Armed with such an influx of ships each year, the PLAN has grown into one of the most modern and capable navies in the world, far eclipsing any other Asian navy.
The transport of the year included one Type 094A Guided Missile Submarine (SSBN), two Type 075 (LHD) helicopter landing docks, three Type 055 cruisers, seven Type 052D destroyers, six Type 056A, six Type 082II Mine Countermeasures Vessels, one Ship Cable Layer and three Type 927 Surveillance Vessels.
The quantity and diversity of PLAN’s modern ships imbues it with growing confidence, reinforced by the nationalism stoked by an increasingly martial Communist Party.
China is not only seeking to dominate the waters near its shores, but to expand beyond those called the First Island Chain and influence the narrative and hoist a flag in distant oceans.
Indeed, 2022 will mark the 14th year of a continued Chinese naval presence in the Gulf of Aden, supported by an PLA base in Djibouti.
The largest of the aforementioned list of ships completed in 2021 is the Type 075 LHD, which resembles an aircraft carrier thanks to its flat deck. An LHD carries a large number of helicopters (up to 28 in the case of the Type 075) from China, and it accommodates landing craft and hovercraft in an internal trunk deck for amphibious operations. Up to 1,000 Marines and their amphibious assault vehicles can also be transported.
PLAN’s first Type 075 named Hainan, with a displacement of around 36,000 tonnes, entered service with the South Sea Fleet in Sanya, Hainan Island, on April 23, 2021, while the second officially entered service on December 26 as a late “Christmas present”. (Ironically, China’s paranoia means religious holidays such as Christmas are banned by new laws, even though around 5 percent of the Chinese population are Christians).
The second LHD, commissioned at Zhoushan Naval Base as Guangxi, was assigned to the East Sea Fleet and is particularly focused on operations against Taiwan. Interestingly, the East Sea Fleet had so far received neither aircraft carriers nor LHDs.
Guangxi was launched on April 22, 2020 and began sea trials in December of the same year. In addition to its helicopter and amphibious capabilities, the LHD lends itself to use as a logistics and command platform for any emergency operation against Taiwan. Aircraft carriers could be used to deter any intervention by the United States and its allies in a future Chinese attack on Taiwan.
Other LHDs are also on their way, as a third Type 075 was launched by the Hudong Zhonghua Shipyard in Shanghai on January 29, 2021 and began sea trials on November 25, 2021.
China maintains an impressive shipbuilding rate, with an LHD launched every six months so far. Indeed, no other country can match the record pace of shipbuilding achieved by China. For the first-in-class Type 075, it took 340 days from launch to maiden voyage. By the time of the second LHD, this milestone had been reduced to 245 days, despite the impact of COVID-19.
Another example of shipbuilding productivity, the same Hudong Zonghua facility launched on the same day two Type 054A frigates and one Type 071E (LPD) amphibious vessel (the latter being built for Thailand). The same yard also built 054A / P type frigates for Pakistan.
The Type 075s provide the PLA with a much larger amphibious and helicopter-borne lift capacity than its current fleet of eight Type 071 LPDs. It is not known how many Type 075s China will build, but there will likely be at least six. , some even claim eight. These LHDs could be supplemented in the future by the larger Type 076.
Periodic updates to satellite images from the Jiangnan Changxingdao shipyard in Shanghai show that progress is also being made on the PLAN’s third aircraft carrier. Called Type 003, this aircraft carrier is quite different from the previous two since it is larger and does not need a ski jump ramp on the bow to assist aircraft take off.
Instead, the Type 003 will use a catapult launch system, just like the US Navy (USN) does. However, China has made the technological leap directly to an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) instead of first adopting a steam catapult system. All modern American aircraft carriers used steam catapults until the arrival of the first Ford-class aircraft carrier equipped with EMALS.
The EMALS is evident in the satellite imagery of the Type 003 transporter, with two launch systems at the front and one at the waist. The same images suggest the ship is around 316m long and 71.3m wide. Two elevators for raising and lowering planes to / from the hangar deck are approximately 21m wide, they are placed on the starboard side of the ship.
EMALS is important to the PLAN, as it will allow more heavily armed and refueled fighters to take off from Type 003 than is possible from Types 001 and 002. This also means that different aircraft such as the Developing airborne early warning aircraft KJ-600 can operate from type 003, which is not possible on previous aircraft carriers.
Incidentally, a new massive dry dock in Sanya has been built, one large enough to accommodate the Type 003 transporter. This suggests that it will join the South Sea Fleet. Sanya has become a major naval base on par with the three existing fleet headquarters bases in Qingdao, Ningbo and Zhanjiang.
The PLAN is a powerful force, and one has to wonder why it is prioritized by President Xi Jinping. The forecast of the US Congressional Research Service is that by 2025, China will have six SSBNs, ten nuclear-powered attack submarines, 47 diesel-electric submarines, three aircraft carriers, 52 cruisers / destroyers. , 120 frigates / corvettes, four LHDs, ten LPDs and 24 landing ship tanks (LST).
Dennis Blasko, a former US defense attache in Beijing and Hong Kong in the 1990s, said the main goal of modernizing Eastern Theater Command is to deter Taiwan. “To deter, you have to have a credible force. And they build that believable force. Again, through deterrence theory, you have to display the determination to use that force. And you do it through statements, you do it through exercises. ”
However, Blasko assessed that the PLA does not yet have the level of confidence to invade Taiwan, and certainly not the shipping industry to do so. “… At this point, I think they see having to go to war as a failure of their national strategy. They would much prefer to get whatever they want through negotiations or other forms of pressure. ”
Although the PLAN has large vessels such as LPD type 071 and LHD 075, the number of shorter range amphibious vessels such as LSTs for an over-the-beach invasion has remained largely static.
A full-scale invasion of Taiwan would be militarily and politically risky for Xi, but this calculation doesn’t apply so much to lesser action such as the capture of Taiwanese islands such as the island of Pratas or Itu Aba in the China Sea. southern. For such an action, LHDs would be an ideal platform.
With all of these new ships, which are about as sophisticated as anything the USN has, the PLAN is poised to pull its weight not just in coastal waters, but further and further afield. China has been belligerent in its treatment of others in the South China Sea, not only with its navy, but also by the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). Each of the latter two is the greatest force of their type in the world.
In a new report titled “Hold the Line through 2035”, published by the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, authors Gabriel Collins and Andrew Erickson argue that the United States must firmly oppose Beijing’s antics that are trying to change the status quo and trample the international community. law.
The two US academics noted, “China is arguably pushing towards … an inflection point with its increasingly aggressive actions on the East Asian coastline, including violations of space. air and maritime administration administered by Japan, the construction and subsequent militarization of the disputed reefs in the South. China Sea, harassment of oil and gas exploration operations by companies in neighboring states, and frequent use of maritime forces to harass fishermen in neighboring countries. ”
The PLAN, the CCG and the PAFMM indeed form the obvious front line of Chinese military aggression, because they benefit from heavy investments and modernization. China is also using new national regulations such as the Coast Guard Law to assert territorial jurisdiction, even though these have no international weight.
Collins and Erickson continued, “Each of these individual challenges tests the limits of the status quo, and unless there is sufficient international response, emboldens further actions to expand Chinese claims and undermine the state-led regional security architecture. United which helped secure peace for three quarters The response to China’s revisionist actions must ultimately be multilateral, but American action is the indispensable catalyst to launch the process and support the first steps when the return the flame of a People’s Republic of China (PRC) not completely slowed down will probably be the most intense. ”
The year 2021 saw warships from countries like France, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom ply the South China Sea. This reflected greater international concern, even on the part of distant European powers, over China’s intimidating behavior. However, most countries in Southeast Asia are intimidated and overwhelmed by the power of the PLA, and only a couple like Indonesia or Vietnam are ready to resist Chinese intimidation.
Collins and Erickson made a recommendation, however. “Washington should take the lead in helping allies and partner nations (to the extent that they seek help from the United States) to positively assert their maritime rights. Partner States.
US naval forces conducted seven freedom of navigation operations vis-à-vis China in 2019. Maintaining or exceeding this pace would be “demonstrative” action to show Washington’s resolve in the face of the PRC’s excessive maritime claims. The Guard is also expected to begin engaging in “definitive” actions that affirm their readiness to tackle “on the ground” PRC activities in the South and East China Seas that violate international law. and local. ”
With the PLAN keen to test the courage of its crews amid an influx of new warships, and with the United States and others more determined to challenge China’s illegal maritime claims, the stage is set for rising tensions in the South China and East China Seas. The question is whether Chinese pride will lead to an involuntary confrontation at sea this year?
Chinese actions will not be limited to these aforementioned sea areas either, with the PLAN moving further and further away from China’s coasts. The Indian Navy, for example, will be forced to respond to a larger PLAN presence in the Indian Ocean in the coming year as well.