14 September 2017

China Navy Ships Depart for Joint Drills with Russia

Associated Press, “China Navy Ships Depart for Joint Drills with Russia,” Washington Post, 14 September 2017.

BEIJING — Four Chinese navy ships have departed for joint drills with Russia in the latest sign of growing cooperation between the two militaries that could challenge the U.S. armed forces’ role in the Asia-Pacific.

A destroyer, missile frigate, supply ship and submarine rescue ship departed Wednesday from the port of Qingdao, home to China’s north sea fleet, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The drills are being held in the Sea of Japan near the Korean Peninsula and the Sea of Okhotsk off the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, Xinhua said.

The exercises are the second stage of an annual joint drill, the first part of which was held July 22-27 in the Baltic Sea — the first time the countries had exercised together in the northern European waterbody. …

The Chinese ships taking part in the exercises are among the country’s most advanced, components of a growing fleet that poses a significant challenge to the U.S. Navy’s traditional dominance in the Asia-Pacific. Beijing has long chafed at the American presence and is a strong critic of its alliances with Japan, Australia and other countries in the region.

China already has the world’s largest navy, with slightly over 300 vessels, compared to the U.S. Navy’s 277 “deployable battle force ships,” according to the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute. The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence forecasts it will have 313-342 warships by 2020.

While China’s ships are technologically inferior to those of the U.S. Navy, their sheer numbers allow China a significant presence on the open sea, institute professor Andrew S. Erickson wrote in a recent study.



Andrew S. Erickson, “Understanding China’s Third Sea Force: The Maritime Militia,” Harvard Fairbank Center Blog Post, 8 September 2017.

Andrew S. Erickson, professor at the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) and Fairbank Center Associate in Research, outlines China’s evolving maritime security forces.

China’s Armed Forces are composed of three major organizations, each of which has a maritime subcomponent. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) contains the PLA Navy (PLAN); the People’s Armed Police, which increasingly leads China’s Maritime Law Enforcement (MLE) forces, including the China Coast Guard; and the Militia, which contains a growing proportion of sea-based units, the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). Each of China’s three sea forces is the world’s largest of its type.

First, China has the world’s largest navy. The U.S. Naval War College’s CMSI analyzed China’s fleet force development in its previous conference volume, Chinese Naval Shipbuilding. The PLAN currently has slightly over 300 vessels; by 2020, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence forecasts that it will have 313–342 warships. According to its official website, as of September 2017 the U.S. Navy has 277 “deployable battle force ships.” While Chinese warships lag behind their American counterparts in individual capabilities — a “mandarin oranges to apples” comparison — numbers matter significantly when it comes to maintaining presence and influence in vital seas.

Second, China has the world’s largest coast guard by a sizable margin. Today, China’s Coast Guard has 225 ships over 500 tons capable of operating offshore, and another 1,050+ confined to closer waters, for a total of over 1,275 ships: more hulls than the coast guards of all its regional neighbors combined. China has two of the world’s largest coast guard ships (10,000+ tons full load). In 2020, China’s Coast Guard is projected to have a total of 1,300+ ships: 260 large vessels capable of operating offshore, many capable of operating worldwide; and another 1,050+ smaller vessels confined to closer waters.

Third, China has the world’s largest maritime militia, and virtually the only one charged with involvement in sovereignty disputes. Only Vietnam is known to have a similar force with a similar mission. China’s PAFMM is a set of mariners and their vessels which are trained, equipped, and organized directly by the PLA’s local military commands. While at sea, these units typically answer to the PLA chain of command, and are certain to do so when activated for missions. While most militiamen have civilian jobs, new units are emerging that appear to employ elite forces full-time as militarized professionals. … …