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People's Liberation Navy - History

In 1949 Mao asserted that "to oppose imperialist aggression, we must build a powerful navy." The Naval Academy was set up at Dalian in March 1950, mostly with Soviet instructors. On April 14, 1950, the leading organ of the PLA Navy was founded in Beijing. The Navy was established in September 1950 by consolidating regional naval forces under General Staff Department command. It then consisted of a motley collection of ships and boats acquired from the Guomindang forces. The Naval Air Force was added two years later.

By 1954 an estimated 2,500 Soviet naval advisers were in China--possibly one adviser to every thirty Chinese naval personnel--and the Soviet Union began providing modern ships. With Soviet assistance, the navy reorganized in 1954 and 1955 into the North Sea Fleet, East Sea Fleet, and South Sea Fleet, and a corps of admirals and other naval officers was established from the ranks of the ground forces. On October 24, 1955, the navies of the East China and the Central and South China Military Area Commands were renamed respectively the East China Sea Fleet and the South China Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy.

The Chinese Navy imported equipment and technology from the Soviet Union when it was first established in the 1950s and developed the ability to make naval equipment with Chinese parts in a short time. In shipbuilding the Soviets first assisted the Chinese, then the Chinese copied Soviet designs without assistance, and finally the Chinese produced vessels of their own design. Eventually Soviet assistance progressed to the point that a joint Sino-Soviet Pacific Ocean fleet was under discussion.

A procurement policy was set in August 1950 by the PLAN to build a light-duty surface warfare force. Such a force would consist of air, submarine, and torpedo boat elements. For the construction of new vessels, the Bureau of Shipbuilding Industry was created in October 1950 and was based in Shanghai . With the guidance of the Soviets, the Chinese developed a joint agreement with the Soviet Union for the license production of five different kinds of ships in the Soviet Navy in June 1953 those being: frigates, medium-sized torpedo submarines, minesweepers, large submarine chasers, and torpedo boats.

The Shipbuilding Industry Management Bureau in 1954 created the Ship Product Design Branch, which later was renamed the First Ship Product Design Office. The Bureau built and operated six shipyards and two construction sites for the PLAN. From 1955 to 1960, the shipyards produced more than 100 ships. In 1954, the Ship Model Testing Institute was created by the First Ministry of Machine Building (MMB). The same institute was enlarged and renamed the Ship Science Research Institute of the First MMB and the Ministry of Communication. The MMB organized the Ship Product Design Institute with four additional institutes in 1958.

In 1958, when Moscow refused to support the development of nuclear-powered attack (SSN) and ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), Beijing undertook indigenous programs for the submarines and solid-fueled ballistic missiles to arm the SSBN. The PLAN in 1958 developed research institutes dedicated to the study of ship design, underwater weapons, hydro-acoustics, and navigation. The PLAN developed the Science and Technology Research Division. Universities in Shanghai, Xian, Dalian, and Wuhan developed research bodies dedicated to the study of shipbuilding, naval weapon systems, and training equipment. "The Agreement on the Assistance to the People's Republic of China by USSR for Building Warships by the Chinese Navy" was signed on February 4, 1959 between China and the Soviet Union, which allowed the Chinese to begin receiving designs and parts for the license production of submarines, two kinds of guided missile ships, and a hydro-foil torpedo boat.

On August 1, 1960, the North China Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy on the basis of the Qingdao Base of the PLA Navy was founded. The Navy Party Committee submitted a report to the CMC to clearly define the policy goals of their naval modernization, which included: the development guided missile capabilities, and the continual development of the navy's conventional equipment, the creation of a submarine force, the development of small and medium sized surface ships. The Ship Industrial Management Bureau was absorbed by the Third MMB in 1960, whereas the Military Ship Overall Design Office, which was under the Ship Product Design Institute, was expanded into seven offices with new emphases on the development of torpedoes and navigational instruments. Additionally, a test base for the development of large ships was created in Wuxi , which helped lay the course for more research and development.

Through the upheavals of the late 1950s and 1960s the Navy remained relatively undisturbed. Under the leadership of Minister of National Defense Lin Biao, large investments were made in naval construction during the frugal years immediately after the Great Leap Forward. During the Cultural Revolution, a number of top naval commissars and commanders were purged, and naval forces were used to suppress a revolt in Wuhan in July 1967, but the service largely avoided the turmoil. Although it paid lip service to Mao and assigned political commissars aboard ships, the Navy continued to train, build, and maintain the fleets.

In August 1960, the Soviet Union retracted its support of the Chinese in the development of the PLAN by pulling its advisors and ceasing the supply of technology and materials, forcing China to develop its navy by itself. As a solution, the Chinese created research bodies to fill the gap that Soviet Union had left in research and development in order to continue the modernization and development of its navy. The Warship Research Academy, or the Seventh Academy of the Ministry of National Defence, was created in June 1961. The Seventh Academy focused the research and development of ships, weapons systems, equipment, and the assimilation of imported technology.

The Seventh Academy was also responsible for the creation of other research institutes dedicated to creating various ship designs, including nuclear submarines and propulsion systems. Additional research institutions were created after 1963, when the Sixth MMB was created. These institutes were specialized in various aspects of naval research, such as machine building, instruments, technology, and information.

The cumulative efforts of the various research bodies helped China become more capable of domestically developing a navy by duplicating imported technology and producing needed parts. By the mid-60s, the Seventh Academy became capable of developing China 's first-generation of naval vessels, such as nuclear power submarines, survey ships, destroyers, frigates, and various naval weapons systems.

In the 1970s, when approximately 20 percent of the defense budget allocated to naval forces, the Navy grew dramatically. The conventional submarine force increased from 35 to 100 boats, the number of missile-carrying ships grew from 20 to 200, and the production of larger surface ships, including support ships for oceangoing operations, increased. The Navy also began development of nuclearpowered attack submarines (SSN) and nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN). However, the PLAN lacked surface-to-air missile (SAM) protection for its ships, which were equipped solely with guns and had no surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs). And it had very little anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability. In December 1971, China's first guided missile destroyer was put into service in the PLA Navy. On Aug. 1, 1974, the first nuclear-powered submarine designed and manufactured by China independently started its service in the PLA Navy.

In January 1974 the PLA saw action in the South China Sea following a long-simmering dispute with the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) over the Xisha (Paracel) Islands. South Vietnamese and PLA naval forces skirmished over 3 islands occupied by South Vietnamese troops, and the PLA successfully seized control of the islands in a joint amphibious operation involving 500 troops and air support.

In the 1980s the Navy was developing into a regional naval power with some green-water capabilities. Naval construction continued at a level somewhat below the 1970s rate. Modernization efforts encompassed higher educational and technical standards for personnel; reformulation of the traditional coastal defense doctrine and force structure in favor of more blue-water operations; and training in naval combined-arms operations involving submarine, surface, naval aviation, and coastal defense forces. Examples of the expansion of China's blue-water naval capabilities were the 1980 recovery of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the Western Pacific by a twenty-ship fleet, extended naval operations in the South China Sea in 1984 and 1985, and the visit of two naval ships to three South Asian nations in 1985. In 1982 the Navy conducted a successful test of an underwater-launched ballistic missile; in 1986 the Navy's order of battle included at least one Xia-class SSBNs armed with twelve CSS-NX-4 missiles and five Han-class SSNs armed with six SY-2 cruise missiles. In early March, 1984, the North China Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy launched a warship and fighter formation coordination drilling, which marked a new stage of the marine-air coordination training of the PLA Navy.

The Navy also had some success in developing a variety of ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore, shore-to-ship, and air-to-ship missiles. In the late 1980s, major deficiencies reportedly remained in antisubmarine warfare, mine warfare, naval electronics (including electronic countermeasures equipment), and naval aviation capabilities. In January 1988, China's biggest modern naval port witnessed its completion of construction. This large naval port, with an area of 10.7 square kilometers including a water surface of 3.9 square kilometers, is able to afford berths for tens of missile destroyers at the same time and provide rapid replenishment of POL, water, electricity, heating and cartridge for naval ships.

Although naval personnel comprised only 12 percent of PLA strength, the PLA Navy ranked in 1987 as the third largest navy in the world in 1987. The Navy consisted of the naval headquarters in Beijing; three fleet commands - the North Sea Fleet, based at Qingdao, Shandong Province; the East Sea Fleet, based at Shanghai; and the South Sea Fleet, based at Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province - and about 2,000 ships. The 350,000-person Navy included Naval Air Force units of 34,000 men, the Coastal Defense Forces of 38,000, and the Marine Corps of 56,500.

China's 1,500-kilometer coastline was protected by more than 100 diesel-powered Romeo- and Whiskey-class submarines, which could remain at sea only a limited time. Inside this protective ring and within range of shore-based aircraft were destroyers and frigates mounting Styx antiship missiles, depth-charge projectors, and guns up to 130mm. Any invader penetrating the destroyer and frigate protection would be swarmed by almost 900 fast-attack craft. Stormy weather could limit the range of these small boats, however, and curtail air support. Behind the inner ring were Coastal Defense Force personnel operating naval shore batteries of Styx missiles and guns, backed by ground force units deployed in depth.

On April 24, 1992, a destroyer flotilla of the PLA Navy held a grand retirement ceremony for the first destroyer of the People's Republic of China, which was also the Navy's last destroyer in active service made in the Soviet Union. Thus, all the modern guided missile destroyers of the PLA Navy destroyer formations were homemade.

From Feb. 20 to May 28, 1997, a ship formation of the PLA Navy visited the United States, Mexico, Peru and Chile. During this out-going visit, with a voyage of more than 24,000 sea miles, the naval ship formation made two firsts in PLA Navy's history, i.e. to cross the Pacific Ocean for the first time and arrived in the U.S. mainland and the South American continent for the first time. This four-nation visit also set several records in PLA Navy's history of foreign exchange in the size, duration, voyage, number of countries and cities visited.

On 17 February 2003, nine types of China-made advanced medical service equipment including field ambulances, epidemic prevention vehicles and medical kit sets were loaded on board a ship in the Tianjin New Port. They left China for Congo (K) together with a Chinese medical detachment that participated in UN peacekeeping operation. It is the fist time for the Chinese medical service equipment to serve abroad. On November 28, 2007, the "Shenzhen" missile destroyer of the PLA Navy arrived at Tokyo for a 4-days' friendly visit to Japan. The "Shenzhen" missile destroyer was the first Chinese naval ship to visit Japan, indicating that China and Japan opened a new chapter in the annals of defense exchange.



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