Tag Archives: China

CIMSEC DC Happy Hour w/Guest Jim Fanell: What’s the PLAN in 2017?

Lola'sJoin our DC chapter for its January DC-area informal happy hour. We will be meeting on the second floor of Lola’s Barracks Row Bar and Grill for an informal discussion on the latest developments of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) with CAPT Jim Fanell, USN (ret.).  Jim is a Government Fellow with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, having spent 30 years as a naval intelligence officer specializing in Indo-Asia Pacific security, with an emphasis on the Chinese navy and its operations.

Time: Monday, 23 January 6:00-8:00pm
Place: Lola’s Barracks Row Bar and Grill (2nd Floor), 711 8th Street SE
Washington D.C. 20003

All are welcome – RSVPs not required, but appreciated: director@cimsec.org

Sea Control 126 – End of the Year Episode 2016

By Matthew Merighi

It’s the end of the year, so the CIMSEC team gets together to talk about the events of 2016 and does its best to look into the crystal ball to see what is on the horizon in 2017.

Happy New Year from the entire CIMSEC team!

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer for Sea Control and the Host of Sea Control: North America. He works as Assistant Director of Maritime Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

China Seizes U.S. Navy Underwater Drone

By Armando J. Heredia

Grpahic by CIMSEC Member Louis MV

On December 15th 2016, the Chinese Navy seized an American unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) operating in international waters off the Western coast of the Philippines. The USNS Bowditch, an unarmed T-AGS class hydro-graphic survey ship, was being shadowed by a People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) salvage vessel identified as a Dalang-III class (ASR-510).

The UUV had surfaced as part of a pre-programmed instruction, and sent  a radio signal marking it’s position for pick-up. As the Bowditch was preparing to recover the drone from the water, a small boat crew from the Dalang III raced in and plucked the unmanned vessel. The incident occurred approximately 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic, Luzon.

While the exact type of drone is unknown, there have been several instances of U.S. Navy Slocum Gliders snagged in local fishermens’ nets or washed ashore on beaches in the Philippines. This type of drone is not weaponized, and is used to collect a variety of environmental readings such as water temperature and salinity, to improve forecasting accuracy of extreme weather such as typhoons. The UUV uses wave movement to propel itself without any on-board engines, with an endurance time of months. The Department of Defense estimates the seized drone’s value to be around $150,000.

The crew of the Bowditch immediately contacted the PLAN vessel on bridge-to-bridge radio asking for the return of the drone. The PLAN vessel reportedly acknowledged the message, but then stopped responding and sailed away with the UUV. On Friday the 16th, the U.S. State Department issued a formal protest, or demarche, with the Chinese Department of Foreign Affairs, demanding an immediate return of the drone. At the time of this article’s publication, the Chinese government has not responded.

Purpose

Motivations behind the seizure are unclear, but tensions between the two nations have recently increased over President-Elect Donald Trump’s conversation with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in what Beijing considers a blatant disregard of the standing One-China Policy. It could also have been a quick riposte to undermine Head of Pacific Command U.S. Navy Admiral Harry Harris’ recent comments that the US is “ready to confront [China] when we must.”

Notably, the Philippines has chosen to remain silent over the incident. While traditionally a U.S. ally, the election of President Rodrigo Duterte has brought a deterioration of relations between Manila and Washington. Thanks in no small part to Duterte’s bloody prosecution of an Anti-Drug war punctuated by high civilian casualties and accusations of extra-judicial killings, a large multi-million dollar U.S aid package was just withdrawn this week – prompting the volatile President to threaten abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement. The Philippine Department of National Defense indicates they had no idea that the incident was ongoing; highlighting the enormous capability gap the Philippines has regarding Maritime Domain Awareness. The Philippine government became aware via communications from the U.S. State Department to their embassy in Washington D.C.

Coupled with Duterte’s increasingly close orbit of China following last month’s visit to Beijing, the United States could potentially find itself without bases that would ease the mission of maintaining a robust presence in the South China Sea. Recent analysis shows China has expanded militarization of their Spratly Island outposts by placing what appear to be defensive anti-aircraft and close-in weapon systems on Hughes and Gaven reefs, while fortifications have sprouted on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs; the latter group are in close proximity to other claimant outposts in the region.

Taken together, China appears to be using it’s famous “Salami-slicing” techniques to slowly ratchet up its presence and capabilities within the region without crossing any significant “bright lines” leading to a military confrontation. The UUV seizure is consistent with opportunistic interference of U. .Navy operations while striking propoganda points with regional states. Notably, the unresponsiveness of Philippines to an international incident within their EEZ tells a tale that the U.S. cannot count upon its traditional ally going forward to assist in the presence mission.

Armando J. Heredia is a civilian observer of naval affairs. He is an IT Risk and Information Security practitioner, with a background in the defense and financial services industries.  The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, any particular nation’s government or related agency.

Featured Image: Slocum Ocean Glider. (University of South Florida)

China Delivers Submarines to Bangladesh: Imperatives, Intentions, and Implications

The following article was originally featured by the National Maritime Foundation and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Gurpreet S. Khurana

On 14 November 2016, the Bangladesh Navy (BN) took delivery of two old refurbished Chinese Type 035G Ming-class diesel-electric submarines. As part of the US$ 203 million contract signed in 2013, the submarines were handed over to the BN crew during a ceremony at the Liao Nan Shipyard in China’s Dalian city. The submarines are slated to be commissioned as Bangladesh Naval Ships (BNS) Nabajatra and Joyjatra and are expected to arrive in early 2017 at the new Bangladeshi submarine base being constructed near Kutubdia Island.

This may be a rather seminal development with strong ramifications not only for the littoral countries of the Bay of Bengal, but also for the wider Indo-Pacific region. This essay seeks to undertake an assessment of this development in the context of the likely imperatives of Bangladesh, the intentions of China, and its implications with specific reference to the Indian context.  

Imperatives for Bangladesh

For any navy, the surface warships and their integral aircraft are capable of being used across the entire spectrum of conflict including for ‘constabulary’ and ‘benign’ missions ranging from counter-piracy to maritime search and rescue (M-SAR). In contrast, submarine forces – due to their inherent stealth characteristics – are optimized for sea-denial during war. Even in peacetime, these underwater platforms are used to undertake highly specialized missions against a military adversary like clandestine surveillance, intelligence-gathering, and Special Forces operations. Hence, it is difficult to fathom why Bangladesh – which does not encounter any conventional maritime-military threat – has inducted submarines into its navy. The maritime disputes between Bangladesh and two of its only maritime neighbors – Myanmar and India – were resolved through international arbitration in 2012 and 2014 respectively. Neither Naypyidaw nor New Delhi have indicated any reservations to the verdict of the international tribunals, nor have any other major outstanding contention with Dhaka.

It is nonetheless well known that the BN has since long aspired for a three-dimensional navy through inclusion of underwater warfare platforms. After Dhaka succeeded in settling its maritime boundary through the highly favorable decisions of the international tribunals, the apex political leadership showered much attention upon the BN as the guardian of the country’s newfound maritime interests. Notably, Bangladesh is seeking an increasing dependence upon sea-based resources for economic prosperity of its rather high density of population. The political nod to acquire submarines may therefore be seen as an incentive for the BN. Besides, it is a low-cost deal to reinforce strategic ties with China, including by taking forward Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s support to President Xi Jinping for its ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) initiative. Hence, the development seems to have been driven by symbolism for Bangladesh, rather than being a result of the navy’s appreciation-based force-planning based on an objective assessment of the projected security environment.   

China’s Intentions

As in case of other defense hardware exports, Beijing’s overarching intent behind the sale of submarines would be to go beyond strengthening political ties with Dhaka, to bring about its ‘strategic dependence’ upon China. The long-term submarine training and maintenance needs of the BN would also enable China’s military presence in the Bay of Bengal, and enable it to collate sensitive data for PLA Navy submarine operations in the future. This area is becoming increasingly important as the transit route for China’s strategic crude-oil and gas imports, and bears the origin of China’s oil pipeline across Myanmar. Strategic presence in the area is also critically necessary for Beijing to supplement the strategic and geopolitical dimension of its Maritime Silk Road (MSR) plans.

Further, by selling the two old (though upgraded) Ming-class submarines – which were commissioned in early 1990s and presently at the end of their service life with the PLA Navy – Beijing has assiduously generated useful revenue out of hardware, which would have only ‘scrap value’ in a few years. As per an established practice in China, a significant proportion of the revenue would go to PLA Navy since the submarines were sourced from its inventory.

Implications

The sale of Chinese submarines to Bangladesh bears significant ramifications for the Indo-Pacific region. Lately, apprehensions are being increasingly expressed over the rapidly increasing number of submarines being operated by regional countries. An addition of a submarine-operating country would not only multiply the complexity of water-space management – particularly due to the confidentiality associated with the deployments of such stealth platforms – but could also lead other countries to follow suit. The development also strengthens the imperative for Indian Ocean navies to institute a mechanism for de-conflicting unintended naval encounters at sea through the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), which ironically, is presently being chaired by Bangladesh.

The submarine sale to Bangladesh has come at a rather inopportune time for the countries of the Bay of Bengal. With the two major maritime disputes having been resolved, the sub-region was looking forward to enhanced maritime cooperation in various sectors like trade connectivity, blue economy, and maritime safety and security, including through the revitalisation of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). The BN’s acquisition of submarines could lead to littoral countries reassessing their maritime security strategies and adopting a cautious approach to maritime cooperation. 

In the Indian context, New Delhi has little reason to be threatened by Dhaka’s newly-acquired sea-denial capability. Nonetheless, Beijing’s likely intent needs to be factored in its national security calculus, particularly considering the imminence of China’s military-strategic presence in close proximity to India’s naval bases, including its nuclear submarine bastion. Evidently, India’s foreign policy vis-á-vis Bangladesh needs to be recalibrated. At the national-strategic level, India possesses insufficient financial and defence-industrial wherewithal to offset China’s overwhelming influence upon Bangladesh, but there is no dearth of other leverages. In such circumstances, New Delhi may need to graduate from its long-standing policy of ‘appeasing’ Dhaka to a ‘carrot and stick’ policy.

Captain   Gurpreet S Khurana, PhD, is Executive   Director at National   Maritime Foundation (NMF), New Delhi. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the NMF, the Indian Navy, or the Government of India. He can be reached at gurpreet.bulbul@gmail.com.

Featured Image: Handover ceremony of two ex-PLA Navy Type 035 submarines to the Bangladesh Navy. (banglanews24.com)