11 November 2019

Honored to furnish quotes for major PLA Navy feature by Shephard Asia-Pacific Editor Gordon Arthur in Naval Warfare International

Gordon Arthur, “Eclipsing the Competition,” Naval Warfare International 2.6 (November/December 2019): 9-13.

“Regarding the modernisation of China’s navy, which celebrated its 70th anniversary in April, Andrew Erickson, professor of strategy at the US Naval War College, told Shephard: ‘Chinese naval development enjoys top-level support, starting with [President] Xi himself. China has the world’s largest shipbuilding infrastructure. It has the world’s second-largest economy and defence budget. It has parlayed all these advantages into the world’s largest ongoing comprehensive naval build-up.’

“When discussing the PLAN, the service cannot be considered in isolation, for closely connected are the China Coast Guard (now under the direct control of the Central Military Commission) and the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia, a force that China wields in ambiguous, low-intensity, grey-zone operations. Although ostensibly made up of marine industry workers and comprising large fleets of fishing boats and the like, the state-organised, -developed and -controlled force actually operates directly under the military chain of command.

“Erickson remarked that the PLAN ‘increasingly coordinates training and operations’ with these paramilitary forces, which adds strength, depth and presence to the navy. Furthermore, he warned that ‘each of China’s three sea forces is the world’s largest by number of ships’. It is not just the size of the PLAN that is causing alarm or wonderment either, but also the quality of the domestically designed vessels being continually churned out. When asked about qualitative aspects of the PLAN, Erickson told Shephard: ‘Today, China’s really “getting its ships together”, if you will. Its navy is improving both quantitatively and qualitatively. To meet more missions with greater capabilities, PLAN vessels keep growing larger and more sophisticated. They increasingly resemble (and, in many ways, approach the performance parameters of) their US and allied counterparts. And they’re armed to the teeth, particularly with anti-ship cruise missiles.’ … … …

“While emphasising its spectacular growth in capability, Erickson also delineated some relative weaknesses or areas of challenge for the PLAN. ‘China faces substantial difficulties in fielding the largest, most sophisticated surface warships and submarines, as well as remaining weaknesses in propulsion and electronics. With aircraft carriers, it is still in the “crawling” stage of a “crawl-walk-run” approach.’

“The US professor assessed: ‘This all limits China’s ability to project top-calibre naval power beyond maritime East Asia into the “far seas”. But regarding the Yellow, East and South China Seas (as well as their immediate approaches), Chinese naval shipbuilding advances are increasing the PLAN’s ability to contest sea control in a widening arc of the western Pacific.’

“Many are anxious about the trajectory of the PLAN, with its endgame uncertain. Erickson pointed out: ‘China’s navy – and land-based “anti-navy” of aircraft and missiles – already pose a credible threat to US and allied forces were they to become involved in a regional conflict concerning China. Of course, even if a US president decided not to authorise a devastating attack on mainland China, US and allied forces are capable of destroying much of China’s navy at sea.’”