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the Louisiana coast on April 21, 2010. (U.S. Coast Guard/Reuters)

The Quest for India’s Supercarrier

This article originally featured on CSIS cogitAsia and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Tuneer Mukherjee

The recent decommissioning of the aircraft carrier INS Viraat leaves an enormous gap in the Indian Navy’s power projection capabilities. India’s sole remaining aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya will now serve at the vanguard, as evidenced this year by the ongoing Exercise Malabar and the earlier held TROPEX (Theater Readiness Operational Exercise). TROPEX reflected a shift in the mindset of Indian strategists from focusing exclusively on maneuvers for protection of the immediate littoral to combat concepts fixated around a larger maritime theater. It was a departure from considering Pakistan its main adversary and suggested an increasingly significant emphasis on China as the primary strategic threat. The Indian Navy’s plans to establish two carrier task forces affords it a limited window to finalize the design for its second indigenous aircraft carrier given the protracted schedule required to construct and operationalize a carrier battle group.

In the past decade, there has been a general change in strategic thinking in both Beijing and New Delhi. Policymakers have realized the importance of having dynamic maritime capabilities. This reflects a major doctrinal shift in the grand strategy of the two nations, which have usually revolved around developing traditional continental forces aimed at countering threats along their land borders.

In this regard, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA-N) has increased investment in naval forces and has established dominance over its regional waters. The PLA-N is asserting its naval power in the South China Sea and is simultaneously holding live-fire exercises in the open seas from the southeast Indian Ocean to the eastern Pacific. These actions threaten the overarching security situation in the wider maritime theater, and countries in the region are growing progressively uncertain about China’s intentions. The capabilities of most navies in the wider maritime theater are paltry in comparison to the PLA-N — and China plans to continue its naval build up. Given this escalating security dilemma, the Indian Navy is the only resident power in South Asia that has the resources and capabilities to counter the emerging strategic imbalance in the maritime theater. The Indian Navy had previously taken a defensive approach and concentrated resources on developing credible anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities, as the immediate concern for the strategists in New Delhi was Chinese submarines roaming in their backyard.

Despite a change in thinking, the commitment of the Indian Navy to see its new maritime doctrine through from defense white papers to the open waters hangs in doubt, given the history of bureaucratic delays, inefficient procurement, and ineffectual financing. The delay in its indigenous aircraft carrier program is a prime example. China is clearly moving ahead of India, with plans to induct its second indigenously produced aircraft-carrier into service before 2020. Meanwhile, India has struggled to meet deadlines for the INS Vikrant, its first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-1).

In this race of aircraft carriers, India’s only saving grace could be the follow-on project, INS Vishal (IAC-2). This single supercarrier may push India to a dominant position in the long-term fight for naval superiority with China over the maritime commons of the Indo-Asia-Pacific. Vishal could possibly be the first nuclear powered supercarrier built in Asia. The discussion around the Indian Navy’s maritime strategy is centered around the IAC-2 to such an extent that it has decided to shelve plans to develop an indigenously produced aircraft in favor of procuring a better multi-role fighter aircraft that would suit the capabilities of the Vishal. The Vishal’s main selling point is its proposed nuclear propulsion engine. Russia, India’s long-trusted defense and arms supplier, jumped on board to deliver the aircraft carrier, and the Indian establishment has also sent letters of request to multiple European nations. There is also the possibility that India may shun foreign reactors altogether and built its own indigenous reactor for marine propulsion.

The United States, however, is poised to be the preferred partner in this initiative as it holds the most advanced technology for nuclear propulsion in aircraft carriers, and India has progressively increased its defense cooperation with the United States. Toward this end, India and the United States signed an agreement to share research and technology for an aircraft carrier that fits these requirements. The other area of cooperation in this partnership would be fitting the Vishal with the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (assuming nuclear propulsion), which would allow it to launch heavier aircraft like larger fighters, airborne early-warning aircraft, and refueling tankers.

Ultimately, in the long-term, the future of the Indian Navy will be built around the INS Vishal, and it is imperative that the strategists of New Delhi realize that this single venture will decide the fate of the navy’s ambitious modernization plans. The planning and design for Vishal is still in its initial stages, and this has led to delays in procurement of support vessels that will make up the carrier strike group. The success of this program depends on the Indian establishment shedding its previous inhibitions and adopting a more steadfast attitude to the rise of Chinese naval power in the Indian Ocean. It requires the government of the day to engage the United States in transferring technology never made available before, even to close allies.

Most importantly, if India is to deploy carrier strike groups to both of its maritime frontiers — the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal — it must develop better manufacturing facilities and realize the costs underlying its most ambitious project yet. The cost of building and maintaining a nuclear carrier strike group will run into the billions and would require a significantly larger allocation of the defense budget to the navy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has given priority to India’s maritime interests in the entire Indo-Asia-Pacific, and the comments of an Indian minister supporting freedom of navigation and overflight in the disputed waters of the South China Sea supplement this view. India Naval Chief Sunil Lanba has touted India as a “net security provider in the Indian Ocean.” A 65,000-ton supercarrier would give India the ability to achieve it all but, for this to become a reality, New Delhi must shed its traditional lethargy and shake things up.

Aircraft Carrier Capabilities (Present & Planned) – India, China & United States

Name Class Type Displacement(tonnage) Status^ Operator
Vikramaditya Kiev Conventional 45,000 Operational India*
Vikrant (IAC-1) Vikrant Conventional 40,000 Est. 2023 India
Vishal (IAC-2) Vikrant TBD 65,000 Est. 2030 India
Liaoning Kuzentsov Conventional 60,000 Operational China*
Shandong Kuzentsov Conventional 70,000 Est. 2020 China
Type 002 Type 002 Conventional 85,000 Est. 2023 China
CVN (68,69,70)Nimitz

sub-class;
CVN (71,72,73,74,75)
Theodore Roosevelt
sub-class;
CVN (76, 77)
Ronald Reagan
sub-class

Nimitz Nuclear Average- 100,000 Operational United States
CVN 78 Gerald R. Ford Nuclear 100,000 Operational United States
CVN 79 Gerald R. Ford Nuclear 100,000 Est. 2020 United States
CVN 80 Gerald R. Ford Nuclear 100,000 Est. 2025 United States
 *The Russian Federation/USSR was the original manufacturer/operator of the carriers.
^The estimated times are for the year when the carrier is scheduled to be commissioned.

Mr. Tuneer Mukherjee is a former intern at the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at CSIS and holds a master’s from the American University School of International Service. Follow him on twitter @MTuneer

Featured Image: Indian Navy carrier INS Vikramaditya (Indian Navy photo)

The PLA Navy’s Plan for Dominance: Subs, Shipborne ASBMs, and Carrier Aviation

By Richard D. Fisher, Jr.

Introduction

Potential modernization plans or ambitions of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) were revealed in unprecedented detail by a former PLAN Rear Admiral in a university lecture, perhaps within the last 2-3 years. The Admiral, retired Rear Admiral Zhao Dengping, revealed key programs such as: a new medium-size nuclear attack submarine; a small nuclear auxiliary engine for conventional submarines; ship-based use of anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs); next-generation destroyer capabilities; and goals for PLAN Air Force modernization. Collections of PowerPoint slides from Zhao’s lecture appeared on multiple Chinese military issue webpages on 21 and 22 August 2017,[1] apparently from a Northwestern Polytechnical University lecture. Notably, Zhao is a former Director of the Equipment Department of the PLAN. One online biography notes Zhao is currently a Deputy Minister of the General Armaments Department of the Science and Technology Commission and Chairman of the Navy Informatization Committee, so he likely remains involved in Navy modernization programs.[2]

Retired Rear Admiral Zhao Dengping,
who delivered an unusually detailed speech on China’s naval modernization, slides for which were posted on multiple Chinese military issue web sites.

However, Zhao’s precise lecture remarks were not revealed on these webpages. Also unknown is the exact date of Zhao’s lecture, though it likely took place within the last 2-3 years based on the estimated age of some of his illustrations. His slides mentioned known PLAN programs like the Type 055 destroyer (DDG), a Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) amphibious assault ship (for which he provided added confirmation), the Type 056 corvette, and the YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship missile.

Most crucially, it is Zhao’s mention of potential PLAN programs that constitutes an unprecedented revelation from a PLAN source. Rejecting the levels of “transparency” required in democratic societies, China’s PLA rarely allows detailed descriptions of its future modernization programs. While Admiral Zhao occasionally plays the role of sanctioned “expert” in the Chinese military media,[3] it remains to be seen if he or the likely student “leaker” will be punished for having revealed too much or whether other PLA “experts” will be allowed to detail the modernization programs of other services.[4] 

Admiral Zhao’s slides also mentioned many known PLAN programs, and perhaps helped to confirm that it intends to build a Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) large amphibious assault ship. (CJDBY)

While there is also a possibility of this being a deception exercise, this must be balanced by the fact that additional slides were revealed on some of the same Chinese web pages on 23 September. The failure of Chinese web censors to remove both the earlier and later slides may also mean their revelation may be a psychological operation to intimidate future maritime opponents.

A New SSN

Admiral Zhao described a new unidentified 7,000-ton nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) that will feature a “new type of powerplant…new weapon system [and] electronic information system.” An image shows this SSN featuring a sound isolation raft and propulsor which should reduce its acoustic signature, 12 cruise missile tubes in front of the sail, and a bow and sail similar to the current Type 093 SSN. This design appears to have a single hull, which would be a departure from current PLAN submarine design practice, but the 7,000 ton weigh suggests it may reflect the lower-cost weight and capability balance seen in current U.S. and British SSNs.[5]   

It is not known if this represents the next generation Type 095 SSN expected to enter production in the next decade. However, in 2015 the Asian Military Review journal reported the PLAN would build up to 14 Type 095s.[6]

Of some interest, Admiral Zhao describes a new 7,000 ton nuclear powered attack submarine (SSN), showing acoustic capability enhancements, internal storage for 12 large missiles, but design similarities with the older Type 093 SSN. (CJDBY)

Small Nuclear Powerplant

Zhao also revealed the PLAN may be working on a novel low power/low pressure auxiliary nuclear powerplant for electricity generation for fitting into conventional submarine designs, possibly succeeding the PLAN’s current Stirling engine-based air independent propulsion (AIP) systems. One slide seems to suggest that the PLAN will continue to build smaller submarines around the size of current conventional powered designs, but that they will be modified to carry the new nuclear auxiliary powerplant to give them endurance advantages of nuclear power.  

Admiral Zhao suggests that the PLAN is developing a new nuclear reactor-powered auxiliary power unit to charge the batteries of smaller and less expensive conventional submarines, allowing the PLAN to more rapidly increase its numbers of “nuclear” powered submarines. (CJDBY)

Zhao’s diagram of this powerplant shows similarities to the Soviet/Russian VAU-6 auxiliary nuclear powerplant tested in the late 1980s on a Project 651 Juliet conventional cruise missile submarine (SSG).[7] Reports indicate Russia continued to develop this technology but there are no reports of its sale to China. Russia’s Project 20120 submarine Sarov may have a version of the VAU-6 giving it an underwater endurance of 20 days.[8] While the PLA would likely seek longer endurance, it may be attracted by the potential cost savings of a nuclear auxiliary powered submarine compared to a SSN.[9]

A slide of Admiral Zhao’s showing a diagram of a nuclear reactor powered auxiliary power unit for small submarines, appears to be similar to the Soviet/Russian VAU-6 design. (CJDBY)   

Naval ASBMs and Energy Weapons

Zhao’s slides detailed weapon and technical ambitions for future surface combatant ships. While one slide depicts a ship-launched ASBM flight profile, another slide indicates that future ships could be armed with a “near-space hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile,” perhaps meaning a maneuverable hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) warhead already tested by the PLA, and a “shipborne high-speed ballistic anti-ship missile,” perhaps similar to the land-based 1,500km range DF-21D or 4,000km range DF-26 ASBMs. At the 2014 Zhuhai Air Show the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) revealed its 280km range WS-64 ASBM, likely based on the HQ-16 anti-aircraft missile.

Another slide details that surface ships could be armed with “long-range guided projectiles,” perhaps precision guided conventional artillery, a “shipborne laser weapon” and “shipborne directed-energy weapon.” Chinese academic sources point to longstanding work on naval laser and naval microwave weapons.

Admiral Zhao’s slides also detailed new naval weapon ambitions, to include taking anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) to sea. This would greatly increase the PLAN’s ability to overwhelm U.S. ship defenses with multiple missile strikes. (CJDBY)

Future Destroyer

A subsequent slide details that a future DDG may have an “integrated electric power system,” have “full-spectrum stealthiness,” use an “integrated mast and integrated RF technology, plus “new type laser/kinetic energy weapons,” and a “mid-course interception capability.” These requirements, plus a subsequent slide showing a tall stealthy superstructure integrating electronic systems, possibly point to a ship with the air defense and eventual railgun/laser weapons of the U.S. Zumwalt-class DDG.

Modern Naval Aviation Ambitions

Zhao’s lecture also listed requirements for future “PLAN Aviation Follow Developments,” to include: a “new type carrier-borne fighter;” a “carrier-borne EW [electronic warfare] aircraft;” a “carrier borne fixed AEW [airborne early warning];” a “new type ship-borne ASW [anti-submarine warfare] helicopter;” a “medium-size carrier-borne UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle];” a “stratospheric long-endurance UAV;” and a “stratospheric airship.” 

Admiral Zhao illustrated PLAN aviation ambitions with an airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft similar to a Xian Y-7 based test platform, but this may simply represent a generic carrier AWACS. (CJDBY)

These aircraft likely include a 5th generation fighter, an airborne warning and control systems (AWACS), an EW variant of that airframe, and a multi-role medium size turbofan-powered UAV that could form the core of a future PLAN carrier air wing. Ground-based but near-space operating UAVs and airships will likely assist the PLAN’s long-range targeting, surveillance, and communications requirements.

Submarine Dominance

Should the Type 095 SSN emerge as an “efficient” design similar to the U.S. Virginia class, and should the PLA successfully develop a nuclear auxiliary power system for SSK-sized submarines, this points to a possible PLA strategy to transition affordably to an “all-nuclear” powered submarine fleet. While nuclear auxiliary powered submarines may not have the endurance of SSNs, their performance could exceed that of most AIP powered submarines for an acquisition price far lower than that of an SSN.

Assuming the Asian Military Review report proves correct and that the PLAN has success in developing its auxiliary nuclear power plant, then by sometime in the 2030s the PLAN attack submarine fleet could consist of about 20 Type 093 and successor “large” SSNs, plus 20+ new smaller nuclear-auxiliary powered submarines, and 30+ advanced Type 039 and Kilo class conventional submarines.  

Such nuclear submarine numbers would not only help the PLAN challenge the current dominance of U.S. Navy SSNs, it could also could help the PLAN begin to transition to an “offensive” strategy against U.S. and Russian nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). But in Asia it would give the PLAN numerical and technical advantages over the non-nuclear submarines of Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, Russia, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. This combined with rapid PLAN development of new anti-submarine capabilities, to include its “Underwater Great Wall” of seabed sensors and underwater unmanned combat vessels,[10] point to an ambition to achieve undersea dominance in Asia.

An auxiliary nuclear- powered version of the Type 032 SSB could help enable multi-axis ASBM strikes. (CJDBY)

Such nuclear auxiliary engine technology also gives the PLAN the option to develop a number of longer-endurance but low-cost ballistic missile submarines, perhaps based on the Type 032 conventional ballistic missile submarine (SSG). Such submarines might deploy nuclear-armed, submarine-launched intercontinental missiles, long-range cruise missiles, or ASBMs. Auxiliary nuclear-powered submarines may be easier to station at the PLA’s developing system of naval bases, like Djibouti, Gwadar, Pakistan, and perhaps Hambantota, Sri Lanka. China can also be expected to export such submarines.

ASBMs at Sea

China’s potential deployment of ASBMs, especially HGV-armed ASBMs to surface ships, poses a real asymmetric challenge for the U.S. Navy which is just beginning to develop new long-range but subsonic speed anti-ship missiles. Eventually the PLAN could strike its enemies with two levels of multi-axis missile attacks: 1) hypersonic ASBMs launched from land bases, ships, submarines, and aircraft; and 2) multi-axis supersonic and subsonic anti-ship missiles also launched from naval platforms and aviation. ASBMs on ships and submarines also give the PLAN added capability for long-range strikes against land targets and overall power projection.

Carrier Power Projection

Admiral Zhao is indicating that the PLAN’s future conventional take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) carrier will be armed with a modern and capable air wing, likely anchored around a 5th generation multi-role fighter. A model concept nuclear-powered aircraft carrier revealed in mid-July at a military museum in Beijing suggests this 5th gen fighter will be based on the heavy, long-range Chengdu J-20, but medium weight 5th gen fighters from Shenyang or Chengdu are also possibilities. This model indicated they could be supported by unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) for strike, surveillance or refueling missions, plus dedicated airborne early warning and electronic warfare aircraft. This plus the PLAN’s development of large landing helicopter dock (LHD) amphibious assault ships, the 10,000 ton Type 055 escort cruiser, and the 50,000 ton Type 901 high speed underway replenishment ship indicate that the PLAN is well on its way to assembling U.S. Navy-style global naval power projection capabilities.

In Mid-July a Beijing military museum featured a model of a Chinese concept nuclear powered aircraft carrier, showing an air wing including J-20 stealth fighters, UCAVs, and AWACS. (FYJS)

But Admiral Zhao’s indication that the PLAN will be developing its own “near space” long-range targeting capabilities, in the form of a “stratospheric long-endurance UAV” and a “stratospheric airship” points to the likelihood that the PLAN is already developing synergies between its future ASBMs and its advanced aircraft carriers. This year has already seen suggestions of PLA interest in a future semi-submersible “arsenal ships” perhaps armed with hundreds of missiles.[11] Were the PLAN to successfully combine shipborne long-range ASBM and carrier strike operations, it would be the first to build this combination to implement new strategies for naval dominance.[12]

Arresting the PLAN’s Quest for Dominance

 Admiral Zhao outlines a modernization plan that could enable the PLAN to achieve Asian regional dominance, and with appropriate investments in power projection platforms, be able to dominate other regions. But it remains imperative for Washington to monitor closely if Zhao’s revelations do reflect real ambitions, as a decline in U.S. power emboldens China’s proxies like North Korea and could tempt China to invade Taiwan.

Far from simply building a larger U.S. Navy, there must be increased investments in new platforms and weapons that will allow the U.S. Navy to exceed Admiral Zhao’s outline for a future Chinese Navy. It is imperative for the U.S. to accelerate investments that will beat China’s deployment of energy and hypersonic weapons at sea and lay the foundation for second generations of these weapons. There should be a crash program to implement the U.S. Navy’s dispersed warfighting concept of “Distributed Lethality,” put ASBM and long-range air/missile defenses on carriers, LHDs and LPDs, perhaps even large replenishment ships,[13] and then design new platforms that better incorporate hypersonic and energy weapons. There should also be crash investments in 5++ or 6th generation air dominance for the U.S. Navy and Air Force.

There is also little alternative for the U.S. but to build up its own undersea forces and work with allies to do the same to thwart China’s drive for undersea dominance. If autonomous/artificial intelligence control systems do not enable fully combat capable UUCVs, then perhaps there should be consideration of intermediate numerical enhancements like small “fighter” submarines carried by larger SSNs or new small/less expensive submarines. A capability should be maintained to exploit or disable any Chinese deployment of “Underwater Great Wall” systems in international waters.

It is just as important for the U.S. to work with its Japanese, South Korea, Australian, and Philippine allies. As it requests Tokyo to increase its submarine and 5th generation fighter numbers, Washington should work with Tokyo to secure the Ryukyu Island Chain from Chinese attack. The U.S. should also work with Manila to enable its forces to destroy China’s newly build island bases in the South China Sea. It is just as imperative for the U.S. to work with Taiwan to accelerate its acquisition of missile, submarine, and air systems required to defeat a Chinese invasion. Taiwan should be part of a new informal intelligence/information sharing network with Japan, South Korea, and India to create full, multi-sensor coverage of Chinese territory to allow detection of the earliest signs of Chinese aggression.

Conclusion

Both U.S. and then Chinese sources have tried to downplay the scope of China’s naval ambitions. About 15 years ago the U.S. Department of Defense assessed that China would not build aircraft carriers.[14] Then earlier this year a Chinese military media commentator denied that China will, “build 12 formations of carriers like the U.S.”[15] However, Zhao’s acceleration of China’s transition to a full nuclear submarine fleet, ambitions for new hypersonic and energy weapons, plus continued investments in carrier, amphibious, larger combat support and logistic support ships, point to the potential goal of first seeking Asian regional dominance, and then perhaps dominance in select extra-regional combat zones.

Former Vice Admiral Zhao’s lecture is a very rare revelation, in perhaps unprecedented detail, of a portion of the PLA’s future modernization ambitions. It confirms that many future PLAN modernization ambitions follow those of the U.S. Navy, possibly indicating that China intends to develop a navy with both the global reach and the high-tech weapons and electronics system necessary to compete for dominance with the U.S. Navy.  

Richard D. Fisher, Jr. is a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.  

References

[1] Poster “052D Hefei ship,” CJDBY Web Page, August 21, 2017, https://lt.cjdby.net/thread-2408457-1-1.html; Poster “Kyushu universal,” FYJS Web Page, August 21, 2017, http://www.fyjs.cn/thread-1879203-1-1.html; and for some slide translations see poster “Cirr,” Pakistan Defense Web Page, August 21, 2017, https://defence.pk/pdf/threads/2014-the-beginning-of-a-new-era-for-plan-build-up.294228/page-114; ; slides briefly analyzed in Richard D. Fisher, “PLAN plans: former admiral details potential modernization efforts of the Chinese Navy,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, September 6, 2017, p.30.

[2] One biography for Zhao was posted on the CJDBY web page, August 21, 2017, https://lt.cjdby.net/thread-2408457-2-1.html

[3] “Deputy Chief Minister of Navy Equipment on the Contrast of Chinese and Russian Ships [我海军装备原部副部长谈中俄舰艇真实对比], Naval and Merchant Ships, September 2013, http://mil.news.sina.com.cn/2013-08-10/1023734607.html

[4] In 20+ years of following People’s Liberation Army modernization, this analyst has not encountered a more detailed revelation of PLA modernization intentions than Admiral Zhao’s lecture slides as revealed on Chinese web pages.

[5] For both points the author thanks Christopher Carlson, retired U.S. Navy analyst, email communication cited with permission, August 24, 2017.

[6] “AMR Naval Directory,” May 1, 2015, http://www.asianmilitaryreview.com/ships-dont-lie/

[7] Carlson, op-cit.

[8] “Sarov,” Military-Today.com, http://www.military-today.com/navy/sarov.htm

[9] For a price comparison between nuclear and AIP propelled submarines, see, “Picard578,” “AIP vs nuclear submarine,” Defense Issues Web Page, March 3, 2013, https://defenseissues.net/2013/03/03/aip-vs-nuclear-submarines/

[10] For more on Underwater Great Wall, see Richard D. Fisher, Jr., “China proposes ‘Underwater Great Wall’ that could erode US, Russian submarine advantages,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, May 17, 2016, http://www.janes.com/article/60388/china-proposes-underwater-great-wall-that-could-erode-us-russian-submarine-advantages

[11] A series of indicators on Chinese web pages was usefully analyzed by Henri Kenhmann, “Has China Revived the Arsenal Ship, but as a semi-submersible?,” EastPendulum Web Page, May 29, 2017, https://www.eastpendulum.com/la-chine-fait-renaitre-arsenal-ship-semi-submersible

[12] While the arsenal ship concept has long been considered on the U.S. side, and was most recently revived by the Huntington Ingles Corporation in the form of a missile armed LPD, the U.S. has yet to decide to develop such a ship. For an early review of the Huntington Ingles concept see, Christopher P. Cavas, “HII Shows Off New BMD Ship Concept At Air-Sea-Space,” Defense News.com, April 8, 2013, http://intercepts.defensenews.com/2013/04/hii-shows-off-new-bmd-ship-concept-at-sea-air-space/

[13] Dave Majumdar, “The U.S. Navy Just Gave Us the Inside Scoop on the “Distributed Lethality” Concept,” The National Interest Web Page, October 16, 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/the-us-navy-just-gave-us-the-inside-scoop-the-distributed-18185

[14] “While continuing to research and discuss possibilities, China appears to have set aside indefinitely plans to acquire an aircraft carrier.” See, Report to Congress Pursuant to the FY2000 National Defense Authorization Act, ANNUAL REPORT ON THE MILITARY POWER OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA. July 28, 2003, p. 25, http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/20030730chinaex.pdf

[15] Wang Lei, “China will never build 12 aircraft carriers like the US, says expert,” China Global Television Network (CGTN) Web Page, March 3, 2017, https://news.cgtn.com/news/3d557a4e30676a4d/share_p.html

Featured Image: On 23 April in Shanghai, Chinese sailors hail the departure of one of three navy ships that are now in the Philippines, as part of a public relations tour to over 20 countries. (AP)