THE RISING SEA DRAGON IN ASIA - 2015 UPDATE
By Jeff Head - Last Update: January 01, 2015
2014 was another very significant year for the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), the Navy of the People's Republic of China. It cannot be over-emphasized how important the building program, the training activities, and the deployments that have all gone on in the last year are to the PLAN and its ability to project power, defend and assert its influence, and, as a blue water fleet, to carry that influence across the seven seas. In fact, in this last year, even more than the year before, the PLAN has been doing just that.
For example, for the first time, the PLAN was invited to attend the very well known and popular RIMPAC exercises hosted by the US Navy off of Hawaii. Typically these exercises are for close US Allies and represent an opportunity to spend several weeks working together as allies in classroom situations, ground exercises, and large joint-naval exercise to exercise their communications, combat, and maneuvering capabilities. The US regularly invites some nations who are not officially allied to participate in maritime security and humanitarian exercises, and in 2014 the PLAN was invited to participate in those areas. The PLAN attended with their Peace Ark Naval Hospital Ship, one of their Type 054A guided-missile frigates, one of their Type 052C guided missile destroyers, and one of their replenishment vessels. A four ship task force which was, outside of the US Navy presence, the largest naval task force attending.
In addition the PLAN has continued to send numerous other task forces on deployments to other joint exercises in the Western Pacific, into the Mediterranean (with the Syrian crisis), to several places in South America, into the Atlantic Ocean and again on anti-pirating missions into the Gulf of Aden. In the South China Sea, the PLAN is showing and maintaining its presence in increasing numbers with large task forces centered on their new Amphibious assault vessels and their aircraft carrier (which itself entered a maintenance period late in the year). The PRC has also embarked on a large reclamation effort of a massive scale in he South China Sea where they are enlarging their island holdings and bases, and creating islands along reefs that they hold. These projects are on a very impressive scale and cannot be underestimated.
Finally, the PLANs (and its sister forces) continue on very aggressive building programs. From aircraft like the PLAN J-15 and the PLAAF's J-20 fifth generation stealth fighter, the light frigates (Type 056), to their continued guided-missile frigate (Type 054A) program, to the last of their Type 052C DDGs, to more and more of their newer Type 052D destroyers, and now to what is clearly going to be a heavy destroyer or cruiser sized vessel in their new Type 055 project. In addition, a fourth Type 071 LPD is being launched with at least two more building, which will make for six of those LPDs which are similar in size and function to the US San Antonio Class LPDs, and more Type 903A Replenishment vessels being built and launched.
NOTE:For the pictures shown in this report, click on any image for higher resoultion. Also, see all the images in much higher resolution at the 2015 PLAN Update Page on Flickr
PLAN Naval Operations:
PLAN Multi-National Joint exercises, and general PLAN training exercises
PLAN participating in RIMPAC 2014, See all RIMPAC 2014 photos HERE on Flickr
Finishing the Type 052C DDGs and continued serial production of Type 052D DDGs:
The PLAN is about to commence building these at a second yard now, in Dalian.
Type 052C Destroyers
Type 052D Destroyers
PLAN continues rapid serial production of Type 056 light frigates:
The Chinese have built 24 of the Type 056 vessels in the last 3-4 years.
Type 056 Light Frigates/Corvettes
PLAN shows off new, full scale mockup of Type 055 Large Destroyer/Cruiser being used for training:
This facility is similar to the full-scale mockup of the Liaoning, CV-16 aircraft carrier that they built for training purposes. It is expected that in the near future they will start building the first (perhaps two) of these vessels. They will increase the VLS launchers from 64 on the Type 052D destroyer to at least 96 on this vessel, with a larger hanger, the new 130mm dual purpose main gun also on the Type 052D destroyer, and other innovations.
Type 055 Cruiser full scale mock-up
PLAN restarts Type 071 LPD building with 4th, 5th, and 6th vessels:
4th Type 071 LPD building and outfitting, and PLAN LPD exercises.
PLAN conducting massive reclamation efforts in the South China Sea:
This is allowing the PRC to significantly strengthen their position in the South China Sea for control of the resource rich area.
People's Republic of China massive land reclamation projects in the South China Sea.
PLAN completes the building of its Type 054A Guided missile frigate fleet:
Last Type 054A FFG launched and outfitting and Type 054A exercises.
PLAN continues with serial J-15 Naval Carrier Strike Fighter production:
Pilots are continuing to be trained and qualified at the PLAN's significant Land Based Training Facility, and then, using three of the later prototype J-15 aircraft, on the Liaoning. The Liaoning underwent a maintenance period at the end of the year, but it is expected that in 2015 the PLAN will begin exercising more and more J-15s off of the Liaoning, and that these new, production aircraft will be seen in that process...perhaps as many as six or eight operating off the Liaoning during the year.
Also, this year, the J-15S two seat version of the Flying Shark has been seen clearly, with its arresting hook. This aircraft, if produced in numbers, would give the PLAN a two-seat, electronic warfare, SEAD, or heavy ground attack capability for the J-15, similar to how the F/A-18F operates for the US Navy.
New production J-15s, J-15 operations, and the J-15S.
PLAN adding more Type 903A combat AOR replenishment vessels:
The PLAN has seemed to settle on the Type 903A AOR design for this expansion and this year has launched more of the vessels. This now bring to twelve the overall number of large, at sea, underway replenishment (UNREP) vessels the Chinese have, doubling their total number over the last few years.
More PLAN Type 903A replenishment vessels being built, and PLAN UNREP exercises.
PRC Air Force continues to add J-20 5th generation Stealth fighters to its inventories:
This year alone three new aircraft, 2012, 2013, and 2015, have been flown, doubling the total number of aircraft, and raising the thought that the J-20 design has reached a much more mature state, perhaps bordering on LRIP. These aircraft are stealthily designed in terms of their air frame, and have a lot of sophisticated and modern features. They are still lacking in true 5th generation engine capabilities with vectored thrust and high IR masking features, but it is felt that the newer engines that China is designing and testing for these aircraft will come along and be added later, the design being prepared for that eventuality. This is mentioned here in the article about the PLAN review to show that the PRC's efforts at modernization and buildup are not limited to the PLAN alone but are much more broad and encompass all of its service branched.
Three new J-20 Prototypes introduced in 2014 alone.
PRC Coast Guard launches the 1st of two new, 12,000 ton mega-cutters:
New 12,000 ton Chinese Coast Guard cutters
The numbers of new, modern and qualitatively advanced vessels are growing rapidly now as numerous new Type 056 light frigates, new AEGIS-like destroyers, ew LPDs, AORs, and other equipment enters service. This growth and the quality of the vessels themselves has become a source of great pride for the people of China. But it has also not gone unnoticed by other nations in the region.
Japan continues to add new vessels (including quasi-aircraft carriers) and capabilities of their own, albeit at a significantly slower pace than the Chinese. The Koreans too are adding more vessels, including plans for more Se Jong AEGIS destroyers, Dokdo LHPHs and AIP submarines...again, at a slower rate than the Chinese. Australia is modernizing its own naval forces and this year announced the probability that they will partner with Japan to build a fleet of new modern AIP capable conventional submarines to replace their Collins class submarines. Australia is also adding three new AEGIS destroyers and their two new Canberra Class LHDs. They announced this year that they will be doing a study now for potentially adding F-35B Stealth fighters to those vessels.
The Philippines is growing their forces as well, but are strapped for the large cash sums it would take to do the type of modernization and growth they would like. But they are partnering with South Korea for newer frigates and aircraft and receiving modernized, US Coast Guard Hamilton Class cutters as the US Coast Guard decommissions them, and turning them into frigates.
Vietnam is adding more new, modern Kilo submarines from Russia, as well as modern, Russian designed Gephard class frigates to counter the Chinese growth in the South China Sea near their shores.
Finally, the United States is continuing its Pacific Pivot, which will result in 60% or more of the entire US Navy being stationed around the Pacific. The US has also recognized the under-design that they did with the Littoral Combat Ship vessels they are building, and will now uparm the existing vessels and cap the number of ships built well below the fifty-six originally planned. The US Navy will then build the recently announced Small Surface Combatant...probably somewhere between 20 and 28 of those vessels.
All in all, the Chinese build-up and expansion continues to produce a veritable naval arms race in the Western Pacific which is including and fueling India's own modernization and buildup as well. China is challenged by not having to keep pace with the US Navy alone, but with the combination of the numerous nations which are allied together. In order to hope to overcome that combination, China must either influence those alliances toward itself, or continue a very large and expensive growth which will be severally challenged to overcome the weight and modernization of those alliances.
Over the next ten years this trend will not only continue...it will most likely increase in pace.
As mentioned in the 2014 update, with more and more naval power being available to these various nations, the potential for historical maritime tensions and flair ups will continue to create a potential for friction between these nations as they develop their operations and policies, and put these assets to sea and exercises them.
As they do, we continue to hope that the various leaders and representatives of these respective nations will use caution, reason, and statesmanship to resolve their differences in the event of any issues...and only resort to military measures as a matter of last resort.
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