Thursday, April 25, 2013

4/25/2013 Naval Interest: How Far Will The Dragon swim?

Well, in our blog so far we've recorded the Dragon's voyages into the Arctic and Antarctic, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and elsewhere. Yesterday's announcement from the Dragon begs another question:  


Dragon and Ship

The Dragon Is ready To Launch Its Fourth Fleet

 Multiple Chinese sources are reporting that the Dragon is nearly ready to launch its fourth fleet which is essentially a carrier task force centered around the newly refurbished Russian carrier now called LIAONING. The Fourth Fleet  is advertised as responsible for "deep sea combat missions in the South China Sea, the Diaoyutai (Japan's Senkakus) and East China Sea". At first sight this seems like a sudden escalation of tensions from a Coast Guard to Coast Guard confrontation straight into a a direct naval contest with Japan (and the United States) with China immediately playing the air craft carrier card, inviting what? A carrier task force dual between China's one carrier and inexperienced fourth fleet and the United States Navy which may be able to put three or more of the best carrier task forces in the world into the fight? We don't think so. Looking a little deeper into the sources we learn that the Fourth Fleet is considered a strategic force like the nuclear weapon equipped Second Artillery Corps and will fall under the jurisdiction of the Central Military Commission. So we don't think the Dragon is ready to loose this force on Japan yet. They are just letting Japan and the United States know that they now have carrier capability and intend to grow and improve their capability. 

 The Dragon wants to leave the impression that it is acting with self restraint now but willing to pull out all of the stops to take all of the Islands of the China Seas. Of course thug states don't really exercise self restraint. The dragon waits to build up its strength because it is not yet ready to face down the combined naval force of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force, one of the top five "navies" in the world, the Philippine Navy, and if they make a wrong move perhaps the Indian Navy as well. The dragon acts restrained because it is restrained at the moment. The game is "come out and give your house up or I'll huff and puff and blow your house down." At the moment the house is guarded by walls of steel.

 While having about 930 combatant ships in her navy the Dragon fleet is remarkably focused on nearby waters even while demonstrating global reach with individual units and small naval task forces. China prresently is organized around three fleets. The North Fleet is based in Qinggdao, Shandong and is tasked with "defense" of the Yellow Sea. The East Sea Fleet is headquartered in Ningbo, Zhejiang and routinely deploys in the East China Sea. The South Fleet is based in Zhanjiang, Guangdong and patrols the South China Sea. Many of the vessels in these three fleets are of dubious value in operations very far from mainland support. 

 By contrast the Fourth Fleet may be based in Sanya Hainan with a fast route via a relatively wide opening into the Pacific but supposedly will be used to patrol the straits to the the south, as well as performing operations in the open Pacific, and again, at least on paper at the moment, operations near the  disputed southern most islands of Japan . If the fourth fleet actually does appear in that area it will prove very provocative escalating tensions and chances for miscalculation. The dragon is counting on the U.S. budget tensions to render the U.S. Pacific fleet harmless.   According to multiple sources the Fourth Fleet will eventually consist of two air craft carrier task forces, The Fourth Fleet will also have at least two nuclear attack submarines, destroyer type escort ships and at least one major supply vessel. The fourth fleet is expected to be declared a combat ready fleet by 2020. If the Dragon really thinks it can make good on its threats to take Japan's southern most islands with a two carrier, two sub, fleet even assisted by more than 900 less capable naval craft they must be expecting a much bigger naval decline of the United States, Japan, and the Philippines in just seven years than we foresee. We should never underestimate the capacity for the U.S. Congress to totally do the wrong thing, but we think that at the very least the United states will have a minimum of eight carrier task forces in 2020 to China's two. Both Japan and the Philippines are starting on major Naval/Coast Guard build ups. So the dragon better start breathing money instead of fire if it really thinks it will be ready for the naval war it seems so intent on starting by 2020. Meanwhile neither China nor any of her neighbors can expect much oil development in these troubled but probably oil rich seas. Oil companies don't lease exploratory or developmental offshore areas where the leasing authorities are not clear cut and agreed to. China's present approach to the region is as short sighted as a street muggers view. When enough muggings have occurred , the fat cats leave the area. 

 China just can't seem to understand why its neighbors won't engage in bilateral talks with the Dragon. Basically the resistance comes from the fear that the conversation will be on these lines. China: "Give up all of your offshore islands and all but 12 miles of your EEZ unless there is oil within that 12 miles , then of course we will want that too, and we will remove this gun from your head." Neighboring states: You call that bilateral bargaining?"
If the United States doesn't want this situation to end badly we better keep the capacity to really mean it when we are finally forced to say: "Hey reptile boy, you ever heard of 'shock and awe?' "



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