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China's Future Route to Maritime Dominance



The Russian newspaper The Independent carried a special article analyzing China's policy toward future seaward dominance.


To develop military operational capability in the oceans:


China's most important task at present is nation building: to build a powerful modernized socialist country. However, considering the significance of the oceans to China's economic development, how to establish China as a maritime power has become a primary goal for China's leadership at the present. Therefore, the urgent concern for China is how to build an ocean fleet with the capability to control global waterways in order to gain such a status. According to this long-term program, China's Navy will have gone through a complete modernization overhaul by the year 2050. The first phase of this objective was already completed by 2000, during which period China gained control over the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea and the South China Sea. The three seas are all located within the "first island chain" of the Pacific Ocean, including the Philippines and the Ryukyu Islands. The second phase of the objective will be completed between 2020 and 2025, by which time China's Navy will have established control over waterways within the "second island chain" including the Japan Sea, the Philippines Sea and Indonesia Sea, covering Kuriles, Kokkaido, and Marianas and Palau Islands in the south. The third phase will be completed by 2050, during which time China will have established her ocean fleet operating in areas as far as Guam in the "third island chain." What has become apparent in view of this goal is that China's Navy will need all kinds of modern combatant ships, especially aircraft carriers that can carry fighter jets.


The Number 9935 Ship Building Program


In order to speed up her naval modernization process, China needs to produce an aircraft carrier first, and then build an experimental fleet centered on the carrier. Such a fleet will have to have aerial, surface and underwater operation capabilities and, based on the lessons and experience gained from such an experimental fleet, China's military experts will then set up a foundation for further establishing a large ocean fleet in the future. In 1992, the Chinese authorities decided on a program for studying, researching and developing aircraft carriers and Chinese leaders of various levels have done extensive feasibility studies on this project since then. In 1993, senior leaders of the Chinese Navy publicly announced that China would start researching, developing and building an aircraft carrier. In January 1993, the Chinese political leaders decided to step up their carrier program and allocated several billion dollars for it. China had planned to finish building the first aircraft carrier by 2000, but the plan has been delayed repeatedly due to lack of carrier experts and technology such as the deck catapult for take-off and landing and hooking facilities. Eventually China's top leaders have decided to complete the carrier program in two stages.


During the first stage, to quickly improve its own carrier technology, China has bought several scrapped carriers from overseas in order to study the parts. The first such carrier was "Melbourne," a light carrier from Australia, bought in 1994 at a cost of $1.4 million, which was subsequently towed to southern China to be disassembled, analyzed and studied by experts. The second carrier was "Minsk", a TABKP heavy cruiser, bought in 1997 for $5 million, which, after going through 18-months' repairs and renovations, has been turned into a floating amusement park now anchored in the bay not too far from Shenzhen. The third carrier is a same model cruiser "Kiev", bought for $8.4 million, which was towed to Tianjin in 2000 and is now going through an overhaul to be used in the future as another tourist floating amusement park. China bought its fourth carrier in 1998, the "Varyag", from Ukraine for $20 million, which at the time was only 70% completed, and towed to Dalian between 2001 - 2002. This carrier appears to be going through the same renovation as if it would be used as another floating amusement park, but in actual fact, its true purpose is to provide an object of study and analysis for China's naval experts.


During the second stage, China plans to build an aircraft carrier of between 40,000 to 60,000 tons. According to Russian intelligence information, China started working on its own carrier since 1999 at Shanghai Shipyard. It would be the first one of purely Chinese design. This carrier, code named "Project 9935," would have a 48,000 ton displacement, capable of carrying 30 - 40 fighter jets, most of which would be multi-functional SU-30MKK jets bought from Russia. It is said that this carrier would have a built-in vertical anti-air and anti-ship missile launching system. According to NATO's categorization, such a ship can only be called a heavy aircraft cruiser, not a true aircraft carrier. China has already started working on its naval bases and harbors in Shanghai, Zanjiang and Dalian to improve docking facilities for this carrier in the future. Started in 1999, this carrier is expected to be completed by 2006, but the proper formation of an experimental ocean fleet centered on such a carrier would take another three to four years to come into shape. According to the past experience of other countries' aircraft carrier fleet formation, it is certain that China will start building 10,000 tonnage cruisers in the near future to be convoy ships. It is also possible that China will purchase such cruisers directly from overseas, most likely the "Ukraine," a missile cruiser from Ukraine, which is now 93% completed, and then build China's own similar cruisers modeled on the "Ukraine."


The Building of Nuclear and Conventional Submarines


As China is pursuing its aircraft carrier program, it is also actively engaged in developing a submarine fleet and hoping to overtake other South East Asian countries in this aspect, because this region thus far lacks any modern anti-submarine capability. In the future, China hopes to use its nuclear submarines as its main means of carrying out threat, deterrence and retaliation policies. In view of this principle, China's Navy will focus on research and development of new nuclear submarines as well as diesel and electric submarines. At the present, the Chinese naval "Xia-class" (“Project 092") strategic nuclear missile submarine can be equipped with 12 solid fuel "Giant Wave" model-1 missiles with a range of 2,400 kilometers. China's experience in using "Xia-class" nuclear submarines will be helpful in the design and construction of the second-generation strategic nuclear missile submarines ("Project 094"). This second generation of strategic nuclear missile submarines will be capable of carrying 16 "Giant Wave" model-2 missiles with a range of 8,000 kilometers. By the end of 2001, China has already started its project on the second generation of strategic nuclear missile submarines in a shipyard near the Gulf of Bohai, which is expected to be launched in 2004 or 2005. According to this plan, by the year 2010, China's Navy will have had three second-generation strategic nuclear missile submarines. If that proves to be true, then China's nuclear missile submarines will be able to operate freely over the waterways of the West Pacific Ocean including the Philippines, and to aim at and reach any target within the Russian and U.S. territories.


As for China's present nuclear missile submarine fleet, it is composed primarily of the "Han-class" multi-functional nuclear submarines built in the 1980s. China has been actively pursuing its second generation of nuclear submarines to replace its obsolete nuclear submarines, and the new generation of nuclear submarine will not only be equipped with traditional torpedoes, but also new anti-ship missiles. Based on the technology of the old C-801 model missiles, China has successfully developed its anti-ship missiles that can be launched from underwater. In terms of technology and structure, China's second generation of nuclear missile submarines is almost exactly the same as Russia's second generation of nuclear missile submarines. According to NATO's categorization, Russia's second generation of nuclear missile submarines is Victor-III model. The project on China's second generation of such submarines started in 2001 in the Gulf of Bohai region, and China is hoping to build 10 of such submarines. By 2004, the first of China's second-generation nuclear missile submarines will be formally integrated into combat formation, and by 2010, China's Navy will have possessed 4 to 6 same model nuclear submarines.


In addition, in order to improve the performance of its conventional submarines, the Chinese Navy has been buying new-model submarines on the one hand, and at the same time, building submarines of its own design. At the present, Wuhan Shipyard is building a "Song-class" diesel submarine, which is equipped with a new modern sonar facility and can simultaneously and automatically monitor and operate five combat targets. It can also be equipped with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. The first such diesel submarine was launched in 1994. Apart from purchasing four "Kilo-class" diesel submarines from Russia already, China has decided to purchase yet another eight of the same submarines.


To add more amphibious replenishment and transport ships


At the present time, China has already designed and is building new missile destroyers, and the first missile destroyer will be integrated into combat formation in 2007, while the second such destroyer will be launched in 2010. Apart from two "Sovremenny-class" destroyers that China has already purchased from Russia, it has ordered a further two of the same model. In addition, by 2004, China will have completed ten "Jiangwei-model-2 frigates and has already started working on the design and construction of even newer frigates. The first new frigate is expected to go into service by the middle of 2009 or the beginning of 2010. At the same time, China is continuing in its effort to improve the performance of various surface ships already in combat formation through technological overhaul and firepower upgrade, such as putting on new anti-ship missiles, anti-aircraft guns and anti-submarine missile systems.


In order to speed up its ocean fleet program, China's Navy will especially need minesweeping ships. China is hoping to decide on the mine sweeping capability improvement project, which will include two types of mine sweepers: one will be the traditional surface mine-sweeping ship, and the other will be to equip frigates with mine-sweeping facilities. By the beginning of 2002, China has over 50 amphibious landing ships and can transport a brigade of marines at one time, but cannot carry enough supplies. By 2007, China's Navy will have its first new tank-landing ship with a 5,000 to 6,000 ton displacement, capable of carrying 15 tanks and 200 fully armed marines. In this way, China's Navy will have acquired improved capabilities at transporting tanks and soldiers. It is possible that by 2025 China's Navy will have one to two such new tank-landing vessels.


A Naval Air Force with an Integrated Combat Command System


It is anticipated that China's naval air force will soon be modernized and the future Chinese naval air force will be centered around the Russian-made SU-30-MMK, SU-27 and the China's indigenous F-10 fighter jets, thus immensely enhancing the combat capability of China's Navy. Therefore, China's Navy has placed significant emphasis on the structure and function of target reconnaissance, operational command, maritime operation, communication and logistical supply systems, especially the automation of the fleet command system and the integration in communications between surface ships and land command base. This trend has come to show that China's Navy is anxious to achieve the same level of capability as the U.S. Navy's Tactical Data Systems - NTDS. And it is possible that China will pursue a computerized command system in the future using space communication programs to directly send information to its naval ships. In this way, it will have linked its local or regional ships to its land base by computer. In another effort, in order to improve its capability of ship supply system, China is also building up a highly computerized and mechanized rear-echelon supply system, which will expand the range and combat arena of its ships. To meet this goal, China is in the process of building two large new "Dayun-class" supply ships, apart from working on new docks, new harbor and airport facilities. In the meanwhile, large-scale overhaul projects at several old harbors and airports are also under way.


So far, China's Navy has already completed its first phase of military build-up and gained control over the disputed South China Sea areas, safeguarding the oil and gas transport lanes. Because China lacks sufficient energy resources, to safeguard the transport route of energy resources has acquired an extremely significant strategic importance.


[Source: The People’s Daily “Strong China Forum”(qiangguo luntan), January 10 2004,


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