China’s Maritime Threat Expands

The New York Analysis of Policy & Government has examined the latest reports on China’s rapidly growing armed threat to the U.S. In today’s article, we conclude by providing the latest information on Beijing’s major move into the world’s oceans.

The Report to Congress on China’s military power notes that “China is expanding its access to foreign ports to pre-position the necessary logistics support to regularize and sustain deployments in the ‘far seas,’ waters as distant as the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and Atlantic Ocean.”

Beijing’s navy has gained a great deal of experience through its joint maneuvers with ally Russia, including training exercises in the Mediterranean, Baltic, and Pacific oceans. It has begun to conduct operations far from its home shores, including the broader waters of the Western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean.

The extraordinary rate of increase for China’s maritime force can be seen in the number of vessels recently developed.  It should be noted that China already has more submarines than its U.S. Navy counterpart, and will have significantly more ships overall by 2020.

“Through 2008, China had only one ballistic missile submarine. By 2016, that figure had grown to four… Until 2012, China had no aircraft carriers. China’s first carrier entered service in 2012. China is building one or two additional carriers, and observers speculate China may eventually field a total force of four to six carriers. Until 2014, China had no corvettes. Since then, China has built corvettes at a rapid rate, and at least 31 had entered service as of early 2017, with some observers projecting an eventual force of more than 60. In 2016, the PLA Navy commissioned 18 ships, including a Type 052D guided missile destroyer, three Type 054A guided missile frigates as well as six Type 056 corvettes. These ships have a total displacement of 150,000 tons, roughly half of the overall displacement of the [British] Royal Navy. In January alone, the Navy commissioned three ships—one destroyer, one electronic reconnaissance ship and one corvette.

“This force is equipped for a wide range of missions including offshore air defense, maritime strike, maritime patrol, antisubmarine warfare, and, in the not too distant future, carrier based operations. Just a decade ago, this air modernization relied very heavily on Russian imports. Following in the footsteps of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), the PLA(N) has recently begun benefitting from domestic combat aircraft production.

“Beijing’s Marine Corps is in the midst of a massive reorganization and build out that will greatly enhance China’s ability to project power abroad. At the center of the plan multiplying the relatively small force five times—from about 20,000 uniformed personnel to potentially over 100,000 Marines.

The Congressional  Research Service (CRS) has just released its own report,  “China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities on the growing prowess of Beijing’s navy. “ The CRS report notes:

“China’s naval modernization effort encompasses a broad array of platform and weapon acquisition programs, including anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), submarines, surface ships, aircraft, and supporting C4ISR (command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) systems. China’s naval modernization effort also includes improvements in maintenance and logistics, doctrine, personnel quality, education and training, and exercises.

“Potential oversight issues for Congress include the following:

  • whether the U.S. Navy in coming years will be large enough and capable enough to adequately counter improved Chinese maritime A2/AD forces while also adequately performing other missions around the world;
  • whether the Navy’s plans for developing and procuring long-range carrier-based aircraft and long-range ship- and aircraft-launched weapons are appropriate;
  • whether the Navy can effectively counter Chinese ASBMs and submarines; and
  • whether the Navy, in response to China’s maritime A2/AD capabilities, should shift over time to a more distributed fleet architecture.”

CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization located in Arlington, VA. Has also examined the rise of Beijing’s maritime force  in a report entitled  “China’s Far Sea’s Navy: The Implications of the “Open Seas Protection” Mission.

The CNA study concluded that “China’s shipbuilding industry has unquestionably demonstrated the ability to produce modern warships and submarines, while at the same time continuing to lead the world in total shipbuilding output…

“China is putting power projection components into place—carrier air, land attack cruise missiles on multi-mission destroyers, and amphibious forces—that, when assembled as a task force, are very credible. By 2020 China will have the second-largest modern amphibious capability in the world (after the United States), and potentially will be able to embark between 5,000-6,000 marines for operations anywhere in the world. When combined with modern destroyers as escorts and an aircraft carrier to provide air defense, China will have a distant-seas power projection capability for the first time since Admiral Zheng He’s last voyage (1431–33).

“… while the PLAN is expanding, virtually all of the other traditional maritime powers (India is a notable exception) have downsized and reduced major warship production.

“One implication for Washington of potential “open seas protection” task forces routinely operating in the western Indian Ocean is that U.S. authorities can no longer assume unencumbered freedom to posture U.S. naval forces off Middle East and East African hotspots if Chinese interests are involved and differ from Washington’s. With the growth of the PLAN nuclear-powered submarine force, the United States may face the challenge of keeping track of far seas-deployed PLAN submarines that could be deployed on missions close to U.S. territory—especially in U.S. EEZs.”

The South China Morning Post recently reported on a major Chinese breakthrough that could Beijing’s navy a major edge in any potential maritime conflict. According to the article,

“Chinese scientists claim to have made a major breakthrough in magnetic detection technology that could bring unprecedented accuracy to the process of finding hidden metallic objects – from minerals to submarines. Bottom of Form

The Chinese Academy of Sciences, the country’s largest research institute, said in an article on its website on Wednesday that a “superconductive magnetic anomaly detection array” has been developed in Shanghai and passed inspection by an expert panel.

The experts were quoted as saying that the device, which works from the air, could be used to pinpoint the location of minerals buried deep beneath the earth in Inner Mongolia, for example, with a level of precision as high as anything currently available around the world.

The device could also be used on civilian and military aircraft as a “high performance equipment and technical solution to resources mapping, civil engineering, archaeology and national defence”, the article said.

China’s military may soon adopt the technology, if it hasn’t already, said Professor Zhang Zhi, an expert in remote sensing with the Institute of Geophysics and Geomatics, China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, Hubei.

‘The technology could be used to detect minerals on land, and in the ocean to nail down submarines,’ said Zhang, who was not involved in the project.