24 February 2019

Open Source Research on China’s Maritime Law Enforcement Force Structure Development: Methodology & References

The following publications regarding the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s rapid development of the world’s largest maritime law enforcement (“Coast Guard”) fleet and key dynamics concerning its force structure are based on far more extensive open source research than can be reflected in the space available for citations within them:

  • Joshua Hickey, Andrew S. Erickson, and Henry Holst, “China Maritime Law Enforcement Surface Platforms: Order of Battle, Capabilities, and Trends,” chapter in Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson, China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2019), 108-132.
  • Andrew S. Erickson, Joshua Hickey, and Henry Holst, “Surging Second Sea Force: China’s Maritime Law-Enforcement Forces, Capabilities, and Future in the Gray Zone and Beyond,” Naval War College Review 72.2 (forthcoming Spring 2019).

I therefore offer the following methodological elaboration here, in a medium free from limitations in space and formatting. The information in the abovementioned publications is not heavily based on other finished academic papers or analyses, although several of these are cited within them for context. Instead, the great majority of information noted above is based on the authors’ compilation and original analysis of a vast body of available open-source firsthand information, almost all of which is posted on the Internet. These publications’ construction statistics, order of battle, and technical characteristics are derived from a large body of open-source reporting, including:

  • thousands of official shipyard contract launch announcements,
  • publicly-disseminated agency reports on operations and procurement,
  • compilations of information on web forums and blogs,
  • commercial satellite imagery,
  • and over 5,000 photographs of PRC maritime law enforcement vessels and facilities acquired online by the authors over the past decade-plus.

The greatest difficulty in accurately determining the capabilities of and order of battle for China’s maritime law enforcement (“Coast Guard”) surface fleet is the massive volume of available information in the public realm, making vetting and organization of such information a particular challenge. Furthermore, the original source of a given element of information and photography is often elusive, as posts and photography are often cross-posted among multifarious forums and blogs. Selected media and academic sources are listed below, although the vast majority of these studies’ information comes directly from tens of thousands of more specific Internet and media sources that cannot possibly be listed individually. This includes:

  • Tens of thousands of photographs from official PRC media, unofficial media, foreign media, internet blogs, online image searches, and military hobbyist forums. These photographs have been collected for well over a decade and used to catalog ship pennant numbers, basing locations, physical configuration, and other features.
  • Thousands of news articles in a variety of publications, ranging from well-known international publishers such as IHS Jane’s and the U.S. Naval Institute all the way down to local Chinese newspapers, which frequently post articles about maritime law enforcement (“Coast Guard”) and other shipbuilding activities within their respective regions. The great majority of these articles are posted online.
  • Press releases posted on official webpages belonging to national and local maritime law-enforcement agencies announcing ceremonial activities (ship launch, contract signing, etc.)
  • Press releases posted on websites belonging to shipyards, shipbuilders, ship design organizations, local governments, subcontractors (i.e., engine suppliers), and other related corporate interests, which frequently and regularly post these releases in order to advertise participation in maritime law enforcement (“Coast Guard”) ship programs.

Given the vast numbers of individual articles, photographs, and standalone statements used to compile this information over a decade, it is impossible to cite specific items whose compilation allowed the statistics and analysis within the abovementioned publications to be completed. Instead, the below list cites general sources from which the authors obtained most of the information, as well as the online link to the site, when relevant. It should be noted that much of the information on the forum and blog sites originated from other places on the Internet which are not necessarily listed, so original sources in many cases are not known. This is especially the case regarding photography.

Web Forums and Blogs:

News Organizations and Websites: