Tag Archives: China

The Royal Thai Navy: Where to Post-Coup?

Guest Post by Paul Pryce 

With a coup d’état in May 2014 and the appointment of General Prayut Chan-o-cha as Prime Minister, 2014 proved to be a tumultuous year in Thai politics. Still faced with a deeply divided society, it is difficult for the Thai authorities to articulate foreign policy priorities or a grand strategy for the country. Even so, the Royal Thai Navy may soon have important tools available with which Thailand can make its presence felt internationally

Although often overlooked by most reports in favor of the contributions made by the Chinese and the Russians in years since, Thailand was an important player in counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden. In response to an increase in Somali-based piracy, Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 was established in January 2009 to secure freedom of navigation along international shipping routes in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. Although comprised largely of vessels and crews from NATO member states, Thailand deployed a Pattani-class off-shore patrol vessel and a supply ship to join the force in 2010-2011.

This was an unprecedented move. For the first time, Thailand deployed military assets abroad to defend its interests. HTMS Pattani and HTMS Similan, the supply ship, did not simply serve in token roles: Thai forces engaged in combat against pirates in two separate incidents on October 23rd, 2010. Beyond hosting ASEAN-related events, such as the 8th ASEAN Navy Chiefs’ Meeting in 2014, the Royal Thai Navy has since adopted a much more subdued posture, however. This can in part be attributed to the political dominance of the Royal Thai Army through last year’s coup.

Were there to be need for Thai participation in a similar multinational operation in Southeast Asia or elsewhere in the world, it is doubtful that the Thai authorities would find the political will to deploy any assets in the near future. But the Royal Thai Navy will soon see its capabilities bolstered. If national unity can be preserved in some way, Thailand could see its international image raised considerably. It has commissioned two stealth-capable corvettes based on the design of the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) Gwanggaeto the Great-class destroyers. With a displacement of approximately 3,900 tons, these would be among the largest vessels in Thailand’s arsenal, second only in size to the Royal Thai Navy’s two American-made Knox-class frigates.

Although it is currently unclear when Thailand expects delivery of its two Gawnggaeto the Great variants, the eventual addition of these vessels to the fleet will greatly enhance its capacity to project power in the Gulf of Thailand, South China Sea, and beyond. Thailand has no maritime disputes with China; tensions over territory exist only in relation to the land borders with Cambodia and Laos. As such, it is a reasonable assumption that the previous government intended to employ the new vessels not to exert Thai sovereignty, but to appease military elites and to attain international prestige through contributions to future multinational maritime operations. That the current junta has not cancelled this procurement suggests that it too shares these goals.

Of course, achieving the political stability necessary to engage in expeditionary missions will be a tall order, especially as legal action against Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand’s former Prime Minister who was ousted in the May 2014 coup, is ongoing. Until such issues can be resolved and civilian oversight of the military is adequately restored, HTMS Chakri Naruebet, pictured below, may represent the future of the Royal Thai Navy.

The Royal Thai Naval vessel HTMS CHAKRINARUEBET (CVH 911) in the South China Sea.
HTMS CHAKRINARUEBET  in the South China Sea.

This vessel, which serves as Thailand’s flagship and is based on the design of the Spanish aircraft carrier Principe de Asturias, spends much of its time docked at Sattahip naval base. No longer able to accommodate Harrier airframes, the Chakri Naruebet can now carry a small complement of helicopters and occasionally serves as a royal yacht. The two stealth corvettes may suffer a similar fate if Bangkok’s palace politics persist.

Paul Pryce is a Research Analyst at the Atlantic Council of Canada. With degrees in political science from universities in both Canada and Estonia, he has previously worked as a Research Fellow at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and an Associate Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs. His research interests are diverse and include maritime security, NATO affairs, and African regional integration.

From Words to Action in the South China Sea – Updated 5/22

Update 5/22:

– China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman says U.S. actions in the South China Sea “‘irresponsible, dangerous” and that China’s military drove away the U.S. military aircraft.

– A Pentagon spokesman says the P-8 and naval vessels have not yet gone within 12nm of the islands, but said “that would be the next step.”

– The Washington Free Beacon also reports US officials as saying “China tried to electronically jam U.S. drone flights over the South China Sea in a bid to thwart spying on disputed island military construction.”

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InterceptLast week the Wall Street Journal reported that the United States was considering sending U.S. air and naval assets to conduct freedom of navigation (FoN) transits around China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea, specifically the Spratlys – claimed in part or in whole by six nations. Today, CNN released exclusive footage from just such a flight, as a P-8 may have flown within the claimed 12nm of territorial airspace of three of the islands (more on that below), including Fiery Cross Reef and Mischief Reef. I highly recommend watching the video to gain a greater appreciation of the sort of interaction that is likely to occur with increasing regularity, and to see the dredging in action that CSIS’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative has so ably documented through overhead satellite imagery [full disclosure: I’ve contributed to the site in the past].

interphoto_1428568832One of the questions bedeviling the maritime security community over the past several years has been how to respond to China’s “salami slicing” actions – a question that took on new urgency with the previous year’s massive surge in reclamation efforts in the South China Sea. Among others, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS)’s excellent Maritime Strategy Series included several reports devoted to developing options to provide answers for policy makers. Unfortunately, much of the analysis more broadly has struggled to move from generalities of the need to “impose costs” or, conversely, to “develop cooperative strategies” to the specifics of application. And, for those that did, there had until now been little evidence of words being translated into action.

Spratly_Islands-CIA_WFB_MapNot everyone is happy. Over at our partners’ site – ASPI’s The Strategist – Sam Bateman questions whether the “US knows what it’s doing” and rightly points out that FoN operations have to be “conducted with ‘due regard’ to the rights of coastal States.” But he also asserts that U.S. action is an indication that the United States has “taken a position on the sovereignty of the claims.” If true, (and that’s not official policy) it belies the first qualm since the United States presumably would not therefore need to take claimed but invalid rights into account. Bateman is on stronger ground in noting that if the Navy is sailing through the territorial waters or flying through the islands’ territorial airspace (it is not clear in the video whether this is the case) – water/airspace granted due to the small fractions of at least Fiery Cross Reef’s natural features that remain above water during high tide – it would do so at risk of violating the “innocent” condition of innocent passage if the vessels were conducting military missions such as intelligence gathering. This is not the case if the island is entirely man-made, if a military vessel refrained from action prejudicial to the coastal state, or if the vessel stayed in an island’s EEZ – outside the 12nm of the territorial waters.

Of course this is all moot if, as Bateman suggests, the United States by these actions is declaring it holds specific island sovereignty claims invalid, rather than waiting any longer for China to explain upon what basis its claims are made. Perhaps the best course of action is for the United States to declare that until China has explained the basis for the nine-dash line claim in a manner in accordance with international law and so adjudicated it will not honor any of China’s South China Seas sovereignty claims or the rights derived thereof. This would cut through some of the legal complexity in providing a basis for the ongoing FoN activities and point to a way for China to take action to resolve the situation. While it is unlikely China will be persuaded to prematurely end its reclamation efforts, the actions undertaken by the Navy may at least demonstrate the likelihood that a declared South China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) without resolution of outstanding claims will result in a frequent high-profile acts of indifference.

Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and founder and president of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). He is a graduate of Georgetown University and the U.S. Naval War College, a member of the Truman National Security Project, and a CNAS Next-Generation National Security Fellow. 

China’s Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities

“The U.S.-Chinese military balance in the Pacific could nevertheless influence day-to-day choices made by other Pacific countries, including choices on whether to align their policies more closely with China or the United States”

Superbly researched and organized, China’s Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress by CRS analyst Ronald O’Rourke serves as an excellent resource from which to better understand China’s evolving naval capabilities and how the U.S. Navy can retain its edge in the face of the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) challenge. The scope of the report is wide, with information given on a large variety of platform and weapons procurements. The breadth is matched by depth of analysis, as the author assesses the sophistication of individual systems, offers concepts of employment, describes potential conflict scenarios, and explains how naval modernization is tied to broader policy. The report is broadly organized into sections that cover Chinese platforms and weapons, American policy decisions responding to China’s naval rise, key U.S. Navy acquisition programs, relevant sections from the National Defense Authorization Act, and an appendix providing supplemental readings. Certain sections could be strengthened and new areas could be explored to further flesh out the expanse of information, but nonetheless this fact packed publication has plenty to teach.

The detailed section on the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is thoroughly informative on China’s maturing navy. Every surface combatant the PLAN fields is covered in the report. Each ship class’s capabilities are described along with their production history and projected numbers. Ships are contrasted with the capabilities of the vessels they are replacing, producing an appreciation of progress. Furthermore, certain ships are highlighted for their ability to enable operations that were not feasible until recently, such as the power projection and humanitarian assistance missions that could be conducted by the new Liaoning carrier and Type 071 vessels. Extensive attention is devoted to the new carrier, including the significant limitations posed by a ski-ramp configuration and the critical research role the vessel will play in familiarizing the PLAN with carrier operations. Information is also given on upcoming and prospective designs such as the Type 055 cruiser, Type 081 amphibious assault ship, and Type 095 nuclear attack submarine. In total, these sections combine to produce a clear trajectory of naval modernization.

The Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier. The vessel was commissioned in 2012, and is being used to familiarize the PLA Navy with carrier operations.

The American perspective is captured as well. The report documents in numbers the changes being made to the Navy’s force posture and forward basing in order to operationalize the Asia Pivot. The Air Sea Battle concept is discussed along with the operational goal of disrupting kill chains in the electromagnetic spectrum. An especially insightful subsection describes the variety of nuances that should inform comparisons between the U.S. and Chinese navies, and naval forces in general. A unique strength of CRS reports, relevant legislation is included, providing key information into how Congress is influencing policy towards China and America’s own naval modernization. These sections in the National efense Authorization Act (NDAA), will help the reader better understand how Congress perceives the implications of China’s naval modernization, and which ongoing U.S. Navy procurement programs have Congressional priority towards meeting the A2/AD challenge. The NDAA also identifies certain knowledge gaps and requires reports be drafted in order to raise awareness, offering a glimpse into potential weaknesses and priorities.  

There are certain key points and gaps of information within the report that need to be addressed in order to fully appreciate the increasing modernity of China’s Navy and A2/AD abilities. For example, the author states “Changes in platform capability have been more dramatic than changes in platform numbers” but this is contradicted by ONI Officer Jesse Karotkin’s testimony that is included in the appendix: “China is implementing much longer production runs of advanced surface combatants and nuclear submarines, suggesting a greater satisfaction in their recent ship designs.” The tables provided by the author on yearly ship comissionings support this conclusion, marking a new and more confident phase of modernization that is gaining momentum. This trend highlights an aspect of modernization that requires greater attention, China’s increasingly formidable shipbuilding industrial base.

China’s naval modernization can be subsumed under a greater A2/AD aspiration, and the author stresses that proper assessment of a potential maritime conflict includes understanding “maritime relevant capabilities that are outside their navies.” Information is included on land based platforms such as backfire bombers procured from Russia, UAV’s, ASBMs, and even EMPs. However, if it is the intent to draw awareness towards addressing the A2/AD threat as a whole, primary attention should be given to China’s robust cruise missile inventory, which is the most significant weapon system towards enabling land based A2/AD. Although the author takes note throughout the report which platforms can field ASCMs and LACMs, the ASCM section lacks information on the precise range and speed of China’s cruise missiles and their advantages relative to comparable weapons fielded by American surface combatants. There is also no information provided on LACM types and capabilities.

The author writes “China’s naval modernization effort also includes reforms and improvements in maintenance and logistics, naval doctrine, personnel quality, education and training, and exercises.” Yet these topics received hardly any attention, and are arguably more critical to the maturity of the PLAN than capabilities borne from more modern platforms and systems.

When it comes to logistics, underway replenishment vessels are the foundation of blue water power projection. The number of these vessels in a Navy’s inventory is indicative of broader policy and the priority placed on projecting presence far from home. China possesses eight such ships, with three constructed from 2012-2014. The five type 903A “Fuchi” class vessels are relatively modern, with the first pair of ships launched in 2004. These ships may be among the most operationally experienced vessels in China’s navy. Since China began its anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden in 2008 there have been twenty deployments, and a replenishment vessel has accompanied every task force sent. The PLAN also operates two type 904 general stores ships, which have delivered necessities to installations in the Spratly Islands.

Type 903 Fuchi class  vessel conducts simultaneous replenishment of Type 071 landing dock vessel and Type 052C guided missile destroyer
Type 903 Fuchi class vessel conducts simultaneous replenishment of Type 071 landing dock vessel and Type 052C guided missile destroyer

The PLAN is clearly committed to producing personnel with the high degree of technical proficiency necessary to operate modern warfighting platforms and systems, and such investments are already paying off in active operations. The PLAN is partnered with thirteen universities, and financial aid given to enrolled students was doubled to ten thousand RMB in 2009. Beginning in 2012, the PLAN launched programs partnering with specialized vocational schools from which high school graduates chosen through a competitive process would receive senior technical certifications following graduation, and be inducted as NCOs. Skill redundancy is achieved by requiring more technical proficiencies be acquired as an enlisted sailor rises in rank, resulting in units with greater shared expertise.  In 2011, technical evaluation stations were stood up in an effort to standardize assessment of NCO performance, and operate at the level of local units.

Author Ron O’Rourke writes “China’s naval modernization is a broad based effort with many elements” and China’s Naval Modernization certainly captures many of them. However, analysis of China’s military has been dominated by more observable material developments such as ship acquisition and weapons procurement. The trend has been made clear, and now it is as much a given for China to be continually introducing better platforms as it is for the United States. But these developments are subsidiary to more immaterial initiatives. Key elements such as doctrine, organization of forces, personnel education, operational experience, interoperability, and exercises are all more meaningful indicators of the growth of the PLA Navy than new equipment. And all of these areas have undergone their own changes in tandem with procurement programs. The challenges posed by the effective implementation and evaluation of these reforms need to be acknowledged, but this institutional development of the PLA Navy is what will ultimately best empower it to function as an enabler of policy.

Dmitry Filipoff is an Associate Editor with CIMSEC. 

Sea Control 78 – US China Strategic Competition and New Voices

seacontrol2This week’s podcast grapples with geopolitics in Asia. Natalie Sambhi (Australian Strategic Policy Institute) interviews Evan Laksmana (Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta) and Andrew Kwon (Alliance 21, United States Studies Centre in Sydney) on Asia’s maritime disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea, US–China strategic competition, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, alliance politics, and a potential role for Indonesia and Australia in diplomacy and crisis management.

All three were honoured to be speakers and participants on Friday at New Voices 2015, hosted by the Lowy Institute for International Policy where Evan is a Visiting Fellow. The views expressed in this podcast are personal views and do not represent the views of their respective organisations or affiliations.

DOWNLOAD: US China Strategic Competition and New Voices

Production: Matthew Hipple
Host: Natalie Sambhi
Music: Sam LaGrone

Sanctions and Grey on White: Raising the Stakes in the South China Sea

For years, there has been extensive talk of “managing” China’s rise, promoting the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and lamenting Beijing’s encroachment in the South China Sea. The US has announced her “Pivot”, Japan has reinterpreted her constitution, the Philippines have initiated international arbitration proceedings, Vietnam has kept rearming, and Russia has kept including tactical nuclear weapons in her Far East “counter-terrorism” exercises, just to name some of the most relevant developments. To no avail, China has followed the same relentless path of territorial expansion, which reached a new plateau last year with the combined deployment of an oil rig supported by myriad fishing and state vessels near Vietnam, and the launch of a major reclamation drive, while naval construction continued apace, supported by the expansion of maritime militias. Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, there is some evidence that analysts are ready to consider measures almost unthinkable of until recently. In her recent report titled “Conflict in the South China Sea”, Bonnie S. Glaser (Senior Advisor for Asia, Center for Strategic and International Studies) has sent two significant shots across China’s bow, suggesting sanctions against energy companies involved in the South China Sea, and the use of US Navy warships against Chinese coastguard and other state vessels.

These two proposals may just be suggestions, but they merit careful examination on at least two counts. First of all, because they suggest novel solutions to a long-recognized problem, which current policy does not seem to be having a significant impact on. Second, because they come as some other voices are suggesting withdrawing from the South China Sea, giving up the region and concentrating on the First Island Chain. Such move may prompt a miscalculation by Beijing, and unravel the web of alliances among maritime democracies in the Pacific, including extended deterrence.

Sanctions against Chinese energy corporations

China’s rise rests on a combination of integration into the world economic system and use of limited force to achieve foreign policy goals. While the latter is often lamented, until recently the former has not been questioned. Proposals to deal with China’s rise have failed to contemplate sanctions as a tool to constrict Beijing’s behavior. It is true that, to some extent, a move away from manufacturing in China is already apparent. This seems to be, though, mostly due to economic reasons like rising relative wages and a wish for diversification. However, perhaps some “hidden sanctions” are already in place in the case of, for example, Japan, with some actors understanding that in the current atmosphere it is unwise to keep transferring manufacturing capacity to her neighbor.

Before examining sanctions, perhaps we should ask ourselves some questions. Do we really need China that much? Have many countries become over reliant on the Chinese market and Chinese capital fluxes, prompting Beijing to believe that she is so essential as to be indispensable? Is this one of the underlying causes of China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea? Does Beijing believe that economic factors guarantee a ceiling on any reaction by the maritime democracies, ruling out any meaningful response?

While we shall not try to answer them in detail, it seems clear that Beijing has indeed succeeded over the last three decades in becoming a pillar of the international economic system, as clear from, among others, the country’s significant portion of world manufacturing, her growing presence in many markets, the gradual internationalization of her currency, and her leading role as energy and commodities importer. Some voices doubt the sustainability of Chinese economic growth, but at least for the time being there is little doubt concerning its contribution to Chinese power and influence, as clear from Beijing’s latest move, setting up of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Thus sanctions, even if strictly limited and carefully targeted, should ideally be preceded by a debate on the above points. A debate bringing together specialists in economics and national security, two communities which do not always communicate that well.

Two important aspects of sanctions are their effective impact, and Beijing’s possible counter-sanctions. Concerning the former, it is unlikely at this stage that China would stop exploration and drilling in the South China Sea. Too much is at stake, in terms not only of national prestige and self-image, but also of economic development and national security. Furthermore, any suspicion of weakness in dealing with foreigners may be taken badly by citizens. Many observers stress how the Chinese regime is increasingly relying on nationalism to preserve its legitimacy, but a look at history shows how this has not just been one of the hallmarks of the CCP from day one, but how it runs deeper in contemporary Chinese history. The 100 anniversary of the Great War should serve as a reminder of how the May the 4th Movement erupted following the failure of the young republic to secure anything at Versailles, despite the contribution of the Chinese Labour Corps to the Allied victory. With regard to Chinese counter-sanctions, again this would be nothing new, since Beijing has never been shy over the last three decades in using her economic might to achieve foreign policy goals. Just to mention an example, forcing the Netherlands to stop submarine sales to Taiwan. Thus, any detailed proposal for sanctions should contemplate the different scenarios, their impact, and how to react to them. This does not mean that the shadow of Chinese reprisals should rule out any sanctions policy. This self-defeating view would only embolden Beijing. What it means is that we must recognize that playing the sanctions card demands a re-examination of economic relations with China, something perhaps necessary anyway, given the destabilizing impact of persistent trade surpluses and the accompanying capital flows. Thus, by upping the ante in the South China Sea the maritime democracies may be killing two birds with a stone, making it clear to Beijing that they are not surrendering, and bringing forward a very necessary but much long delayed debate on the place of the Chinese economy in the world.

Grey on white

Glaser argues that “The United States should be prepared to respond to future Chinese coercive acts including using U.S. naval forces to deter China’s continuing use of “white hulled” paramilitary vessels”. Concerning this, it is clear that Washington cannot stand idle as the South China Sea, not only because of its importance in terms of SLOCs (sea lines of communication), but because it would mean an open door to further acts of aggression, the loss of American credibility, and serious doubts about extended deterrence in the Pacific. It is also clear that, since the United States do not have coast guard or equivalent units deployed in theater, or large numbers of trawlers and merchantmen capable of being employed in a dual role, a symmetric national response to China’s tactics is not possible. Does this mean that the US Navy should be employed against Chinese coastguard and other state vessels? It is indeed a possibility, but it raises many questions, and ideally a discussion should be accompanied by a parallel examination of alternative options.

When discussing gray on white, natural caution and fears of escalation militate against this possibility. Yet, at the same time, the question arises why we should play by China’s rules. For years, the mantra that navies only confront navies, has mainly benefited China. There is no much point in reinforcing the US Navy in the Pacific if it is forced to contemplate, impotent, how Beijing achieves her goals using a mixture of other assets, from oil rigs to fishing vessels, including maritime militias and state vessels. Letting the other side lay down the rules is a sure way to defeat. A problem, though, is that conventional naval vessels are designed with lethal force in mind. Thus, other than ramming other ships or blocking their way, the other manners in which they may be employed would involve kinetic means leading to loss of life and a substantial escalation. Concerning ramming and blocking, the United States simply lacks the numbers to respond in this way. There is some quality to quantity, and Chinese numbers are simply impressive.

China knows that other countries do not want to be seen as having fired the first shot in what may soon turn into a regional conflagration. The challenge then is how to avoid firing that first shot, without losing the current limited conflict already taking place in the South China Sea. Escalation may not be an alternative option, but surrender is not either. Glaser’s suggestion should not be dismissed out of hand, and in doctrinal terms could be compared to Russia’s concept of “de-escalation”, raising a confrontation by one notch in order to bring it down. The problem is not doctrinal, but political, since it is doubtful whether maritime democracies are ready to follow this approach. However, there are other alternatives that merit some serious discussion. Just to mention one, a permanent land deployment in disputed islands, before China had the chance to seize them, could exert a stabilizing influence. Such deployments may be carried out by the countries involved, yet with a US rotational presence. This would not only aid in developing the necessary interoperability skills, but would send a powerful signal to Beijing, avoiding any perception that the South China Sea is just home to some far away rocks of little concern for Washington and thus ripe for the taking when the moment is right.

Conclusions: a first step in the right direction.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Contingency Planning Memorandum Update is a step in the right direction, putting on the table two options hitherto considered taboo in discussions on how to deal with the South China Sea conflict. At a time when some other observers are suggesting we scuttle the Pacific, using some to the same words (like “rocks” and “far away”) that history shows prompt miscalculations by would-be aggressors, they make it clear that the game is not over yet. Maritime democracies may lose it, but not without a fight.

Concerning sanctions, they would show Beijing that other countries mean business, and are ready to go beyond posturing. While unlikely, at least in the short term, to change Chinese behavior, their absence from the negotiating table weakens the maritime democracies’ case. Any detailed consideration of this weapon, however, requires not only an examination of the different retaliation scenarios, but a wider reflection of the Chinese economy’s place in the world financial system. An examination that is anyway necessary, and has been unduly delayed, and which is therefore an additional reason to seriously consider Glaser’s words.

With regard to gray on white, the current dogma that navies only fight navies is clearly benefiting Beijing and can no longer be merely repeated mantra-like, unless we are ready to lose the battle while some of the most powerful weapons simply look on. However, this does not mean that this is the only option, or that it is one politically acceptable. Thus, the time has come to examine the different possibilities, one being the permanent deployment of land forces on disputed islands, with a rotational US presence.

Alex Calvo, a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan), focuses on security and defence policy, international law, and military history, in the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region. He tweets at Alex__Calvo and his work, which includes “China’s Air Defense Identification Zone: Concept, Issues at Stake and Regional Impact”, Naval War College Press Working Papers, No 1, US Naval War College,  23 December 2013, available at http://www.usnwc.edu/Publications/Working-Papers/Documents/WP1-Calvo.aspx,  can be found at https://nagoya-u.academia.edu/AlexCalvo

China’s Anti-Piracy Flotillas: By the Numbers

On April 3, the 20th anti-piracy flotilla of the People’s Liberation Army Navy got underway for operations off the Horn of Africa.  Since the arrival off Somalia of the first Chinese anti-piracy flotilla in January 2009, approximately three flotillas have successively served annually in that region.  Simple data compiled from open sources on the deployments of these flotillas is provided in the slides below.  Although these only represent anti-piracy flotillas, combined with other studies, they represent a broader pattern of global presence and increased capabilities of the PLA/N.  The following recent articles and studies are offered to provide readers with greater recognition of the issue:

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Claude Berube teaches at the United States Naval Academy. @cgberube

Members’ Roundup Part 18

Welcome back to another edition of the Roundup! After a brief hiatus we are back to share with you more of our members’ works. There are plenty of articles to share, ranging from maritime infrastructure development to thoughts on the new maritime strategy.

Back in February Miha Hribernik wrote a piece for The Diplomat regarding piracy in Southeast Asia. Although this presents a significant and worrying problem, it is manageable. Miha presents some suggestions for regional States on how to resolve this issue. You can access the article here. 

To surpass China in Sri Lanka, India needs to pursue proactive and dynamic diplomacy. Nilanthi Samaranayake explains, over at The Diplomat, that the key to reaffirming India’s presence in the region is through infrastructure investment. More specifically, the focus should be on public-private partnership and government to government investment in the maritime domain. You can access Nilanthi’s article here.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 1.53.03 pmJerry Hendrix, from the Center for a New American Security, published a report in February called ‘Avoiding Trivia: A Strategy for Sustainment and Fiscal Security’. In it, he argues that the United States has strayed from its historic and cultural approach to the world, leaving behind its traditional maritime-focused, technologically innovative, free-trade based strategy. The solution to this, according to Hendrix, is a more clear eyed strategy that seeks to avoid trivia and address the US’ current weaknesses in order to shore up its long term strategic position.

Over at War on the Rocks David Wise shares with us an article titled ‘Blowback as National Policy.’ Many of the current security threats that the Western world faces today are a result of those decisions made in years past. Before making the foray into the geostrategic game, which is more than just a big game of Risk, first have a look at David’s cogent words on what we face today.

Mira Rapp-Hooper writes on the Lawfare Institute’s blog a post examining the impact of China’s increased military spending (and the US’ relative decline in spending) on neighbouring countries. You can access her post here.

Following the trend of AMTI posts, Bryan McGrath shares his analysis on how China might view the United States’ revised Maritime Strategy. Given that Bryan was heavily involved in the development of the 2007 strategy, you will certainly find his views on the matter very insightful. You can access his piece here.

Vice Admiral Robert Thomas, commander of the US 7th Fleet, proposed the creation of joint maritime patrols in the South China Sea by ASEAN member nations – this was quickly met with mix reactions. Scott Cheney-Peters provides some solutions to challenge the arguments presented by the ‘nay-sayers’ and suggests that the presence of the “white hulls” of the U.S. Coast Guard could mitigate many of the perceived drawbacks. You can find out more by accessing his article on the AMTI’s website, here.

Harry Kazianis, on The National Interest, shares an analysis of the core reasons behind China’s ‘massive’ military buildup. He explains the historical roots of the Chinese military psyche due to subjugation at the hands of external powers. The solution to this is to employ an asymmetrical strategy  to defeat, in battle, forces that are superior to its own. You can access his article here.

Long range anti-ship missiles contribute to an essential element of China's deterrence.
Anti-Ship Missiles contribute to an essential element of China’s deterrence.

On the National Defense Magazine’s online blog, Sandra Erwin reports that the current pace of shipbuilding and funding will not be able to meet the future demands of the Navy. Given that is an annual obligation of the Navy to tell Congress how many ships it will need and how much they will cost, it should certainly raise some alarm bells for decision-makers in Washington. For more on this, you can access Sandra’s post here.

U.S. Navy Cyclone-class coastal patrol ships assigned to Patrol Coastal Squadron 1 (PCRON 1), USS Hurricane (PC-3), USS Chinook (PC-9) and USS Typhoon (PC-5), transit in formation during a divisional tactics exercise in the Persian Gulf.
U.S. Navy Cyclone-class coastal patrol ships assigned to Patrol Coastal Squadron 1 (PCRON 1), USS Hurricane (PC-3), USS Chinook (PC-9) and USS Typhoon (PC-5), transit in formation during a divisional tactics exercise in the Persian Gulf.

Bringing the theme of this Roundup to the naval profession, Matthew Hipple in a joint article with Dan Follet and James Davenport, remind us the important role of patrol coastal ships in securing the seas. In this edition of Proceedings, the authors suggest that patrol coastal ships are an “incredible platform for both mission execution and cultivating war fighting.” To read more about why this is the case, you can access their article here.

Over at War on the Rocks, CIMSECian Emil Maine (and company) provide some critique of Congressman Mac Thornberry’s ‘Defense Acquisition Reform’ initiative. Defence acquisition is a necessity, but the question is whether political momentum can be sustained long enough to overcome the usual barriers to wholesale reform. More on this topic here.

Finally we conclude this edition with a shameless plug for my own work. The first is an article featured in the March-April edition of the Australian Defence Force Journal. Titled ‘Evolution of the Battlefield’, I examine existing strategic and legal challenges to developing an effective cyber warfare policy for military planners. My second piece is a brief analysis of the Australian Department of Defence’s new First Priniciples Reviewthis will hopefully provide an insight into some of the organisational challenges faced by the ADF and Department of Defence. Perhaps some of the US readers can find some similarities and provide suggestions for the Australian context. You can access each of the above articles here and here.

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on the NextWar blog or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to dmp@cimsec.org.