Posts Tagged ‘China’s navy’

Vanuatu Denies Chinese Wharf Poses Threat to Australia

June 13, 2018

Australian officials have become increasingly concerned about China’s influence in the small island countries of the South Pacific, especially around infrastructure like a gleaming new wharf in Vanuatu that was built by a Chinese construction company and financed by the Chinese government.

The wharf, Australian officials said, could lead to China seizing strategic property and becoming a more direct military threat, within striking distance of Australia’s east coast.

But in a sign of the growing divide over China’s role, Vanuatu’s leaders are pushing back — sharing for the first time the contract this country signed with China for the wharf, and arguing they are perfectly capable of paying back the loans and making decisions on their own about when to work with China.

The Australian Navy frigate Toowoomba visited Port Vila, Vanuatu, this month. Some Australian officials are wary of a nearby wharf being constructed by Chinese investors. Credit Lieutenant Sarah West/Australian Department of Defence

By Ben Bohane

“The loan was considered economically viable for such infrastructure as the main gateway for international trade between the northern part of the country and the rest of the world,” said Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu of Vanuatu.

His decision to share the contract was just the latest example of Vanuatu, a nation of roughly 80 islands and 270,000 people, trying to alleviate the concerns of Australia, New Zealand and the United States about whether China sees the archipelago as a vulnerable mark, and a potential military outpost.

The wharf was built by the Shanghai Construction Group Co Ltd and opened in August last year. In recent weeks it has become a source of concern in Australia, where defense officials worry that Vanuatu and China have discussed a possible Chinese military base, which could make the wharf available for military and commercial use.

Australian officials and experts have also questioned the terms of the financing deal, suggesting that in the case of default, China could seize the wharf directly through a “debt equity swap” like what was used to take over Sri Lanka’s main port when that nation fell behind on Chinese loans.

But Mr. Regenvanu, sharing a copy of the contract signed in 2014, confirmed it did not include a debt equity swap clause. He said Vanuatu sees the wharf as valuable and necessary for hosting the fast-growing cruise ship and agricultural exports industries.

In the wake of Australian news reports about a potential Chinese military facility, Prime Minister Charlot Salwai of Vanuatu personally assured Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia that Vanuatu was not in discussions with China about a base.

Vanuatu, Mr. Regenvanu said, prefers neutrality. The country is a longtime member of the Nonaligned Movement — a group of countries not formally aligned with any superpower — and he cited that membership as a reason Vanuatu would never allow a Chinese military installation.

Vanuatu, however, was the first Pacific nation to support China’s claims in the South China Sea and its ties to China have been increasing. For several years now, China has been on a construction spree in Vanuatu, erecting government buildings, stadiums, convention centers, roads and extensions to Port Vila’s runway to allow for larger planes.

Direct weekly flights from Beijing and Shanghai are expected to start at the end of the year.

The wharf on Santo Island has long been strategic. First built by Seabees during World War II, Vanuatu (then called the New Hebrides) was the second largest American military base in the Pacific after Hawaii. More than half a million troops passed through the port on their way to fighting crucial battles at Guadalcanal in the neighboring Solomon Islands.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia and Prime Minister Charlot Salwai of Vanuatu met in London in April.CreditLukas Coch/EPA, via Shutterstock

Despite the government of Vanuatu’s assurances, experts said the terms in the contract between Vanuatu and China’s EXIM Bank, with Shanghai Construction Group Co Ltd as supplier or builder, are heavily weighted in China’s favor in the event of a default.

The terms are more restrictive than the loan provided by Japan for a similar wharf.

Japan’s loan provides a 10 year grace period, a loan with interest of .55 percent and a repayment schedule of 40 years.

The Chinese EXIM Bank loan has a five year grace period, interest of 2.5 percent and a 15 year repayment schedule.

In the case of nonpayment, China can also call in the entire debt at once. And the contract is entirely subject to the laws of China and any arbitration must be done via CIETAC — the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Committee.

But Vanuatu’s debt-to-G.D.P. ratio — around 30 percent, with half the debt owing to China and the other half owed largely to the Asian Development Bank — is not out of line for what is typical in the region, experts said.

The broader question, discussed openly in the dimly lit kava bars that locals frequent, concerns China’s motivations and whether small countries can withstand its influence.

“Some of us are worried about Chinese taking over the economy since they run most of the trade stores already and they are bringing in workers to do basic jobs that locals can do,” said Joseph Waiku, a local construction worker. “We hope our government is looking out for our long-term interests.”



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Chinese J-15 jets complete night landings on carrier in push to modernize

May 26, 2018

Chinese fighter pilots have carried out night landings on the country’s first aircraft carrier, the official China Daily reported on Saturday, the latest demonstration of Beijing’s push to modernize its military forces.

Pilots flying J-15 jets landed at night on the Liaoning, the official paper said citing a video posted by China’s navy. It said this was a complex maneuver that marked a “huge leap toward gaining full combat capability”.

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China has ambitious plans to overhaul its armed forces as it ramps up its presence in the disputed South China Sea and around self-ruled Taiwan, an island China considers its own.

China’s first domestically developed aircraft carrier set off on sea trials earlier this month. The Liaoning, which is expected to serve more as a training vessel, was bought second-hand from Ukraine in 1998.

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Its navy has also been taking an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with the Liaoning sailing around Taiwan and new Chinese warships popping up in far-flung places.

State media has quoted experts as saying China needs at least six carriers. The United States operates 10 and plans to build two more.

Many experts agree that developing such a force would be a decades-long endeavor but that the drive to bolster its forces at sea will be crucial in the longer term as China looks to erode U.S. military prominence in the region.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Paul Tait


Tension Between Navies Of India, China In Indian Ocean

May 9, 2018

The Indian Ocean, considered the backyard of the Indian Navy, is critical to India’s strategic interests. Over the years, the region has witnessed increasing Chinese presence.

No Tension Between Navies Of India, China In Indian Ocean: Nirmala Sitharaman

Nirmala Sitharaman innaugurated the Naval Conference on Tuesday . (File)

NEW DELHI:  Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Tuesday that there is no tension between the navies of India and China in the strategic Indian Ocean, which has been witnessing increasing activities by the PLA Navy.

Responding to a question on the “tussle” between China and India in the Indian Ocean Region, Ms Sitharaman sought to downplay the issue and said, “There was no tension in the Indian Ocean, in the Navy against China.”

The Indian Ocean, considered the backyard of the Indian Navy, is critical to India’s strategic interests. Over the years, the region has witnessed increasing Chinese presence.

China increased its presence in the Indian Ocean Region by constructing the deep-sea Gwadar Port in southern Pakistan and a naval base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. The region also has Chinese ships deployed for anti-piracy operations.

On April 16, the Indian Navy on Twitter welcomed China’s PLA Navy in the Indian Ocean Region.

“#MaritimeDomainAwareness @indiannavy extends a warm welcome to the 29th Anti-Piracy Escort Force (APEF) of PLA(N) in Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Happy Hunting @SpokespersonMoD @DefenceMinIndia @IAF_MCC @adgpi @IndiaCoastGuard @IndianDiplomacy,” it tweeted.

When asked about her visit to China, and that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to that country last month and whether there has been any change in terms of strategy, Ms Sitharaman said: “We are talking, we are meeting each other – and that is a big change.”

The defence personnel of the two countries were locked in a 73-day standoff in Doklam area near Sikkim last year and it had resulted in tension between the two Asian giants.

Reacting to reports that there was a directive to the Army not to be aggressive on the borders, Ms Sitharaman said she was not aware of it.

Indian Navy
Sitharaman also stressed on the need to “develop our own weapons and sensors” to make the nation “truly self-reliant”.

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With China encircling India, top commanders assess Navy’s combat efficiency 

At a conclave here on Tuesday to discuss naval efficiency and combat readiness amid worries over an assertive China encircling India, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the Indian Navy has emerged as a “dependable partner” for Indian Ocean Region littoral navies.

Sitharaman addressed senior commanders of the Indian Navy on the first day of the four-day conclave here that is being held to review the Navy’s new “mission-based deployments philosophy aimed at ensuring peace and stabil ..

China’s New Aircraft Carrier Is Already Obsolete

April 26, 2018

But it’s still a powerful signal of Beijing’s ambitions in a post-U.S. Asia. And other new carriers could possibly follow….

China's sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, arrives in Hong Kong waters on July 7, 2017. (Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)

China’s sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, arrives in Hong Kong waters on July 7, 2017. (Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)


China’s first home-built aircraft carrier, which was seen Monday being towed from berth, will begin sea trials imminently. When the new vessel enters service some time in 2019 or 2020, China will become the world’s second most powerful operator of aircraft carriers, with a grand total of two. It is a position from which it will never be dislodged.

Yes, France, Russia, and Brazil operate a carrier each; Italy has a couple of small carriers; and the United Kingdom is rebuilding a respectable two-ship fleet, as is India. Other countries, such as Japan and Australia, operate several helicopter carriers, though not fixed-wing aircraft. But China won’t stop at two, nor will it remain satisfied with the inferior Soviet-derived design that was seen Monday. (The first carrier of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLA Navy, is a Soviet-era ship purchased half-finished from Ukraine.)

There are rumors that China’s next ship is already being built, and although it will be smaller than the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz-class and probably not nuclear-powered, in most other respects it will resemble an American supercarrier. The follow-on ships will be better still. No nation other than the United States has that kind of ambition, and it will give China unquestionably the second-most powerful navy in the world — though admittedly one still a very, very long way behind the U.S. fleet.

But there’s a mystery at the heart of China’s ambitious aircraft carrier program, because over the course of its immense naval modernization effort of the last two decades, China has put so much effort into making aircraft carriers obsolete.

China has acquired dozens of submarines, fleets of strike aircraft, and missiles that can be fired from the air, land, sea, and under the sea, all with one purpose: to make it excessively dangerous for large surface ships to operate near China’s coast. China has even invented an entirely new class of weapon — the anti-ship ballistic missile — that has been dubbed a “carrier killer.”

So why is China’s navy, the very institution that has made America’s carrier fleet in the Pacific so vulnerable, now investing in its own carrier fleet? It has surely occurred to the Chinese that the United States will respond to the PLA’s carriers just as China has done to America’s. In fact, it’s already happening. The U.S. Defense Department is now testing a stealthy long-range anti-ship missile that is almost certainly a reaction to the dramatic growth of China’s surface fleet.

So is China making a big mistake? Is the aircrafft carrier program a folly driven by the navy brass, with no clear strategic purpose?

We shouldn’t dismiss that possibility. In fact, that may be exactly how China’s carrier program started. In early 2015, the South China Morning Post published a series of articles revealing the extraordinary pre-history of China’s carrier program. In the mid-1990s, a small group of entrepreneurial PLA Navy officers enlisted the help of Hong Kong businessman Xu Zengping to purchase the hull of a half-finished Soviet-era carrier from Ukraine on the public pretense that it would be rebuilt as a floating casino. Incredibly, the officers told Xu that this initiative had no official backing from Beijing. They were making a potentially transformative arms purchase on their own initiative.

The carrier program has clearly grown since those beginnings and has much further to grow still, so it is safe to assume that the Chinese leadership has now embraced it and has a specific plan in mind for its growing fleet. What could that plan be?

China is a great power with a huge economy. In fact, a recent Australian government report estimates that by 2030, the Chinese economy will be worth $42 trillion versus $24 trillion for the United States — in other words, in less than 15 years’ time China’s economy could be almost double the size of America’s.

No country of that size would accept that it should remain strategically subordinate to another great power in its own backyard, and China certainly doesn’t. Beijing already wants to lead in Asia, and that means having a powerful military with the ability to project power over long distances. For China to become Asia’s strategic leader, it will need to push the United States out. So maybe the carrier fleet is a frontal assault on the core of U.S. power in the Pacific, an attempt to build a force capable of ending America’s naval dominance with a fleet that could overwhelm the United States in an arms race or, if necessary, defeat it in a Midway-style battle.

But even for a country as big as China, building a fleet of that size and capability is a formidable and massively expensive challenge. At the current pace of modernization, it could take decades to build such a fleet, particularly if the United States and its allies respond by improving their own capabilities. And that’s not to mention the heightened risk of a catastrophic great-power war.

So here’s an alternative explanation: China’s carrier-centered navy is not designed so much to challenge U.S. maritime supremacy as to inherit it. China may be betting that the United States won’t need to be pushed out of Asia, at least not by a frontal challenge to its naval power. Rather, the United States will slowly withdraw of its own accord because the cost of maintaining that leadership is rising so dramatically. Consider America’s defense commitment to Taiwan. Before China’s massive investment in anti-ship capabilities, the United States could safely sail its carrier through the Taiwan Strait, and its ability to defend Taiwan remained unquestioned. Now, the United States would be at serious risk of losing one or two carrier battle groups in any confrontation over Taiwan. The cost of defending South Korea has risen steeply, too, with North Korea close to deploying a nuclear-tipped missile that can reach cities on the continental United States, if it hasn’t already.

As the costs of U.S. military leadership in Asia rise, questions about why the United States needs to maintain that leadership become louder. America’s military presence in Asia made sense in the Cold War, but it is much harder to justify now.

If China inherits U.S. leadership in Asia, it won’t need a fleet as big as America’s. Some experts predict China will build just six carriers, quite enough to cement its leadership in a post-American Asia. And that’s when China’s carrier fleet will really come into its own, for although aircraft carriers are increasingly vulnerable to sophisticated anti-ship weapons, America has demonstrated that they are incredibly useful when you have command of the oceans.

That’s why China’s new fleet is such bad news for the small Southeast Asian nations in particular. In a post-American Asia, larger powers such as South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and Australia have a fighting chance of resisting Chinese coercion if they invest more heavily in their own defense capacities. That isn’t an option for smaller powers, particularly as they enter China’s economic orbit via initiatives such as the Belt and Road.

The Chinese aircraft carrier about to put to sea is no match for the U.S. Navy, but that should bring little comfort to the United States and its Asian allies. Indeed, China may be betting that it will never have to confront the U.S. fleet and that it can prepare for the day the Navy sails back to home shores.

Correction, April 25, 2018: China’s first home-built aircraft carrier will begin sea trials imminently. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that it had already set sail. 

Sam Roggeveen is a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. He is the founding editor of the Interpreter and was previously a senior analyst in Australia’s peak intelligence agency, the Office of National Assessments.

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China conducts live fire combat drills in East China Sea — Second aircraft carrier makes ready

April 24, 2018

China’s first aircraft carrier is in the East China Sea conducting operations as its second aircraft carrier makes ready for operations during her first sea trial

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China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning (C) takes part in a military drill of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in the western Pacific Ocean, April 18, 2018. REUTERS

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China has conducted live combat drills in the East China Sea, state news agency Xinhua reported late on Monday, the latest in a series of air and sea military exercises it has conducted over the past 10 days.

Xinhua said a Chinese aircraft formation, which included the Liaoning carrier and J-15 planes, conducted anti-aircraft and anti-submarine warfare training where they intercepted “enemy” jets, fired anti-air missiles from ships surrounding the carrier and dodged “enemy” submarines.

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It did not specify where exactly the exercises took place.

The carrier formation has in the past 10 days carried out military exercises in the western Pacific, South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, which drew criticism from self-ruled Taiwan as amounting to “intimidation”.

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its sacred territory, under its “one China” policy, and Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring what it sees as a wayward province under its control.

China carries out aircraft carrier drills in Pacific in attempts to intimidate Taiwan, and perhaps the U.S.

April 21, 2018


© AFP/File | China’s sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, took part in military drills Friday, the Chinese navy said, ramping up tensions with Taiwan

BEIJING (AFP) – China has carried out aircraft carrier drills in the Pacific, its navy said Saturday, ramping up tensions with Taiwan over its military exercises in the sensitive region.Beijing’s sole aircraft carrier and two destroyer ships carried out “offensive and defensive drills to test their combat muscle” on Friday, China’s navy said on its official microblog site on Weibo.

The exercises took place in an area east of the Bashi Channel, which runs between Taiwan and the Philippines, it said.

China sees democratically-governed Taiwan as a renegade part of its territory to be brought back into the fold and has not ruled out reunification by force.

In Beijing’s latest military drills, photos showed J-15 fighters waiting to take off from the Liaoning aircraft carrier.

The Jinan and Changchun destroyer ships also participated in the training.

Image result for Changchun, china, destroyer, navy, photos

Taiwan has accused China of “saber rattling” after Chinese bombers and spy planes flew around Taiwan Thursday, and the Chinese navy conducted live-fire drills off the Taiwan Strait a day earlier.

“China has deliberately manipulated (the exercise) to pressure and harass Taiwan in an attempt to spark tensions between the two sides and in the region,” Chiu Chui-cheng of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council told a regular briefing Thursday.

“(We) will never bow down to any military threat and incentive.”

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Beijing has stepped up military patrols around Taiwan and used diplomatic pressure to isolate it internationally since pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen took office.

Chinese President Xi Jinping observed the navy’s largest-ever military display this month in the South China Sea, which involved 76 fighter jets and a flotilla of 48 warships and submarines.

Beijing has also been angered by Washington’s arms sales to Taipei, and China protested last month after President Donald Trump signed a bill allowing top-level US officials to travel to Taiwan.

Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979 but maintains trade relations with the island.


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Taiwan president watches China’s naval drill — China is ‘changing international and regional security situation’

April 13, 2018


© AFP | Taiwan said the exercise was staged in light of a ‘changing international and regional security situation’

SUAO (TAIWAN) (AFP) – Taiwan’s president watched naval drills simulating an attack on the island Friday, days before Beijing is set to hold live-fire exercises nearby in a show of force.Relations between self-ruling Taiwan and China have deteriorated since Tsai Ing-wen came to power almost two years ago, largely because she refuses to accept the “One China” formula governing relations.

Beijing regards the island as its territory — to be reunited by force if necessary — even though the two sides split in 1949 after a civil war.

China’s growing military is increasingly flexing its muscles and will hold live-fire drills next week in the Taiwan Strait — the narrow waterway separating the Chinese mainland from Taiwan — following weeks of naval manoeuvres in the area.

Tsai boarded the Kee Lung destroyer to supervise as troops practised defending against an attack on the northeastern port of Suao.

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Kee Lung

It was the first time she has supervised a drill from onboard a warship.

“I believe our countrymen will have great faith in the military’s combat capabilities and its determination to defend our country after today’s drill,” Tsai said on the destroyer’s deck after it returned to port as the exercise ended.

Tsai said “we are very confident of our military” when asked to comment on Beijing’s planned live-fire drill in the Taiwan Strait next week.

“It’s a routine drill that our military will fully monitor and has made relevant preparations,” she said.

– ‘Military expansion’ –

Taiwan’s defence ministry said the exercise was staged in light of a “changing international and regional security situation” to test the military’s combat readiness and its ability to defend Taiwanese territory.

Some 20 warships and four F16 fighter jets took part in the drill, one of the largest naval manoeuvres since Tsai took office in May 2016.

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Tsai has warned against what she called Beijing’s “military expansion” — the increase in Chinese air and naval drills around the island since she took office in May 2016.

Chinese warplanes conducted 25 drills around Taiwan between August 2016 and mid-December last year, according to Taipei.

On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a surprise visit to naval forces in the disputed South China Sea, where he stressed the “urgent” need to build a powerful navy.

China’s sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, sailed through the Taiwan Strait on March 20, the same day that Xi issued a public warning against attempts to “separate” from China.

Xi’s naval visit came after a US aircraft carrier sailing though the South China Sea gave a demonstration Tuesday for members of the Philippine government.

Washington recently agreed to allow US defence contractors help Taiwan construct its own submarines, sparking a warning from Beijing to Taipei against “playing with fire to burn itself”.


Are China and Russia challenging US military dominance?

February 14, 2018

China is strengthening its military might, while Russia is asserting its foreign policy influence. IISS expert Bastian Giegerich talks to DW about changing US global dominance and the threat of a “great-power war.”

China J-20 fighter jet (Reuters/China Daily)

DW: You note in the IISS 2018 Military Balance report that China has been investing heavily in its air force. Is Beijing now on par with Washington in terms of air dominance?

Bastian Giegerich: China is not yet on par with the United States but it’s catching up. And in some selected areas, our assessment is indeed that China is doing more than just catching up. There are a couple of examples to illustrate that: For instance, we assess that China will add an extended-range air-to-air missile to its inventory this year, and we expect its stealth fighter jet, the J-20, to enter front-line service by 2020. And those are indeed advanced capabilities that challenge air superiority for the United States: At the very least, they will have the effect that the air domain will become a very contested domain again. Operational assumptions over the past two decades for the US, and I would say Western militaries in general, have been that the West and the US own the air domain and can operate in it with great freedom. I think those days now are over.

Your report also notes that China is investing heavily in its navy. What’s the goal in that? 

In the last four years, China has built vessels with a total tonnage that is greater than the total tonnage of the French Navy and is roughly equivalent to the total tonnage of the British Royal Navy. So, clearly the goal for China here is to further develop its blue-water capabilities. In other words, the ability to project force at extended range across the seas.

And the other element which is important to this is that China has opened its first overseas base in Djibouti, which will enable more naval deployments because it will be a base that will help to sustain deployed vessels over time and thereby further contribute to China’s ability to expand power across the oceans.

In Russia, the story seems to be very different. Is Moscow having difficulties when it comes to modernizing its military forces?

Russia has felt that economic difficulties … pose limits to its ability to fund its ambitious defense modernization program. So, in our assessment, that defense modernization program has slowed down a little bit.

The important difference is, however, not just in terms of the ability to spend but the ability to operate and practice. Unlike China, Russia has used, and continues to use, its armed forces in conflicts — in Syria and also with a view to eastern Ukraine. So Russia has gathered a lot of experience using new equipment, using new technologies, putting its personnel through different rotations on operations. It has an advantage there. And China has not yet done that.

Bastian Giegerich International Institute for Strategic Studies (James Clements)


Giegerich and his team compiled the 2018 Military Balance report

Under President Donald Trump the US has been urging its European allies to invest more in the military. And this year’s report notes a dramatic increase in European military spending 2017. Do you think this is due to the pressure from Washington?

I think more than anything else it is driven by a recognition in Europe that the world is a dangerous place, that threat perceptions have changed. I would say that is mostly driven by Russia’s more assertive foreign policy behavior, and of course the conflict in Ukraine. American pressure has certainly played a role as well, but it would be wrong to say the spending increases in Europe are a Trump effect — they actually started before Trump took office.

The gloomiest part of your analysis might be the possibility of a great-power conflict. China, Russia and the US are modernizing their nuclear arsenals. Are we returning to the beginning of the 1980s?

I don’t think that’s quite accurate. But I think what we are seeing is a situation where the possibility of a great-power conflict is now probably higher than it was at any point in the past 20 years. That does not mean that a great-power conflict or a great-power military conflict is inevitable … but it is more likely. And part of it is a result of Russia and China challenging the global predominance of the United States and systematically preparing for the possibility of conflict. Nuclear weapons of course are the ultimate deterrence, so to speak. And we’ve looked at the nuclear modernization programs of the three big powers — China, Russia and the US — and all of them are in the process of modernizing their nuclear forces.

Bastian Giegerich is the director of defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). He leads the team that publishes the annual Military Balance report.


China’s military fires up world first in revolutionary rail gun technology

February 6, 2018

Photographs surface of ship-mounted electromagnetic weapon that could one day supersede traditional explosives with greater power, speed, range and accuracy

By Minnie Chan
South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 February, 2018, 9:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 February, 2018, 11:54pm

China is believed to be testing the world’s first ship-mounted rail gun, a technology that military experts say has the potential to fire shells with enough force to destroy a warship and precision to shoot down a satellite.

The controversial development comes as China seeks to transform its navy into a blue-water force capable of rivalling the United States and projecting power far from home shores.

Photographs of a rail gun mounted on a warship docked in Wuhan, Hubei province, have surfaced on Chinese military websites in the last week, indicating the People’s Liberation Army Navy is testing the electromagnetic weapon and has been able to make it more compact.

Rail guns fire shells using electromagnetic force rather than traditional explosive propulsion systems. They are designed to fire the projectiles with more accuracy and power and over a longer range, but are also extremely expensive.

 A PLA warship in Wuhan appears to be the first in the world fitted with a rail gun. Photo: Handout

The US has researched and tested rail guns for years, with prototypes firing projectiles at up to 7,800km/hour over a 150km range. The cost of the projectiles was reportedly US$1 million per round.

But the Chinese device appears to be the first mounted on a ship.

The rail gun uses electromagnetic technology known as IEPS that state media confirmed last year would power China’s first home-grown aircraft carrier.

The system was developed by a team headed by decorated PLA naval engineer Rear Admiral Ma Weiming, who told state broadcaster CCTV in July that his ultimate goal was to install weapons such as rail guns on the carrier.

China’s state-run Science and Technology Daily reported on Monday that the cutting-edge technology would be deployed on the Type-055, the country’s biggest guided-missile destroyer designed as part of future aircraft carrier battle groups.

But sources close to Chinese military told the South China Morning Post that the destroyer’s propulsion system and internal design were not suited for the rail gun.

The gun in the photographs was installed on a Type-072 landing ship refitted to house the bulky electrical equipment.

Song Zhongping, military commentator and former member of the PLA’s Second Artillery Corps, said future generations of the destroyer could be fitted with the weapon down the track.

Song said China was closing the gap with the US and it was possible that China could eventually abandon explosives in favour of electromagnetic systems.

“China has spared no effort to catch up the US’ electromagnetic technology, to turn the new technology into an all-purpose propulsion system for wide use in ship-mounted weapons and maglev trains and even to replace rockets to launch satellites into the space,” he said.

“The leaked photos show China is now not only catching up to the US in ship-borne rail gun technology, but may surpass the US in next five to 10 years. This is because the US needs more time to approve budgets while China’s political system allows it to put more funding into special projects.”

The US Naval Institute reported last month that the US Navy scrapped plans in 2016 to buy 2,000 rail gun projectiles but would continue to monitor new technologies that could be incorporated into its existing systems.

 Rear Admiral Ma Weiming has spearheaded developments in electromagnetic propulsion. Photo: Minnie Chan

Beijing-based military analyst Zhou Chenming said the purchase stalled because of the expensive technology’s low return on investment.

“The US is hesitating because the cost of the new weapon’s development is huge, while its practicability is debatable,” Zhou said.

“Proponents argue that [rail guns] can hit targets several thousand kilometres away guided by the space-based Global Positioning System. But [the US] air force can hit long-range targets easily by dropping cruise missiles from their stealth bombers or fighters, something that is much more cost-effective.”

Military insiders said the high cost of and Ma’s involvement in the Chinese rail gun project also made it contentious.

“The decision to develop the costly electromagnetic rail gun also provoked debate because so far only Ma and his team are the only electromagnetic experts developing it,” one insider said.

“But Ma’s team has the backing of the leadership and that is also the reason why the electromagnetic technology has been developed so fast in China.”

Last year Chinese President Xi Jinping awarded Ma, 57, the country’s highest military honour, the Order of August 1.


US dropped ball on Navy railgun development—now China is picking it up

February 4, 2018
Analysis of photos show a railgun system being installed on a Chinese amphibious ship.

Photos posted by a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) observer show what appears to be an electromagnetic railgun being affixed to a PLAN tank landing ship, the Haiyang Shan. The LST is being used to test the weapon because its tank deck can accommodate the containers for the gun’s control system and power supply, according to comments from a former PLAN officer translated by “Dafeng Cao,” the Twitter handle of the anonymous analyst.

For nearly a decade, the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) and various contractors worked to develop a railgun system for US ships. A prototype weapon was built by BAE Systems. Testing at the US Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia was deemed so successful that the Navy was planning to conduct more testing of the gun at sea aboard a Spearhead-class Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV).  The program promised to deliver a gun that could fire projectiles at speeds over Mach 7 with a range exceeding 100 miles. The 23-pound hypervelocity projectile designed for the railgun flying at Mach 7 has 32 megajoules of energy—roughly equivalent to the energy required to accelerate an object weighing 1,000 kilograms (1.1 US tons) to 252 meters per second (566 miles an hour).

But the program has been largely shelved because of the Department of Defense’s ongoing budget problems and the loss of interest at DOD’s Strategic Capabilities Office in funding further development. The continued “sequestration” of the DOD’s budget has forced the Navy and ONR to shift development focus away from the long-term goal of the railgun toward the more short-term goal of using the hypervelocity projectile (HPV) the railgun fires within more conventional US Navy gun systems.

US Navy tests of a prototype railgun at Dahlgren, Virginia.

China has clearly been watching the US program with interest, and the PLAN reportedly began working on its own electromagnetic gun system about five years ago, according to Dafeng Cao’s ex-PLAN officer source. Now the PLAN is preparing to take its tests to sea, making the 20-year old Haiyang Shan the first ship to ever be armed with a railgun.

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