13 July 2010

Chinese Sea Power in Action: the Counter-Piracy Mission in the Gulf of Aden and Beyond

Andrew S. Erickson, “Chinese Sea Power in Action: the Counter-Piracy Mission in the Gulf of Aden and Beyond,” in Roy Kamphausen, David Lai, and Andrew Scobell, eds., The PLA at Home and Abroad: Assessing the Operational Capabilities of China’s Military (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College and National Bureau of Asian Research, July 2010), 295-376.

  • Chinese translation of chapter: 爱立信 [Andrew Erickson], “行动中的中国海上力量–亚丁湾反海盗任务综述与展望” [Chinese Sea Power in Action: The Counter-Piracy Mission in the Gulf of Aden—Summary and Outlook], Chapter 7 in 甘浩森 [Roy Kamphausen], 赖大卫 [David Lai], and 施道安 [Andrew Scobell], eds., 美军眼里的中国军队: 美国陆军战争学院研究报告 [China’s Military in the Eyes of the U.S. Military: U.S. Army War College Research Report], (Beijing: 世界知识出版社 [World Knowledge Press], 2015), 155-200.           Part 1           Part 2           Volume Information

The National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) partnered with the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College for a fourth year and with the George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University for the second year to convene the 20th annual People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Conference in Carlisle, Pennsylvania from 25–27 September 2009.

The conference, “The PLA at Home and Abroad: Assessing the Operational Capabilities of China’s Military,” began with a keynote address by Admiral Dennis C. Blair, Director of National Intelligence, and explored the broad range of operational capabilities of China’s military.

Conference Publications: Daniel Alderman, 2009 PLA Conference Colloquium Brief: The “PLA at Home and Abroad.” Released by the Strategic Studies Institute in January 2010, this colloquium brief summarizes key insights from the September 25-27, 2009 conference.

pp. 29-31:

In Chapter 7, Andrew S. Erickson provides an assessment of the PLA Navy’s operation in the Gulf of Aden with emphasis on the motivations and preparations for the mission; relevant operational details, including rules of engagement, equipment, personnel, and logistic support; degree of coordination with other militaries; domestic and international responses to the mission; and indications of the PLA’s own assessment of its achievements regarding the deployment. The findings are:

  • Reasons for China to act are crystal clear: its economic interests are under threat. PLA’s new mission is key in this operation. The dispatch of this PLAN fleet clearly has implications for future operations outside of China. It also goes along with China’s quest for maritime power. China is fortunate to have UN sanctions for this mission. It is able to conduct a “unilateral approach under a multilateral aegis.”
  • Limited U.S. response to piracy in the Horn of Africa arguably offered China a particularly useful strategic opportunity in this regard.
  • Platform capability is adequate. China sends its best fleet; although a little oversized for the mission, it is nevertheless well suited for it. At the writing of this volume, China has rotated in five task forces and warships from a variety of classes have participated. See Table on p. 305.
  • Rules of engagement are well observed. China strictly follows UN authorization and obtained Somalia government approval to act. It projects the image of a responsible stakeholder.
  • The operation is a valuable training opportunity for the PLA Navy. Significant logistics capabilities constitute the vital backbone of the mission; their largely commercial nature suggests dynamism and sustainability that could make future efforts in this area both feasible and affordable.
  • The PLAN tests a variety of capabilities such as satellite tracking and communication, sustained logistic support, and replenishment.
  • China is attaining a new level of blue-water experience with a mission that requires rapid response, underway replenishment, on-station information-sharing, and calls in foreign ports to take on supplies and engage in diplomacy. Sending an 800 crew-member surface action group five time zones away, with 70 special forces embarked and combat contingencies possible, presents unprecedented challenges and opportunities. PLAN personnel continue to learn new techniques, test their equipment, and can be expected to advocate improvements upon their return.
  • An overseas supply base is now on the agenda. Without an overseas supply post, a PLAN long- term operation is still in question. Looking for a base on land will naturally follow.

Erickson maintains that in the years to come, China is likely to follow a two-level approach to naval development, with consistent focus on increasingly formidable high-end anti-access capabilities to support major combat operations in China’s maritime close neighborhood (e.g., a Taiwan scenario), and relatively low-intensity but gradually growing capabilities to influence strategic conditions further afield.