Friday, May 2, 2008

China's Blue Water Navy Makes Its Move

We've talked about it before, but the one area where we need to increase the size and scope of our military is in the area of Naval operations. We need more ships, more sailors, and more of a presence throughout the world.

China is definitely not going to stop expanding its blue water navy. It's not going to stop with a few nuclear subs and an aircraft carrier or two. It is working overtime to expand and upgrade in all areas.

In what will be a significant challenge to US Navy dominance and to countries ringing the South China Sea, one photograph shows China’s latest 094 nuclear submarine at the base just a few hundred miles from its neighbours.

Other images show numerous warships moored to long jettys and a network of underground tunnels at the Sanya base on the southern tip of Hainan island.

Of even greater concern to the Pentagon are massive tunnel entrances, estimated to be 60ft high, built into hillsides around the base. Sources fear they could lead to caverns capable of hiding up to 20 nuclear submarines from spy satellites.

The US Department of Defence has estimated that China will have five 094 nuclear submarines operational by 2010 with each capable of carrying 12 JL-2 nuclear missiles.

The images were obtained by Janes Intelligence Review after the periodical was given access to imagery from the commercial satellite company DigitalGlobe.

Entrance to Chinese Naval facility.[DigitalGlobe]

Analysts for the respected military magazine suggest that the base could be used for "expeditionary as well as defensive operations" and would allow the submarines to "break out to launch locations closer to the US".

It would now be "difficult to ignore" that China was building a major naval base where it could house its nuclear forces and increase it "strategic capability considerably further afield".

The development so close to the sea lanes vital to Asian economies "can only cause concern far beyond these straits".

Military analysts believe that China’s substantial build up of its forces is gaining pace but has remained hidden from the world in the build-up to the Olympics.

Open source imagery of Chinese facilities.[DigitalGlobe]

China has diverted much of its resources from the huge Peoples Liberation Army to the navy, air force and missile development.

An old Russian aircraft carrier, bought by Beijing for "leisure activities" has been picked over by naval architects who hope to "reverse engineer" the ship.

Within the next five to 10 years the Peoples Liberation Navy is expected to build up to six carriers which will also coincide with the [British] Royal Navy’s construction of two major carriers.

The location of the base off Hainan will also give the submarines access to very deep water exceeding 5,000 metres within a few miles, making them even harder to detect.

It's all well and good to expect that China will remain friendly, but I would bet on Chinese nationalism insisting on control of its own backyard--and resentment for US military bases in Japan. The very fact that they plan to build six carriers indicates that they are far more serious about this than we are prepared to be. It does us no good to have a massive Navy ourselves if it can be easily challenged by a regional power. We're in for serious issues if China is able to project its power into the Middle East and beyond.

We need to be smart about what we choose to do to build our own navy. Procurement controversies like this aren't helpful:

But all of this depends on the LCS being really cheap, and it isn't so cheap. A lot of ideas that weren't terrible went into the development of the LCS, but there have been some negative interactions. As the article details, the Navy decided to use a variety of civilian technologies in design and construction. Unfortunately, as the process of construction has gone on, the Navy came to the unsurprising conclusion that these technologies would not meet naval specifications. Courses had to be changed in mid-construction, leading to substantial delays and cost overruns. Another problem was the drive for privatization in acquisition, which led to minimal oversight of the Lockheed and General Dynamics construction processes. The privatization movement, based on the idea that government supervision was inefficient and undesirable, in effect made government oversight impossible by gutting the capacity of the services to manage large projects. This is not to put the blame on GD or Lockheed, as they were simply responding to the structure of the situation. In fairness, the changing government requirements make the entire construction process very difficult.

We need to be smarter and faster and better. Good thing the Bush Administration ends as soon as it does. We're already behind and we can't afford to be stumblebums.

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