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Its Springtime for China’s Blue Water Navy

by Greg on May 12, 2010

The other day we linked to a piece by a Navy commander warning of increasingly activist Chinese naval exercises in recent months. IISS has a new brief providing useful detail on a number of recent Chinese sorties into the South China Sea.

Two exercises in March and April were the first of any real size beyond the First Island Chain, and “indicated that deployments beyond the chain were now official policy,” says London based IISS. The flotillas contained the PLA’s most advanced warships, of Russian manufacture (Kilo class diesel electric subs and Sovremenny class destroyers).

In March and April a flotilla of six ships from the North Sea Fleet set sail, passing near Okinawa on its way to the strategic Malacca Strait between Malaysia and Indonesia; through which flows much of China’s inbound shipping, including vital oil and minerals. Once there, the flotilla conducted live fire and anti-submarine exercises.

IISS says these sorties demonstrate the PLA Navy is taking a much more prominent role in Chinese foreign policy. “It shows that the navy is willing and able to break through the First Island Chain and into the Pacific – a substantial change from previous doctrine.”

For China’s neighbors, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries, it means they will have to contend with a more assertive China. Japan and the U.S. will have to get used to Chinese flotillas moving about the Pacific. “However, its primary focus will be on preserving territorial integrity rather than on aggressive expansion.”

What say you readers? Aggressive Chinese naval actions which should be of some concern? Or a rising power demonstrating its intent to defend strategic self interests? Of course the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

– Greg Grant

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

brian May 12, 2010 at 1:39 pm

LOL, I thought we learned back in WW2, without Carrier Support, destroyers in deep water are just target practice

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blight May 12, 2010 at 2:21 pm

That was before guided missiles made mincemeat of aircraft. Back then the only AA was lots of guns, or aircraft. Guns failed. Aircraft against aircraft are still effective, and guided missiles will do the job in the absence of the carrier.

Don't read too far into the past, because we'd still be in tercios and charging machineguns.

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Ross May 13, 2010 at 12:03 am

i would like to point you towards the Falklands war for examples of destroyers and frigates being sitting ducks.

admittedly again, that is going back some way in technology, but it isn't quite as simple as you make out.

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blight May 12, 2010 at 2:38 pm

I propose that we move some troops off of Okinawa and forward deploy to islands closer to Taiwan, such as Hatoma Island. Alternatively new forward bases could be established in the northern islands of the Phillippines.

If the Navy is really in the business of defending Taiwan, new forward bases can be placed closer to Taiwan to aid in defense. Alternatively instead of using islands we can use the old "unsinkable carrier" idea and build up small islands into artificial ones with large airstrips. The Pacific Ocean is dotted with examples of these built by the Navy during WW2.

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brian May 12, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Umm no. We need to let them know, that we will not make the war easy for them. We are not going to fight in their theatre where they get to have all those clustered defenses and ABM's. We have to let them know if they try to take tiawan, we will strangle their supply routes and pick off their navy from afar before moving in. That if you want to fight, you will fight on our terms, not yours.

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STemplar May 12, 2010 at 4:10 pm

I say we sell Taiwan what they need to defend themselves and make a military option cost prohibitive for the Chinese. Since Taiwan can't seem to work a unified desire to be an independent country, I'm not sure why we would waster American blood and money fighting over it.

These discussions about Taiwan always devolve into something like an Xbox game and discussions of why we need 10 million F22s. Taiwan doesn't exist in a bubble and the repercussions of a military intervention by China would be disastrous for them.

I think China simply doesn't want to trust to others for securing their economic interests around the globe. I think they realize how precarious their position is and how easy it would be for a much lesser country to really hurt them by impeding the oil flow from the Gulf.

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Evan May 14, 2010 at 8:00 pm

A lot of our weapons and weapon systems are offensive and not what the Taiwanese need. They need diesel subs, we only make nuclear subs, and no other country dare to sell weaponry and armaments to Taiwan for fear of offending China (European countries are trying to lift the ban on weapon sales to China imposed since Tiananmen in 1989 as they see a growing and enormous market). The Israelis used to sell some weapons to Taiwan and have done a 180 degree turn and sold their improved-Lavi fighter technology to China (it is said to be better than F-16). And Taiwan can't win an arms race against the Chinese, China simply has more cash and flexes more international muscle.

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Tom May 12, 2010 at 3:21 pm

China is a rising power, moving out into the world that it used to watch pass by from its door step. I don't think Japan or US should worry much about the Pacific. The Indian Ocean is where its at, control of that region with its two chock points, one in the Middle East, and the other in the straits of South East Asia, and current history of Pirates. Maybe we should get the Chinese involved more with Pirate Hunting duty, I bet it won't be much catch and release with them, and it won't be on CNN either.

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J Weich May 13, 2010 at 6:23 am

For about 3000 of the last 3500 years, China has been the most advanced nation on earth. They will soon be again and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.

We live in interesting times.

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orey August 27, 2010 at 7:13 pm

i like the way you think !

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Skyepapa May 12, 2010 at 4:27 pm

China is hunting pirates and is using the experience to troubleshoot it's projection techniques. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/26/world/asia/26ch

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Anymouse May 12, 2010 at 12:42 pm

SecDef : 'Why do we need 11 carriers?'

The day is coming when we will be walking softly and carriing a very small twig.

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J Weich May 13, 2010 at 6:27 am

Nice one!

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laronfrz1 January 4, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Personally i dont think we should be reducing the amount of money that we spend on our military. I think we should continue to build destroyers and amphibs, jus to keep us ahead of the game.

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blight May 12, 2010 at 6:57 pm

This is basically the equivalent of America's Seven Frigates. It won't be quickly forgotten. Though to be truly equivalent, it'd have to be a cruise done with indigenous naval vessels and not Soviet imports.

China is a competitor to the US; not a threat. The United States must actively develop allies out of the emerging nations, and avoid the perception of perpetuating a Euro-only "club". Considering how much people symphatize with China's attitudes towards crushing "dissent" (and wishing they could crush opposing viewpoints here in the states) it's a wonder more people don't move to China.

Anyways. I think now is a good time to better anti-ship missiles. We haven't heard a lot of focus on those. ABM missiles from ships, yes. Littoral ships that cost millions of dollars and are worse-armed than a WW2 PT boat, yes. Maintaining 11 CVNs and perhaps 9 more "helicopter carriers", giving us more flat-tops than the rest of the world combined, yes.

And the Navy isn't big enough for you? The carrier mafia has been dominating surface warfare for so long that there isn't much money left for other ships. Zumwalt got totally ripped to pieces before a single boat ever touched water, whereas the submariners were able to get at least a few Seawolves and Virginia class.

At this rate, the navy of the future is probably going to be carriers and submarines.

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Kristian M Lewis May 12, 2010 at 7:31 pm

I would have to agree that we should not go to war with China over Taiwan. We should arm Taiwan to the extent that it makes Chinese intervention extremely costly and unlikely, but from what I have read lately, the Taiwanese don't even want us to shed blood over their independence. Besides, seems unlikely that China would risk it's economy over Taiwan. Not much to gain there.

As far as the battle of AAW destroyers vs manned aircraft, let's just say I would not want to be a pilot!

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Byron Skinner May 12, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Good Afternoon Folks,

This looks like a drive by to me. Are these ships still at sea? I doubt it. If they were the USN they would see home for 6-7 months routinely.

This just the rooster strutting around the hen house, to let the hens know he’s still the cock of the walk. I don’t think Greg mentioned that at or about the same time that this was happening Taiwan was conduction a war game who scenario was and invasion from the mainland. Oh, by the way the “Commies” lost in the war game, not that anybody expected anything differently.

No this shouldn’t be taken seriously. China has no blue water fleet.

ALLONS,
Byron Skinner

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blight May 12, 2010 at 11:22 pm

Do you really need a blue water fleet to jump across the pond? It's not like they're going to cross the ocean and strike the US; you only need enough naval power to deter the United States from reinforcing while the PLA gets ashore.

The PLAN is probably going to accept that they won't have a chance against the USN for a good long while. If there is an invasion, they may forfeit the PLAN to buy time for a successful occupation of Taiwan.

What I wonder about is whether or not there would be an insurgency in Taiwan. Is nationalism strong enough that they will fight for their country once it seems like China has overrun ground forces?

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J Weich May 13, 2010 at 6:37 am

If they wanted to, China could crush Taiwan tomorrow. But of course it would cause a lot of damage, actual, financial and political. Taiwan WILL eventually reintegrate with the mainland one way or the other and they know that. There is really no doubt about that. China plays the long game, the US is obsessed with the present.

It's always best, when playing chess, to think a few moves ahead, and China is proving to be very adept at doing just that.

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Chris van Avery May 12, 2010 at 11:35 pm

China's a rising–and inexperienced–power trying to figure out how to act in and shape the global system. For the time being they're going to be more assertive around their margins, and some eggs will get broken in the process, but globally they're going to be hesitant to get involved where Chinese interests aren't clearly at stake.

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MadMike May 12, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Exactly how loud is a Russian-made diesel-electric submarine. They must be fairly easy to pick up by a US Naval listening post. A former "squid" buddy of mine, who was stationed in Bermuda at the time, said that the day the Russians deployed non-cavitating props., "Everything went silent." And by the way. Does anyone know the name of the Japanese Co. that developed the noncavitating propellor under US contract, then sold the plans to Russia? Apparently, as a result, the company was banned from selling its home electronics at US PX-stores. Does anyone recall this? Thanks.

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Bill May 13, 2010 at 5:49 am

I believe it was Toshiba wasn't it?

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Bill May 13, 2010 at 5:51 am

I was not a submariner but I believe i recall reading that when submerged and running on batteries the Kilo class is actually very quiet.

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J Weich May 13, 2010 at 6:55 am

Russian Diesel Electric subs are quiet. As in quieter than Los Angeles class Nuclear subs.

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Chris May 13, 2010 at 1:13 am

Hitachi was the company….

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Chris May 13, 2010 at 1:14 am

Oooops! Toshiba, not Hitachi. Sorry.

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Meng May 13, 2010 at 8:38 am

Can't the USN re-look and re-examine into the feasibility of building long distance as well as long endurance diesel electric boats too…..only better and to make sure prohibitive technologies will not fall into the wrong hands directly/indirectly : )

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blight May 13, 2010 at 11:30 am

If we only design our tech so that it's worse than possible foes, then we lose the technological advantage in a war.

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@TrustInFew13 May 13, 2010 at 10:56 am

It's not just China and there movement of Navy that we really need to focus on. What we need to look at is why Brazil a small member of the some what newly created BRIC, who hasn't had war in a number around 140 years is now stepping up there military and purchasing aircraft carriers and submarines. If you don't know about BRIC you need to look into this and look at what the militaries of all 4 nations are doing and not just one. We just made a nuclear treaty with Russia lessening our nuclear influence. China is top dog and making military exercises known, the quite Brazil is sitting in the corner building Navy defenses, and India is all set to sign a nuclear agreement to start putting finances into uranium. And they say that BRIC is just a mutual agreement to express each nations concerns and it's looking out for the greater good of the entire Globe not just to stop Americanization and western movement. Anyone else have any input on this?

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ColdWarVet May 13, 2010 at 11:18 am

Where they will surpass our Navy is the fact that the PRC doesn't play PC games with it's national defense like letting our Navy become the love boats of Janes Fighting Ships. Now with wmen on Sub's our fighting effieicency is going to drop. Anyone who says our Navy is tougher now then ever, never served in real naval warfare.

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blight May 13, 2010 at 11:33 am

That's our "peace dividend" talking. Then again, the dangers of peace have usually been the upward creep of officers too incompetent for their station; and wartime usually exposes these and leads to their attrition. So I don't think it's quite fair to pin this on women just yet.

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Bee May 13, 2010 at 1:50 pm

oh no… women serving on Navy subs, thats it, were never going to be as strong as the chinese navy now…

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Andy May 13, 2010 at 12:54 pm

What is being missed here is that China has the ability to do side by side refueling and resupply by hi-line. Our Naval ships can do that. The old Soviets had to stop their ships in a safe area and tie up directly, or slow down to tow a line astern to pass fuel. Here we see a modern Navy before our eyes, blue water capable. The Chinese have passed a big test here, and taken a major step to being a world power.

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LCDR_Kent May 13, 2010 at 3:28 pm

In the PIC the ships appear to be resuppling or refueling at sea,which is nessessary for long range and extended deployments. China buying ships from Russia may mean they are planning to make copies of their own. Long term, which is the Chinese way, both are worth our concern.

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Jeff Huber May 13, 2010 at 6:13 pm

If that's the best China's navy has to offer, all we need is four Harpoon missiles. We have that many, don't we?

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Matthew S. May 13, 2010 at 8:23 pm

"If that's the best China's navy has to offer, all we need is four Harpoon missiles. We have that many, don't we?"

Harpoons are pretty old at this point and outclassed by chinese and russian missiles. The USN has not devoted resources to improve harpoon or a replacement.

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Meinrotti May 14, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Without airsupport they are targets ,although with their deep water abilities they would pose a tangible threat to our allies in this AO. If their ships are armed with weapon systems of the same quality and technology as their jets we probably have little to worry about as to their projection of power.

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nigel July 27, 2010 at 7:56 pm

the p.l.n is a long way off a true blue water navy this sorty is more of a show of force responce to the war games being held
tho you will see more of them as it is peacfull times on the worlds seas so there is little risk for china to hold them and it fits with there politics (the whole string of pearls and clames to oil and sea lane rights)
on two side notes desisle electric subs are acctuly quieter around the coasts then nukes as they blend in with the ambiand sound were nuke are just a big silent blob in a sea of sound (there much better suited for blue water)

and i would say the only real tactical prob chiness vessals could pose would be there surface to surface missles and torpedoes both are of good enuff quality to hurt anything they hit and neither is easly netrulised once it leaves its weapons platform
that said we have our own weapons that will send them to the bottom fast enuff chinas navy is not a threat that should concern anyone if it fights in the "blue watter"

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Victor O. Teves May 19, 2012 at 7:59 am

China has to learn the pitfall of fighting far out of Mainland China. The moments there ships ventured out of China, and fight the US Navy, the Chinese has to learn the trick of going home intact.

Victor O. Teves
Philippines

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brad June 10, 2012 at 12:27 am

Well for one thing China would have way to much to lose if they started a confrontation with the US. Most of europe and US trade would would go by the wayside. And do you think in your right mind the US would care about paying of the debt we owe China.Their economy would decline big time.

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