Let’s start this with a quote from the Department of Defense in 2006: “Of the major and emerging powers, China has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States and field disruptive military technologies that could, over time, offset traditional US military advantages absent US counter strategies.” Hence, in this video, we’ll look at the situation of the US Navy and the People Liberation Army Navy at around 2014 to 2017. Note that I will use “Chinese Navy” instead of “People Liberation Army Navy”. Now, let’s start by looking at China’s strategic situation. As you can see here, China has an extensive coastline of around 14 500 kilometers but also a huge border with fourteen countries that stretches 22 100 kilometers. Or, as the US Office of Naval Intelligence puts it: “For China, this provides a formidable challenge: just to characterize activities in the “near sea”, China must build a picture covering nearly 875 000 square nautical miles of water-
and air-space.” Additionally, the coastline contains various island chains which are sometimes not in control of China. Thus, in case of war, they could serve as unsinkable aircraft carriers. Probably the most notable among these is Taiwan. Taiwan is a thorn in the side of China, not just for political reasons, but also in terms of geostrategy. The political reasons, for those who don’t know, the Chinese were engaged in a civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists. The latter lost and retreated to Taiwan. “Taiwan has long served as a literal/figurative cork in China’s bottle, riveting Beijing’s attention on the cross-strait stalemate while complicating north-south movement along the Asian seaboard and access to the Western Pacific.” “So Taiwan is both an asset in the hands of China and a liability in the hands of an adversary.” Of course, Taiwan is not the only problem and ally of the US in the region. Basically, the most important allied countries to the US are: Japan, South Korea, and the Phillipines, although the latter one may be subject to change. Additionally, there are US bases at Guam, Singapore, and Diego Garcia. Another important aspect to consider is the resource and transport situation. Although China is commonly known for its many resources, this is actually quite misleading. “While well-endowed with resources in absolute terms, China’s per capita endowment is poor, which has led to its rising demand being reflected in increasing purchases from abroad. China became a net importer of oil for the first time only in 2003, and of coal in 2009. Its dependency ratios: net imports divided by total consumptions were 43.8 percent for copper, 62.1 percent for iron ore, and 78.0 percent for alumina. Additionally, many of those imports are passing through several maritime chokepoints. Most notably the Straits of: Taiwan, Mallaca, Hormuz, and Bab El-Mandeb. Thus, securing trade at these points would be crutial in any conflict. Especially recently, China increased imports of oil and decreased domestic production, According to Forbes, “China’s crude oil imports will remain strong through 2016 and 2017, as Beijing continues to fill its Strategic Petroleum Reserves and domestic production falls sharply, helping rebalance the glut in global oil markets. Now let’s look at the US strategic situation. Although, geographically, the United States has a larger shoreline than China by around one third with 20 000 km versus 14 500 kilometers, it is surrounded by ocean on both sides, and in the north and south it’s bordered by countries that don’t pose a threat, or are even friendly. This position has its advantages, but also drawbacks. Although basically everyone that wants to attack has to cross a large ocean, the US also has to cross an ocean to reach anyone. For alliances and partnerships, the distance also has probably a counterintuitive benefit, because most countries would prefer the US as a distant hegemon over a local rival. Now let’s look at current challenges for the United States and the US Navy. These are global terrorism, the rise of China, US budget problems, and various problems in the Middle East. Besides those problems, a strategic key aspect is securing and maintaining trade, something one might easily miss. Just to give you some numbers, from a Naval War College Review article in 2008: “Globally, maritime trade constitutes over 75 percent of all international trade.” “America conducts 95 percent of its commercial trade – total imports and exports – via maritime conveyances.” “This translates into 1.5 million containers arriving at American ports each year, moving 2.4 billion tons of cargo.” “Some 1200 to 1500 commercial vessels call on American ports daily.” Now let’s look at China again: China’s strategy was influenced by several conflicts, both far away and close by. One important one was the Persian Gulf War, which had a significant impact on the modernization and shift in strategy. The Chinese leadership called for preparation for “local wars under high technology conditions”, but the US intervention in Serbia in 1999 was also noted. More recent and closer incidents were the Taiwan Strait Crisis and the Hainan Island Incident in 2001, yet probably the Taiwan Strait Crisis was the most important one. “The Taiwan Strait Crisis especially holds significant weight, as China at the time had very little in the way of strategic options in countering an American carrier off its coast”. Hence, China’s goal is either protection of its maritime commerce, and deterrence of enemies. Thus, in short term, the buildup of a strong blue water navy is crucial. Additionally, strong anti-shipping capabilities, with anti-ship ballistic missiles and other means, is also of major importance in order to expand the range of the defenses. This will also allow the Chinese Navy to operate farther into the East China and Southeast China Seas. A long-term goal is the build up of a force that is able to provide power-projection capabilities. Although China has access to several military and civilian bases outside of China, the so-called “String of Pearls” which range from Cambodia to Sudan, and expand the readiness and operational range of its fleet, for a major intervention, they are probably not sufficient. In order to achieve these goals, the Chinese Navy is expanding in quantity: “During 2014 alone, more than 60 naval ships and craft were laid down, launched, or commissioned, with a similar number expected through the end of 2015”; and also quality and capabilities: “We see evidence of shifting strategic focus in the People Liberation Army Navy’s rapid retiring of legacy combatants in favour of larger, multimission ships equipped with advanced antiship, antiair, and antisubmarine weapons and sensors. Highlighting this transition is the fact that every major People Liberation Army Navy’s surface combatant under construction is capable of embarking a helicopter, an addition that supports over-the horizon targeting, antisubmarine warfare, and search and rescue.” Geographically, China’s strategy revolves, to a large degree, around the so-called First- and Second Island Chains, which are not officially defined but basically every source mentions them in one way or another. Depending on the source, the first island chain runs from Japan to the Ryukya Islands, Taiwan, the Phillipines, and to Indonesia, whereas the Second Island Chain runs from the middle of Japan to the Bonin Islands up to the Marianas and Indonesia. Basically, those islands are seen by the Chinese as the first and second line of defense. Now for the US Navy. Here, we can look directly at the publication from 2007: “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower” which outlines the strategy, goals, and challenges. It notes, “Unites States seapower will be globally postured to secure our homeland and citizens from direct attack and to advance our interests around the world”, which basically requires the ability to strike anywhere. It contains six goals which are divided along two lines: the first is along the line of a regional power, and the second along the lines of a global force. For the regional power, it is noted that, “Credible combat power will be continuously postured in the Western Pacific and the Arabian Gulf/Indian Ocean to protect our vital interests, assure our friends and allies of our continuing commitment to regional security, and deter and dissuade potential adversaries and peer conpetitors.” The three goals of regional combat power are: limit regional conflicts with forward deployed, decisive maritime power, deterrence of major power wars, and win the wars of the United States. Now, for the global presence, it is intended to use a mission-tailored force. “This global distribution must extend beyond traditional deployment areas, and reflect missions ranging from humanitarian operations to an increased emphasis on counter-terrorism and irregular warfare.” The goals are as follows: contribute to homeland defense in depth; foster and sustain cooperative relationships with more international partners; prevent or contain local disruptions before they impact the global system. Now let’s look at Taiwan again. It is also very important for the US because it is an ally to the US and of major importance in the Asia-Pacific region. If the US were to stop providing a security insurance for Taiwan, this would not only be a major change in the Asia-Pacific region, but also a dangerous message to US allies around the world. Currently, the US Navy is undergoing an expansion. According to the Naval Vessel Register, the US fleet in June 2017 had a total of 277 ships, whereas 234 are active on commission. According to an article from “Defense News” in December 2016, the new goal of the US Navy is a 355 ship fleet. Besides that, there are major upgrades in progress. Most notably, the replacement of the Nimitz-class carriers with Ford-class carriers, the replacement of the Arleigh Burke destroyers with the Zumwalt-class, replacement of Los Angeles-class attack submarines with Virginia-class, and introduction of the Littoral Combat Ship for the Coast Guard. Note that some of these changes will need years, or even decades to be completed. Now let’s take a short look at the Chinese Navy. For this, I use data from 2015 by the Office of Naval Intelligence, so these numbers are probably lower than the current ones considering the expansion of the fleet. The Chinese Navy is organised in three fleets: the North Sea Fleet, stationed in Qingdao; the East Sea Fleet in Ningbo; and the South Sea Fleet in Zhanjiang. Now let’s take a bit of a closer look here. The North Sea Fleet in 2015 consisted of: three nuclear attack submarines, 25 diesel attack submarines, eight destroyers, ten frigates, eleven amphibious ships, 18 missile patrol craft, and six corvettes. The East Sea Fleet had around 18 diesel attack submarines, nine destroyers, 22 frigates, 20 amphibious ships, 30 missile patrol craft, and six corvettes. And, finally, the South Sea Fleet: two nuclear attack submarines, four nuclear ballistic missile submarines, 16 diesel attack submarines, nine destroyers, 20 frigates, 25 amphibious ships 38 missile patrol craft, and eight corvettes. And here’s their accompanying commentary: “As of this publishing, the People Liberation Army Navy consists of approximately 26 destroyers, 21 of which are considered modern; 52 frigates, 35 modern; 20 new corvettes; 85 modern missile-armed patrol craft; 56 amphibious ships; 42 mine warfare ships, 30 modern; more than 50 major auxiliary ships; and more than 400 minor auxiliary ships and service support craft. During 2013, more than 60 total naval ships and craft were laid down, launched, or commissioned. We expect a similar number by the end of 2015. In 2013 and 2014, China launched more naval ships than any other country, and is expected to continue this trend through 2015-2016. Note that meanwhile, Chinese Navy added several ships and probably most notably a carrier, something I will discuss shortly after we take a look at the US Navy numbers. Now, for the US Navy, we have official data from 2017. The Naval Register notes a total battle force of 277 ships, of which 234 are active/in commission. For instance, although there are eleven carriers, only ten are in active commission. This is a very important aspect, because having a ship doesn’t mean it’s operational. Now let’s look at the US Navy forces which are most broadly divided in the “Atlantic” and “Pacific” fleets. For the Atlantic, there are: four carriers; ten missile cruisers; 28 destroyers; one command ship; 15 amphibious ships; 15 coastal patrol ships, of which two are of the Littoral Combat Ship-class; six nuclear ballistic missile submarines; two nuclear cruise missile submarines, 23 nuclear attack submarines, and, of course, the USS Constitution, which is a wooden-hull frigate and, if you’re not from the US, you probably might know it from Fallout 4. Now, for the Pacific, there are: six carriers; 12 missile cruisers; 35 destroyers, of which one is of the new Zumwalt-class; one command ship; two submarine tenders; 17 amphibious ships; six Littoral Combat Ships; eleven mine countermeasure ships; eight nuclear ballistic missile submarines; two nuclear cruise missile submarines; 28 nuclear attack submarines; and, quite surprisingly, at least for me, the USS Pueblo because it sits in North Korea since it was captured in 1968 in the Pueblo Incident. Now, as a little extra, a short excursus on the Chinese carrier, or better, carriers. Although the Chinese carrier Liaoning is often noted as a major game changer, it is usually not correctly portrayed. It is an important step, yet its capabilities itself are not comparable to US Navy carriers which are a key element in a carrier strike group, yet are far from the only element necessary to provide the capabilities of such a group. At first, let’s consider the Chinese carrier limits: first off, one operational carrier, in a way, means no carrier, because for proper deployment, usually a backup ship with similar capabilities and operational status is necessary. And yes, the Chinese Navy launched a second carrier in 2017, but is still fitted out and far from operational. Additionally, a carrier itself is only one element of a carrier strike group. Such a group requires a carrier strike wing, proper airborne early warning planes like the E-2C Hawkeye, ships for missile defense, and also proper anti-submarine warfare capabilities. Additionally, supply ships, and, ideally, a group of submarines for escort. On the technical side, a difference is that the Liaoning uses a ski-jump configuration instead of a catapult, which limits the loadout of the carrier planes. Thus, usually less fuel and/or weapons are carried. Yet the Chinese carrier is a major step in gaining experience with operating a carrier and carrier-borne strike wings. Additionally, it can provide a fleet with air-defense missions, and thus extend its range. The Office of Naval Intelligence notes, “Unlike a US Carrier, Liaoning is not well equipped to conduct long-range power projection. It is better suited to fleet air defense missions, where it could extend a protective envelope over a fleet operating in blue water. Although it possesses a full suite of weapons and combat systems, Liaoning will likely offer its greatest value as a long-term training investment.” Well, this video originally should have mainly covered the operational aspects, but I guess I got a bit carried away here with the strategic aspects and vital background information. As always, sources are in the description. If you want to learn more about military history, I suggest my featured playlist, or if you want to know how an engagement between the US and China might work out, check out this video by Commissar Binkov. Special thanks to Justin for helping me out; thank you for watching; and South China Sea you next time!