January is named for the Roman God Janus, the two-faced deity of the doorway or the threshold. With one face looking toward the future, and the other contemplating the past, Janus inspires the annual reviews of naval affairs as well as the predictions for the future that we see in the naval blogosphere. New Years 2013 in the maritime world is no different than in years past.
Over at Information Dissemination our favorite China shipyard-watcher Feng has a great post summarizing where the People’s Liberation Army Navy has been in the past year. Two things caught our eye in reading through Feng’s summary. First, seeing it all laid out in one place really emphasizes the capacity that is being developed by Chinese shipyards. For all the discussion of a dwindling industrial base in the United States, it is interesting to watch the pace of work in the Chinese shipbuilding industry. Second, we shouldn’t miss the massive construction underway for the maritime policing and Coast Guard equivalents in the People’s Republic. USCG cutters routinely deploy globally, sailing with USN ships in the Arabian Gulf and Pacific as well as the regular patrol of our backyard in the Caribbean. As China continues to build cutters and grows the size of their maritime security forces, we should expect them to develop interoperability with the PLAN in the same way the USCG and USN have developed their concept of The National Fleet. This melding of law enforcement patrol with military operations (based on a model provided by the Americans) in the South and East China Seas will continue to complicate the issues there.
Also at ID, CDR Bryan McGrath gives us a quick look at some highlights for I&W to watch for in 2013. We were glad to see him place the Blue/Green Team as his top item to keep an eye on. The Marines need to get over their fears of another Guadalcanal and return to their historic roots as an integrated part of naval forces. The Navy needs to overcome their self-consciousness about their comparative lack of recent combat experience and learn to look to the Marines for ideas and help in developing new concepts. It is time that both forces genuinely came together as an integrated, hybrid force rather than a pair of brothers constantly arm wrestling over who side is “supported” and who is “supporting.” We also note that discussions about the future of the Air Wing are on CDR McGrath’s list. That’s easy for a former SWO to say, but he’s right. The Naval Aviators amongst us are going to have to realize that there need to be some serious changes. Hard thinking, innovative ideas, and practical experimentation and testing will be required…humming “Highway to the Danger Zone” and quoting Goose and Slider will only give our adversaries more time to realize our weaknesses and take advantage of them. Maverick told us that you don’t have time to think up there…unfortunately today’s challenges require us to have people who are practiced and capable thinkers.
Elsewhere online the sometimes genial, sometimes grumpy, CDR Salamander takes a broader view toward the future at his blog. Strategy is the matching of ends, ways, and means. Sal points out that the United States must figure out the last part, with an honest and genuine assessment of the national financial status. Without it, developing “the ends” of national policy, and “the ways” of a sound Naval policy and shipbuilding plan, is impossible. That honest assessment…it isn’t going to be pretty. It has some very serious ramifications for the Department of the Navy, but also for every single part of American society.
We encourage you to follow the links and read the posts. There is some serious thinking here, some deep analysis, and some quick ideas that can help us frame the coming year – all worth your time. Janus is the namesake of the first month of the year and serves as a symbol of our New Year’s passion for self-assessment. He also serves as a fantastic symbol for naval analysts in general as we attempt to clarify the lessons of the past to illuminate our way into the future. If you’re still feeling a need for speed though, check this out to get your 2013 off to the right start.
The Firm of Maynard, Cushing, & Ellis does not represent the opinions of anyone that matters. Formed by Lieutenant Robert Maynard RN, Lieutenant William Cushing USN, and Captain Pete Ellis USMC, the firm doesn’t speak for the US Government, the Department of Defense, The Foreign Office, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the Department of Silly Walks.
Force development is much like agriculture. Seeds appear trifling things; but such small objects can engulf entire fields or grow to incredible height. Investing early in incubator programs can lead to huge changes in the future. When observed from a position of strength, the small changes garnered by others seem superficial rather than tectonic. The American defense establishment is missing those tectonic changes as China’s military begins the process of stealing a march in force development.
China is pursuing a broad portfolio of revolutionizing technologies. We have discussed in detail the potential opportunities for drone warfare on this blog and elsewhere. However, those working to reap such opportunities are not here in the U.S. where ideas are shared freely, but in the People’s Republic of China. Scientists in China have developed a system by which, with thought alone, an operator can control an aerial drone. Rudimentary technology at best, it is nonetheless a leap we have yet to take. Even at the beginning stages, it shows smoother control with a mental operator rather than a manual one. Although the US does seem dedicated to drone saturation, we have not moved past our initial uses and operation of them. Drones still require legions of remote operators rather than partial automation and direct connections with the men in the field. While we have yet to integrate our many exciting advances in automation and bionics, the PRC has grabbed a great leap forward and changed the very way they interact with drones.
China is also marching past us in more mundane military technologies. We have discussed the practicality and pragmatism of theHoubei versus our misbegotten LCS. Far from the risky investment in an in-shore knife-fighter some desired, LCS was held back as a conventional, do-everything (aka: nothing) combatant without the relative advantage in speed, strength, or resilience to give it any sort of field advantage. We essentially attempted to build a Ford RS300, but halfway through decided to finish it as an Isuzu Elf. Meanwhile, with the PLAN following a disciplined strategy for blue-water modernization, a stream of solidly-constructed and capable warships are pouring into the Pacific, making the failures of our current investment ever more evident. Our attempts at modernization in the air are just as white-washed; worse than the do-everything design of LCS, the new Joint Strike Fighter attempts to stuff the needs of every branch into one frame that doesn’t quite make anyone happy. Even basic capabilities, like anti-ship missiles, lag embarrassingly behind. While the U.S. still uses a sub-sonic cold-war relic, the PRC rolls out DF-21Ds. Where technology does branch out, it seems unnecessary, like the laser-guided Griffen Missile system on PCs that already have far-more capable Mod 2 25mm cannons. China’s more reasonable and planned forays into future technology have made our past-ideas decorated with sweet rims look ridiculous.
We are also shrinking from the one area in which we could claim total dominance: space. Although our nation is now in the mini-euphoria from Curiosity’s landing on Mars, most have forgotten that this is an achievement of a program started 8 years ago. Our current manned space program is dead. NASA shifted the lion’s share of investment to “earth sciences,” a realm already well-manned by all the scientists ON earth. China not only retains a manned space program, but advertises a plan for both the Moon and Mars. Even if such a schedule is a dream, at least they still have one. While this is not directly a military issue, it is a strong force multiplier. Space is the ultimate high ground. To lose dominance there undermines a vast number of U.S. capabilities.
Our mighty oak is rotting from within. Money is pouring into failed projects. Our Sailors are over-stretched and time is cut for the training/education necessary to add critical value to those personnel. Our priorities are skewed, millions of man-hours are lost to politically correct schools and rubbish ship-wide life-choices training. Meanwhile, the PLAN marches forward, steadily planting the seeds necessary to grow a modern blue-water navy supported by a far greater industrial base than anything the U.S. can muster. They are slowly reaching into the commons, as the face put forward by the U.S. becomes harder and harder to maintain. If we don’t get back into step soon, we may need that long-view of history to see just how far ahead of us the Chinese march has advanced.
The effort necessary to regain our momentum would be disruptive, but not impossible. First, stubborn pride and sunk costs are no way to direct procurement. LCS must be cancelled. In its place, begin a vetting process for contracting apre-existanthullto be built in the US, backed up by a low-mix of new coastal patrol crafts and the new MK VI’s. This would provide the desired coverage using fast, proven, and cheaper vessels that would save us billions in these tight times.
Where the LCS has many fine replacements, the JSF has crowded out the development of real alternatives. The diplomatic/trade capital invested also makes it an impossible program to cancel without painful follow-on consequences. However, the billions saved from LCS could fund a quicker turnover to automated and integrated ComBot technology, creating an “AEGIS in the sky” of super-fast autonomous aircraft and ComBots on the ground integrated with our fighting men and women. It’s a future closer than you may think. These new automated systems could lead to new systems to take on LCS’s failed missions, such as brown-water ASW and mine-sweeping.
With the US’s new technologies, we rely heavily on space. It is a commons commanding the ultimate high ground from which we guide our weapons, communications, and our intelligence infrastructure. Less concrete, but existentially more important, we must continue our investment in the development and exploration of space. The United States, at its very essence, doesn’t represent a set of borders, we survive as an idea. Being a nation undefined by a border, we must constantly strive beyond them. When the US landed on the Moon, we didn’t represent just ourselves, but all humanity. Such is a cause and driving force behind our constant success… a dream. To abandon that dream, even worse to cede it to the likes of the PRC, would be tantamount to ideological suicide. We must re-invest in our manned space program. This is not in defense of our physical commons, but in the commons of ideas, something to believe in. Much like the JSF and LCS programs, we don’t believe anymore. We’re going through the motions. We need to regroup and find a real direction towards the future, because the PRC marching past us.
Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has maintained a counter-piracy presence in the Indian Ocean for four years. This begs the question: why is China becoming increasingly cooperative in counter-piracy operations?
The rise of China is one of the prominent issues of the day for scholars of International Relations of the day and it will continue remain so for the foreseeable future. The PLAN counter-piracy deployment is a fascinating component of the wider China debate, as it represents the first time that Chinese vessels have conducted a ‘far-seas’ operation to protect Chinese interests since the fifteenth century. Even more remarkable is the fact that the typically isolationist and paranoid Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is now openly cooperating with a variety of traditional foes in the area of counter-piracy; states such as India, Japan and the U.S. are now closely communicating and operating in conjunction with their PLAN counterparts in the Indian Ocean.
This raises a series of intriguing questions. From a Chinese perspective, what are the motivating factors behind this operation? Is it economic, political or geostrategic concerns that have driven the PLAN to cooperate in the Indian Ocean? Is this deployment merely benign in nature or does it imply an element of self-interest? Why is China cooperating over the issue of piracy when it refuses to align itself with international norms in other areas, for instance, human rights?
The PLAN counter-piracy deployment did not arise out of a policy vacuum; when Hu Jintao replaced Jiang Zemin as China’s paramount leader in 2002, he affirmed that the PLAN must develop ‘far-seas defence, enhancing the far-seas manoeuvring operations capabilities.’ In the years since Hu’s statement, there has been a significant evolution in PLAN capacity from a ‘near-seas active defence’ strategy (jinhai jiji fangyu) to ‘far-seas operations’ strategy (yuanhai zuozhan). Chinese defence expenditure has enlarged year after year in line with its burgeoning economy; official figures show that, prior to the PLAN counter-piracy operation began, defence expenditure rose to RMB417.876 billion (USD65.71 billion) in 2008, representing an increase of 17.5% upon the previous year. Thus, with an enlarged budget and a new ‘far-seas’ doctrine, the naval modernisation observed in the PLAN has certainly influenced the Chinese decision to join the international response in the Indian Ocean.
Traditionally, the East and South China Seas have been the significant regional chokepoints that had a strategic bearing on Chinese interests; however, as mentioned in the introduction, the Indian Ocean has now become a crucial expanse for China due to piracy, rising energy demand and trade interdependence. Hijackings, such as the Tianyu 8 and Zhenhua 4 incidents, are appropriate examples of how piracy is detrimental for Chinese trade.
Subsequently, the passing of UN Security Council resolutions 1814, 1816 and 1838 provided the PLAN with the supranational authority it required and it joined the international counter-piracy effort on 26 December 2008, becoming fully operational on 6 January 2009. In searching for legitimacy to conduct this operation, it is expected that the presence of the EU, NATO and CTF-151 counter-piracy task forces had a positive influence upon China’s decision.
Chinese caution towards a potential deployment can be explained by the realpolitik that remains embedded in a post-Mao China and an enduring belief in the adages of Deng Xiaoping. A former PRC leader himself, Deng recommended that the Chinese leadership ‘bide time’, maintain a low profile and take advantage of international opportunities to gradually maximise its power and position in the world. China seemingly aspires to take advantage of the unique situation of Somali piracy rather than become an established torch-bearer of international peace and security. By participating in counter-piracy operations, China is afforded the opportunity to deploy into the far-seas without an immediately hostile reaction from the international community.
The PLAN signified upon the initiation of the deployment that its undertaking would primarily consist of the independent escort of Chinese and foreign vessels. Despite its underdeveloped operational capabilities in comparison with other naval forces, it is clear that China wishes to be both seen and consulted as an equal within the international counter-piracy effort. China is not comfortable with communicating openly with institutions such as the EU and NATO as they do not represent a single voice but a multitude of perspectives; Beijing much prefers to conduct dialogue on a bilateral basis.
In the wider operational dimension, China has repeatedly declined proposals to integrate with the collective maintenance of the International Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC). Again, China does not wish to integrate itself within a multinational command structure. Instead, China conducts its escort operations approximately ‘five nautical miles north and south of the IRTC’ rather than within the box system. Whilst the PLAN is still a ‘green-water’ navy and their model of participation is not unusual among the other independent actors, the refusal to participate in the IRTC indicates that China is not prepared to truly contribute to the ‘global good’ in a manner that is harmonious with the Western world, as much as its rhetoric suggests otherwise.
However, there are now signals that China’s actions in the Indian Ocean might begin to match their rhetoric; their counter-piracy strategy is outwardly evolving to incorporate a greater degree of coordination with the broader counter-piracy coalition. The first year of the PLAN was characterised by unilateralism, but the De Xin Hai hijacking on 19 October 2009 served to alter PLAN perceptions on counter-piracy cooperation when maritime cooperation could have prevented such an episode. It is widely agreed that only rigorous cooperation and coordination can help the international community to deal with the problem of piracy in an efficient way at sea.
Accordingly, the PLAN has taken progressive steps to enhance coordination with other navies in the Indian Ocean. Firstly, the key to successful and effective coordination is to communication and consequently, a web-based communication system entitled Mercury has been introduced amongst all naval forces apart from Iran. Secondly, China concluded an agreement in January 2012 with its traditional enemies, Japan and India, to strengthen coordination and adjust each other’s escort schedules to achieve maximum efficiency in the fight against piracy.
Lastly, and most importantly, are the coordination mechanisms of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) and the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (SHADE) group. China was a founding member of the CGPCS as it is based around ‘voluntary cooperation’ in counter-piracy rather than under the command of another power or institution. SHADE is a scheme that assembles the wider counter-piracy community for regular meetings in Bahrain. China has now participated in the rotating chairmanship of the SHADE meetings and even expressed an interest in a co-chair position, usually held by the EU, CMF or NATO. However, this initial interest never materialised.
Nevertheless, it is patently clear that China is unwilling to enhance collaborative efforts with the wider counter-piracy community. Reasons for collaborative deficiency in Chinese foreign policy vary from a lack of operational experience to a lack of political will; it is true that much mistrust remains over ideological differences and issues such as human rights and Taiwan.
This defensive position is reflected in the PLAN’s counter-piracy deployment and their coordination with the international effort in several ways: firstly, the Indian Ocean represents a vital strategic arena in which China’s energy security is increasingly vulnerable. Secondly, China has evidently taken extra care not to arouse the ‘China threat’ theorem in its counter-piracy and wider foreign policies. Secondly, China is clearly endeavouring to protect Chinese national interests through the PLAN deployment and their naval modernisation. Thirdly, Chinese naval diplomacy in the Indian Ocean signifies a defensive policy, not one of aggression. Lastly, China is practicing ‘security through cooperation’ unilaterally with traditional foes.
What is clear is that the Indian Ocean is a vital arena for China; every year some 100,000 cargo ships pass through the Indian Ocean, as well as 66% of the world’s oil shipments. The significance of this expanse becomes apparent upon learning that Chinese total energy consumption from 2005 to 2012 has risen 60% and is predicted to increase a further 72.9% between now and 2035. Accordingly, there is now a growing energy demand within China to sustain its economic growth and, as the majority of China’s oil imports derive from Africa (Angola, Sudan) and the Middle East (Saudi Arabia), it is obvious that the Indian Ocean is the critical route for its external energy requirements.
China has been determined to dispel the ‘China threat’ theory. Before the PLAN deployed in the Indian Ocean, they waited patiently to gauge the international reaction to the counter-piracy mission. They also ensured that the deployment had the authorisation of both the Somali government and the UN. In line with the maxims of Deng Xiaoping, China knows that any sign of aggressive behaviour would be criticised by the international community and potentially harm their development. Thus, China is essentially employing a neo-Bismarckian strategy, manoeuvring peacefully towards Great Power status without provoking the international community into a counter-balancing reaction.
This is embodied within China’s ‘peaceful rise’ policy. Chinese actions and rhetoric attest to this guiding principle in the CCP’s foreign policy; the counter-piracy operation in aid of the global commons allows China to justify their naval modernisation, along with the opportune location of the piracy problem. China speaks of a foreign policy that pursues ‘peace and promotes friendly cooperation with all countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’, in addition to Hu Jintao’s ‘harmonious world’ vision.
Moreover, Chinese counter-piracy policy is distinctly aimed towards the protection of Chinese national interests. There is an evident gap between China’s defensive interests and its actual capabilities; therefore, it is aiming to close this gap through the advancement of the PLAN’s operational capabilities, increased field experience and the acquisition of modern naval assets. For example, China has now acquired its first ever aircraft carrier, the ex-Soviet Varyag, and it is expected to become operational by the end of 2012.
By coordinating in the counter-piracy effort, China is able to learn how a ‘far-seas’ fleet is operated, offer PLAN personnel invaluable experience for future expeditions, and gain knowledge from other international naval forces. Thus, China has evolved its naval strategy to meet the demands of its expanding interests in the Indian Ocean and it can therefore be deduced that the PLAN deployment is an extension of this defensive strategy.
As a result of the PLAN’s new ‘far-seas’ mantra, the counter-piracy deployment has also increased Beijing’s diplomatic network across the Indian Ocean. After each task force rotation, the PLAN ‘sails along the East coast of Africa and visits Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar and the Seychelles’ to parade the Chinese flag and to foster goodwill within these countries. Further Chinese engagement with the Indian Ocean littoral states consists of port and refuelling developments at Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Chittagong in Bangladesh with the Seychelles also offering China an invitation to establish a military presence on the islands.
Yet, by cooperating to some extent with traditional regional adversaries, China hopes that it can begin to assuage their doubts about their growth as a power and hopefully continue along the path of development. On cooperation in counter-piracy and the wider Indian Ocean region it is imperative that China ‘go along to get along’ in protecting their national interests.
As Donald Rumsfeld proffered, it is ‘the mission that determines the coalition’ and the issue of piracy has clearly determined China’s participation and cooperation with the international community in the Indian Ocean. From a Chinese perspective, they have participated out of self-interest; on a wider scale, their participation has been facilitated by the ad-hoc regime that has emerged. For China to protect its national interests and continue on its path towards a ‘peaceful rise’ it now appreciates that ‘problems will be global – and solutions will be, too’; this is what truly accounts for Chinese cooperation in counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean.
Jack Moore is a postgraduate student of the War Studies department, King’s College London. He is the founder of World Outline (worldoutline.co.uk) and his postgraduate thesis focuses on the implications of China’s growing involvement in counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean.
The activists, crew, and media are all in custody, as Japan prepares to deport them. This action forestalls the sort of diplomatic crossfire the central government faced from nationalists at home and the Chinese government when it briefly held for trial a Chinese fisherman who rammed a coast guard vessel in 2010, before letting him go. Meanwhile, we have some great photos from the incident.
Activists on the Kai Fung have reportedly landed on the Diaoyus/Senkakus after their vessel was rammed (likely forcibly bumped) by Japanese Coast Guard ships trying to deter the crew from reaching their destination. Most of the crew is in Japanese custody.
Fourteen brave souls set sail for what they hoped would be a voyage of protest championed by their nations. Up to now they have been beset by dwindling food supplies, government obstruction, and a threatening tropical storm. In the process, the journey of the Kai Fung No. 2 has provided fresh insight into the process of managing the at-sea skirmishes that blow over into diplomatic confrontations.
According to The South China Morning Post, Kai Fung No. 2 got underway Sunday from Hong Kong with eight activists from Hong Kong, Macau, and man from mainland China, while the remaining six are ship’s company and reporters. Their destination was the disputed Senkakus/Diaoyus/Tiaoyus claimed by Japan, China, and Taiwain, under Japanese control, and home to a hearty tribe of goats. Unfortunately things didn’t go as planned. On Monday, the SMCP reported:
Activists from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China initially planned to undertake the voyage together, but the mainlanders yesterday said they would withdraw.”
The Taiwanese were also prevented from getting underway when their charter company unexpectedly cancelled their trip. The Kai Fung barely slipped past the HK government after its previous 6 attempts were blocked. The captain reportedly waited out a boarding party of four HK marine police officer in the locked captain’s bridge until they retreated as the vessel headed to international waters. Misfortune didn’t stop at sea, however:
The Hong Kong activists’ vessel had a bad start, as much of their food rations fell overboard amid the rough seas. Organizers said they hoped to restock Kai Fung No 2, with 14 people on board, in Taiwan.
These plans were dashed as Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration denied them entry, ostensibly for lack of a permit. In a session of that nation’s National Security Council later that day, the country’s officials decided to allow the vessel entry on humanitarian grounds due to the shrinking supplies and the approach of Tropical Storm Kai Tak. Kai Fung is now expected to call at the northern Taiwanese port of Keelung.
Whether the Kai Fung actually makes it to its original destination, the episode shows that China and Taiwan will go to great lengths to control the timing and nature of their confrontations. Both nations have been far from shy in advancing their claims on disputed maritime territories (China sent patrol vessels to the islands in July), but they typically like to deal with other nations in a more controlled manner, through fishing fleets or state vessels, to best calculate the diplomatic impact and repercussions. Admittedly many of the confrontations in the South China Sea can be chalked up to the PRC’s various regional and state agencies vying for influence and favor. But when an at-sea flare-up doesn’t stand to directly bring favor to any state official the central regime can pull back on the reigns with the cooperation of the various arms of government.
It’s possible that in the aftermath of last month’s incursion by China and the maneuvering of the Japanese central government to prevent provocations by Tokyo’s nationalist governor, an unspoken (or clandestine) peace has been brokered between the claimants to keep the issue at bay until after elections in Taiwan and the leadership transition in China. Hong Kong said the owner of the Kai Fung now faces fines upon the group’s return. If they make it to the islands they are likely to face Japanese coast guard vessels ready to interdict and turn them back. From the Japan Times:
The protesters aboard the Hong Kong vessel have said they will tear down Japanese-built structures and plant a Chinese flag to declare sovereignty if they manage to land on the isles.”
Chinese activists aren’t the only one to test the Japanese government’s ability to keep a lid on confrontation – nationalist lawmakers from Japan may be planning to make a trip to the islands later this month.
LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founding director of the Center for International Maritime Security and holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.
The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.