10 April 2015

How U.S. Navy Intel Sees China’s Maritime Forces

Andrew Erickson, “How U.S. Navy Intel Sees China’s Maritime Forces,” War on the Rocks, 10 April 2015.

In its first unclassified report on the subject in six years, the Office of Naval Intelligence depicts a powerful trajectory for China’s maritime forces. Titled “The PLA Navy: New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century,” the document and accompanying videos also cover the China Coast Guard—precisely the right approach, since the world’s largest blue water civil maritime fleet serves as “China’s Second Navy” and is on the front lines of island and maritime “rights protection” in the East and South China Seas. This focus on both the PLA Navy (PLAN) and the China Coast Guard is also especially appropriate given their role as the principal institutions charged with furthering regional sovereignty claims. The PLAN is also responsible for safeguarding Chinese interests much farther afield, and is gradually developing power projection capabilities to do so.

In the most groundbreaking single piece of information in the report, a U.S. government source has confirmed for the first time that Chinese ships and submarines have deployed the potent new-generation supersonic YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missile. Previously designated the CH-SS-NX-13 by the Department of Defense, it is apparently a copy of the 3M54E Klub (SS-N-27B export variant), with which Russian Kilo-class 636M subs are equipped. Like the Klub, the sea-skimming YJ-18’s high speed and terminal trajectory make it extremely difficult for ships’ air defense to thwart.