Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chinese Naval Forces

Traditionally, China was regarded as largely a land power with only very limited naval forces. During the Cold War-era, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) was mainly tasked with the defence of China’s coast against amphibious assaults from the U.S. or Soviet Union. Since the late 1980s, China has been seeking to develop a ‘blue water’ navy force capable of operating in the regions beyond its offshore waters. The modernisation of the PLAN over the past decade has been driven by two factors, the possibility of a military conflict with Taiwan over the island’s declaration of independence, and more recently, the growing needs to protect China’s sea lines of communications (SLOC) in order to secure the country’s global network of energy resources and trading activities.
The 225,000-man PLAN is organised into three fleets: North Sea, East Sea, and South Sea Fleets. Each fleet is composed of surface forces, submarine forces, naval aviation, and coastal defence forces. The South Sea Fleet also has two marine brigades, totalling some 10,000 men. In time of crisis, the PLAN can be supported by China’s merchant and fishing ship fleets. Main naval bases include Lushun, Huludao, Qingdao, Shanghai, Zhoushan, Wenzhou, Xiamen, Guangzhou, Zhanjiang, and Yulin.
China operates the largest submarine force among Asian countries, consisting of 8~10 nuclear-powered submarines and 50~60 diesel-electric submarines. The second-generation Type 093/Shang Class nuclear-powered attack submarine and Type 094/Jin Class nuclear-powered missile submarine have already entered service. Older Type 033/Romeo Class and Type 035/Ming Class diesel-electric submarines, which were based on the 1950s-era Soviet technology, are being gradually replaced by the newer indigenous Type 039/Song class and Russian-built Kilo Class. The even newer Yuan Class has also entered batch production.
Since 1990, the PLAN has received a total of 13 destroyers in six classes, as well as 20 brigades in four classes. Most of the Chinese-built surface combatants are equipped with the Chinese indigenous YJ-83 anti-ship cruise-missile (ASCM). Early vessels were armed with the HHQ-7 short-range air-defence missile system, while later variants are fitted with more capable medium- to long-range air-defence missile systems and vertical-launch system (VLS) modules. To complement these vessels, the PLAN is introducing the modernised Type 022/Houbei Class low-visibility missile boat to replace the ageing Houku class. Additionally, China is said to be considering building one or more aircraft carriers to further enhance its long-range power projection capability.
The amphibious warfare fleet of the PLAN has been expanding slowing since the early 1990s, with the introduction of 19 Type 072-II/Yuting and Type 072-III/Yuting-II class tank landing ships, as well as a Type 071 landing platform dock (LPD), which features a large helicopter flight deck and a floodable docking area for up to four aircraft cushion landing crafts. It was estimated that the current amphibious fleet of the PLAN is capable of transporting an army division, including its personnel and heavy equipment, to cross the Taiwan Strait. However, additional transport capacities can be achieved by employing container ships and roll-on/roll-off ships of the merchant fleet.
The PLAN has been following a three-step strategy in its modernisation process. In the first step, it aimed to develop a relatively modernised naval force that can operate within the first island chain, a series of islands that stretch from Japan to the north, to Taiwan, and Philippines to the south. In the second step, the PLAN aims to develop a regional naval force that can operate beyond the first island chain to reach the second island chain, which includes Guam, Indonesia, and Australia. In the third-stage, the PLAN will develop a global naval force by the mid twenty-first century.

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