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 guns, facilities to support two Z-8 helicopters, and a top speed of 25 knots.
The fortnight-long icy drama in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, is finally over and the two ice breakers, MV Akademik Shokalskiy of Russia, trapped since Christmas Eve, and Xue Long, the Chinese ship that came to rescue it, broke through the thick sea-ice and headed back to their routine summer deployment and scientific tasks.
It all began after Akademik Shokalskiy, carrying 74 people on board, made a distress call that it was unable to cut through the ice and was stranded. Xue Long, which was on its way to assist the construction of the new Chinese Antarctic station responded to the emergency, but could not break through the ice; it stopped six miles short of the distressed vessel. However, it successfully airlifted 52 passengers from the Russian ship but got trapped in the ice itself. In the early stages of these developments, two icebreakers France’s L’Astrolabe, and Australia’s Aurora Australis were also on deployment in the area but not expected to reach the scene quickly. However, it is Aurora Australis that ferried the rescued passengers to Hobart in Tasmania, Australia. During the course of the above events, the United States also dispatched its U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, but by then the two vessels had extricated from the sea-ice.
This rescue operation is a fine example of multinational effort, and the New York Times described it as a display of “unusual international harmony,” while the Global Times has glorified Xue Long‘s mission as an ‘epitome of China’s attitude towards its international obligations.’ It is useful to mention that Xue Long’s team includes scientists from Taiwan and Thailand.
The above event merits attention in India, which has a proactive polar scientific research programme including acquisition of a polar research vessel. India has set up three permanent scientific research stations in Antarctica: ‘Dakshin Gangotri’ (1983), ‘Maitri’ (1989) and ‘Bharati’ (2012); as well as ‘Himadri’ (2007) in the Arctic. Their activities are coordinated by the National Centre for Antarctic & Ocean Research (NCAOR) at Goa, India.
India’s polar expeditions are serviced by hiring or chartering ships for short durations from private parties in Germany, Russia, and Norway. India has announced plans to acquire a polar research vessel with specific requirements such as 45 days’ endurance, capable of cutting through 1.5-2 meter ice, accommodations for 60 scientists, a flight deck for helicopter operations, spaces for laboratories and instrumentation facilities for scientific research, and modern polar logistics support systems. Further, the vessel should be able to operate year-round in the Antarctic, Arctic, Southern, and Indian Oceans. The ship is expected to be in service by the end of 2016 and would cost about Rs 800 crore (U.S.$ 144 million).
Polar maritime activity is dependent not only on hi-quality ships, but also on competent human resourced. The ships’ crews have to be skilled and trained for navigation and engineering duties in sub-zero conditions. They also face a host of physical and psychological challenges arising from long periods of darkness, extreme cold, and fatigue, which could result in disorientation and can affect decision making. It is equally important to recognize that ‘a natural understanding based on experience of working in a cold environment cannot be assumed’ for Asian seafarers, unlike the seafarers from Scandinavia, Canada, or Russia, who are at less risk to cold injury than the Asians.
Likewise, the on-board helicopter and its crew must be competent handing air operations under treacherous polar conditions marked by blizzards, low-air temperatures, fog, low visibility, high-speed shifting winds, etc. Although chartered ships carry their own helicopters, between 1981 and 1995, the Indian Navy provided Chetak helicopters and the Indian Air Force deployed the Pratap helicopters for various duties including ferrying scientists, lifting stores, casualty evacuation and other shore tasks.
Another important facet of Antarctic deployment is voyage planning. The 2007 International Maritime Organisation (IMO) ‘Guidelines on Voyage Planning for Passenger ships operating in Remote Areas’ stipulate that any voyage planning through the Arctic or Antarctic must include a number of safety practices such as identification of safe areas and no-go areas, surveyed marine corridors, contingency plans for accidents, collisions, onboard fire, and search and rescue emergencies. Further, the voyage planning should also include information about icebergs and iceberg evasion procedures, weather, levels of darkness, safe speed, etc.
These material, human, and training requirements can potentially pose major challenges for India’s self sufficiency in its polar research programme and can be addressed through advanced planning and preparation including cooperative ventures with countries that have set up research stations and those which dispatch their research vessels to the polar regions.
This article was published in its original form at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies and was re-posted by permission. Dr. Vijay Sakhuja is Director (Research), Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), New Delhi. He is also Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore since 2006. A former Indian Navy officer, Sakhuja’s research areas include politico-strategic developments in the Indian Ocean, Asia Pacific security, Arctic politics, and maritime and naval developments.
International Maritime Satire Week Warning: The following is a piece of fiction intended to elicit insight through the use of satire and written by those who do not make a living being funny – so it’s not serious and very well might not be funny. See the rest of our IntMarSatWeek offerings here.
Why Chinese Naval Aviation is (almost) Ideal for U.S. Strategic Interests
Godspeed Liaoning! After 14+ years of refitting the former Soviet rust bucket the Riga/Varyag, China finally commissioned Liaoning in September 2012 (by the way did anybody ever tell the Russians or Chinese that it was bad luck to rename a ship?). This past week, the PLAN announced that it would begin a six year construction program to build its first domestically produced aircraft carrier with the ultimate goal of having four active duty aircraft carriers. This announcement has been met with responses ranging from skepticism to panic, with some defense analysts claiming that China could achieve this ambitious goal as early as 2020. One reaction that has not been heard is that of smug satisfaction. You heard it here first ladies and gentlemen: This is very good news for the U.S.! Welcome to the aircraft carrier “big boys” club China.
Just when I was getting worried about anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD), China does the United States a favor and changes their defense budgetary priorities. Rather than prioritize protecting their own coastline, China is now diverting funds to project power. Great, welcome to the economic reality of opportunity cost guys. Even the seemingly limitless economic powerhouse of China has to make strategic choices. Every Yuan spent on carriers is one not spent on denying access to the South China Sea. News flash: carriers and power projection is expensive! Nukes, anti-satellite weapons, cruise missiles, and diesel-electric subs are cheap ways to impose costs on your opponent. Whew! I was getting concerned about trying to get an LCS inside the first island chain and China goes and does us a solid by blowing their national bankroll on something that will, for a change, impose significant cost on themselves.
What will China get for its investment? They get one hundred-year-old technology with no clear strategic purpose and a vicious learning curve.
Meanwhile, the news just keeps getting better for the United States. While U.S. naval aviation is going an identity crisis, China is rushing headlong into a worse one of its own. At least the U.S. has the doctrine, support network, history, expertise, and institutional knowledge on hand to possibly be able to figure out what to do with its floating cities as they deal with the challenges of unmanned aircraft, cruise missiles, the proliferation of submarines, and budgetary uncertainty.
China is going to have to figure out all of these problems while also having to deal with the operational problems of using their aircraft carriers, the societal challenge of allowing their commanders to exercise their own initiative, and the inevitable tactical and strategic responses of the United States and our allies. While many have worried about the “Mahanian turn” in Chinese naval doctrine, perhaps a more apt analogy is the unfortunate soul who bought a black and white television in 1960 or a Betamax machine in 1990. China, you may impress some folks, but you are way behind the curve on this one.
If the prospect of a Jutland in the South China Sea is scary to some, fear not. China is playing our game now. In case you missed the last 70 years of history, the United States is really good at conventional, high intensity war. As long as we do not have to fight in jungles, mountains, or cities, we are the crème de la crème at identifying, tracking, and blowing things up. Our sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen are the best in the world at these missions. In any contingencies with China this side of the late Tom Clancy’s imagination, we would have numerical, informational, and qualitative superiority over the proposed Chinese aircraft carriers. God forbid we answer John Rambo’s plea, “Sir, do we get to win this time?”
What is most likely is that the PLAN carriers would serve as a “fleet in being” much like the German High Seas fleet in WWI−too expensive to risk, too weak to use. Just ask Kaiser Bill how that worked for him. If you gave him truth serum, he would confess that he’d have gladly traded his “splendid ships” for another division or two on the right wing in the Schlieffen Plan. Let the Chinese have their ships for prestige during time of peace and neutralize them quickly in the event of war.
Maybe we should panic. Perhaps our xenophobic reactions are justified. Indeed we could be setting ourselves up for our Munich or Pearl Harbor moment. However, if we approach this not as a problem but as a strategic opportunity, we should congratulate ourselves and realize that the sky is not falling. The Chinese have bought the naval version of a Ferrari−good at impressing their neighbors, good at inspiring vitriol and knee jerk reactions, but not good at actually picking up the kids at school.
Satire week-posturing aside, the United States should take these developments seriously, but should not panic. If it keeps its proverbial, “head when all about [you] are losing theirs,” then this development creates as many opportunities for the United States as it does challenges. In sum, China has forgone other more provocative and dangerous strategic options, invested in old technology, is and will remain for the foreseeable future on the bad side of the learning curve, has no doctrinal history or expertise for conducting carrier operations, and now is playing to U.S. core competencies. Godspeed Liaoning! God bless Chinese naval aviation. Good luck. Glad tidings. Good riddance!
J. Furman Daniel, III is a Visiting Assistant Professor of
International Affairs in the George Washington University Security
Policy Studies Program. His research focuses on a wide range of topics including: covert balancing; technological innovation and arms races; the problems of human agency and highly improbable events in
international relations theory; the theoretical legacies of Edmund
Burke and Carl Von Clausewitz; the bureaucratic politics of the
early-American Navy; and the impact of the naval blockade on the
Confederacy during the American Civil War. Dr. Daniel may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maritime great power politics is back and here to stay. Hence, the EU needs to adapt and rediscover geopolitics in developing its new European Maritime Security Strategy (EMSS). Although hard power matters most, Europe’s naval decline is likely to continue: less money, less navies. To be nevertheless a serious player, the EU has to adapt a smart-power approach. Most important is that the EU says what it does and does what it says.
Time to Leave Strategic No Man’s Land
|Source: EUISS Report No. 16, p. 17|
As the EMSS is about “security”, the Baltic and the North Sea do not matter (when Russia tries to provoke, so what?). These are NATO/EU inland seas and, therefore, only subject to regular politics and not to military considerations. What should concern Europe are the Arctic, the Indo-Pacific, and primarily the Mediterranean. The Gulf of Guinea is an area of operational, but not of strategic concern. Piracy can be tackled by regional actors with international support.
The Arctic’s emerging geopolitical relevance is stressed by the relatively high number of applicants for observer status in the Arctic Council. In May 2013, the EU suffered a serious defeat, as Brussels’ application was rejected, while China, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and even Singapore became observers. For the EMSS it has therefore to be said, that there is no military role for the EU in the High North. Sweden and Finland are Arctic Council members, but without direct access to the Arctic waters. What matters for the EU are trade routes and resources. Thus, an EMSS should define how the EU can contribute to safe and secure Arctic shipping lanes and how Europe’s resource interests can be preserved. After the rejection, however, it is clear that EU will not be one of the major players in the High North. Instead, other theaters should receive more attention.
|Indian Navy show its two carriers (Source: WiB)|
The Indo-Pacific should be of great concern for the EU. Due to China’s and India’s naval rise along with the growing seaborne trade, the Indian and Pacific Oceans have to be seen as one theater. Moreover, there is an emerging Asian power web made by bi-, tri-, and multilateral maritime security partnerships among Indo-Pacific states. The EU’s interests in Indo-Pacific security are primarily motivated by economics. In 2012, the total value of goods shipped from Europe to Asia was 816 billion Euros. While the EU can and should play a role in the Indian Ocean, the EU will hardly become relevant East of the Malacca Strait. The EU has been rejected three times as an observer at the East Asia Summit. Thus, an EMSS has to put a strong emphasis on the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, but it also has to accept that EU will remain irrelevant between Singapore and Vladivostok.
Only France and Britain could make themselves relevant in maritime East Asia. However, while current budgetary constraints remain they will only choose to go there in case of a major incident. During its disaster relief operation on the Philippines, the Royal Navy demonstrated that the UK is still capable of acting East of Malacca. However, the British posture also showed the Royal Navy’s limits. Moreover, it can be ruled out that Paris and London develop some kind of EU maritime security altruism and make an expeditionary EU presence a national priority. Instead, both will allocate their expensive warships to operations concerning their national interests, but not to EU (or NATO and UN) tasks.
Hence, the EMSS has to outline what European states want to do together in the Indo-Pacific and what not. It does not make any sense to write high expeditionary ambitions into a strategy, when it is clear from the beginning that those who have the means for implementing have no interest in doing so. But less can be more. The EMSS should contain realistic and credible ambitions in the Indo-Pacific, making the EU an actor who says what it does, and does what it says. Otherwise, the EU is doomed to irrelevance East of the Suez. In addition, the EU has to withstand the seduction of new free-riding with maritime stability and security provided by Asian powers. There is no guarantee that those powers will remain friendly to European interests.
Most important for the EU is the Med. Not only due to the refugee issue, but also by the new great power plays in the Eastern Med. Russia has returned as a serious naval actor with its largest expeditionary operation since 1991. New conflicts about offshore gas will emerge. Moreover, the growing instability in North Africa from Tunisia to the Suez Canal demands EU action. Therefore, Brussels’ main challenge will be to define in the EMSS how the EU wants to cooperate further with its Med partners. In addition, the EMSS has to say how EU aims to contribute from the maritime domain to stability ashore. Although terrorism, proliferation, human trafficking, illegal migration, and organized crime are subject to the EU’s maritime agenda, the solutions are to be found on land, not on the waters.
Dealing with New Maritime Powers
After the USSR’s collapse, only the United States and EU countries, in particular Britain and France, possessed the monopoly on long-range power projection. Up to now, there has been no other country able to go for Falklands War-style missions. This is going to change. While France and Britain are struggling to keep their capabilities alive, others – especially China, Russia and India – are preparing themselves for expeditionary missions, such as Russia’s expeditionary Med deployment. In terms of expeditionary power projection, Australia, Brazil, Japan, and South Korea could become more capable players, if their governments decide to pursue that track. Rather than focusing on security challenges, EMSS has to address how Europe wants to deal with emerging naval powers. Of course, cooperation for promoting common interests, like safe and secure sea-lanes or mutual trust-building, should be a top priority. However, Brussels tends to see the world too much through pink glasses, where the world becomes good by itself as long as there are talks about multilateralism and global governance. Although the maritime environment could remain friendly to EU interests, due to great power politics this cannot be taken for granted. Therefore, the EMSS has to address how the EU will react (it will not take the initiative) in case of fundamental state-driven changes to a maritime environment that are hostile to European interests.
Thus, advancing partnerships with like-minded democracies like India, Japan, Australia, and South Korea has to be an EMSS priority. Other potential partners include Singapore, Indonesia, and New Zealand. Cooperation with China is likely to be more difficult as recent Chinese actions (ADIZ) showed that Beijing’s approach continues to become much more assertive.
Defining realistic and achievable aims for the EU is that simple: stability, security, safety, and prosperity. Stability is the most important of all aims. It enables the flow of trade and the opportunities of doing non-hard power related politics. However, stability requires security and safety. Those three lead to the fourth aim: prosperity by the maritime domain as an area that provides trade lanes and resources. For the EU, it does not matter who owns what. However, Europe’s interest is the absence of conflict. Hence, an EMSS has to outline an increased portfolio of cooperation and trust-building programs.
NATO vs. EU? How to Deal with the US?
|Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (Source)|
There was never a real reason why both NATO and the EU had to have maritime operations in the Gulf of Aden. But both organizations wanted to be part of the international maritime beauty contest. In the future however, Europe cannot afford two organizations doing the same thing. Therefore, work-sharing between the EU and NATO should look like this: while the EU is good at civilian missions and smart power, NATO has decades-old naval hard-power experience. Hence, the modus vivendi should give the EU the softer and civilian tasks, while NATO gets the hard power jobs; Europe will likely become less capable in hard power anyway and only NATO provides access to the needed U.S. assets (and maybe British assets, too, if the UK leaves the EU) and NATO’s Standing Maritime Groups.
However, NATO’s real maritime worth is that the alliance links Britain, Canada, Turkey, and Norway to European security. The UK is drifting apart from EU, but the Royal Navy will remain the most capable of all European navies. Meanwhile Turkey is an indispensable partner in the Med, as are Canada and Norway in Arctic. All four countries continue to invest in their naval capabilities.
Dealing with Decline
|Chinese frigate Yangcheng in Limassol, Cyprus (Source)|
To secure the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, China’s navy is now operating from Cyprus, an EU member state, in the Eastern Med. Yes, it is only access to a port for supplies and it is only on a tactical level. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that while the EU is not taken seriously in Asia, China shows the flag in Europe’s homewaters. Never before has a non-Western power conducted tactical operations from an EU member state.
In addition, in 2012, Japan’s premier minister Shinzo Abe invited Britain and France to come to the Asian maritime security theater. Nine years after the ESS endorsement it was quite humiliating for the EU that it was not the Union herself, but rather two nation states that were asked. Due Europe’s economic and demographic problems, European (maritime) decline is real and it is likely to continue.
Up to 2030 the competition for resources and economic growth will increase the global sea-lanes’ importance, foremost in the Indo-Pacific, and be matched by the relevance of navies will go along with that. Moreover, by 2030 China, India and Russia (and perhaps others) will operate navies capable of medium- and long-range power projection. China then could posses the capabilities to fight (and win) Falklands-style wars.
Economically, China will have surpassed the United States as the world’s largest economy, and European economies will have dropped back in the global economic hierarchy. The consequence will be that Europe will not be able anymore to conduct operations like Libya 2011. Moreover, European power projection will be balanced by the emerging naval power of others. Thus, it essential that the EU enhances its partnerships with the United States and NATO and, moreover, creates new partnerships with like-minded democracies, in particular India.
Digitization and robotics will lead to the fact that coming generations of naval systems can do even more than today, however, they will be even more complex and therefore more expensive in procurement and maintenance. Europe’s budgetary situation will make the joint development, procurement and operation of new naval system a necessity. If this does not happen, Europe will simply disappear from the maritime domain as a serious, capable actor. In addition, it is likely that emerging navies, in particular China, will have the financial means to generate new high-end warfare assets, which will negatively affect Europe’s power.
With France on the march into an even worse economic mess, the EU’s maritime power projection will largely depend on Britain – as long as the UK remains an EU member. Britain’s coming carriers and other high-end warfare capabilities (SSN, SSBN, Type 26 frigates) will be critical for Europe to be capable and taken seriously in international maritime power politics. In this regard, the worst that could happen is that London decides to sell the second carrier to an emerging navy (e.g. Brazil). For the maritime balance of power, the second carrier must remain British (or European in some way) or, if it is sold, it has to be given to a like-minded country (e.g. Japan or Australia).
After 2030, China is likely to and India could maybe reach the naval power status of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. This means the capability of global power projection and the ability to conduct at least one high-intensity operation. We will see scenarios where emerging navies conduct expeditionary power projection operations, while Europe will be incapable of doing anything if there is no reversal of current trends.
What to Do?