Your Navy

China's maritime rise offers risks, rewards for U.S. sailors

As part of the U.S. military's shift to the Asia-Pacific region, the Navy The Pentagon's Pacific shift is dispatching more ships and sailors to all corners of the Asia-Pacific for exercises with partner nations.

There are 's also opportunities to work for working means awesome port calls for more sailors — in Singapore, Australia, the Philippines, and Hong Kong, just to name a few. There will be more exercises in and with partner nations. You may even work alongside the Chinese military in training and humanitarian operations. But make no mistake — China is at the heart of the new strategy, and the Middle Kingdom the primary reason behind the Pacific push, and it is pushing back. There have been high-level run-ins between the U.S. Navy and the Chinese military in recent years and experts believe these are likely to continue as the 1.3-billion strong nation builds its maritime mightpower. The possibility of conflict with China is greater than you may realize, and ,be far different from anything the American military has faced in at least four decades.

Though China lacks the formidable fighting force needed to control regional waters, let alone the ability to project forces beyond, it is building military powermight at a remarkable pace. An annual report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission says that by 2020 China's navy will have 351 ships; as compared to the 27589deployable battle force ships in the U.S. fleet, as of March 6 now. The commission recommended Congress plus-up the Navy to make up the difference.

The Navy, including Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert, is are pushing to build closer military ties. Pentagon and State Department are working hard to build stronger relations — China In June, China joined 22 other nations in the biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise held around Hawaii, for example. But tensions remain high in the Pacific, largely due to territorial disputes between China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam in the East and South China seas. The region is also threatened by an erratic, nuclear-armed dictatorship: North Korea.

These challenges are expected to shape sailor's deployments and port calls for years to come.

And a clash between China and an allied nation could easily draw you into the fight.

Port calls and bases

The U.S. military Pentagon has now has more than 350,000 troops throughout the Pacific, to include more than half the fleet. the bulk of Navy assets. The carrier Theodore Roosevelt will move from Norfolk, Virginia, to Coronado, California, later in the year to keep a six-carrier presence in the Pacific. The Pentagon has beefed up its presence in Guam for more than a decade. In addition to the Navy submarine base and other U.S. military assets there, a submarine base that will see nearly 5,000 Marines now based on Okinawa are scheduled to are expected to move there in coming years.

Sailors can expect to see more time in Australia, one of America's closest Pacific allies. Pentagon officials are looking at basing warships in Australia, and rotating crews in and out. They are likely to support a 2,500-man Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force that will regularly rotate through Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory and a crocodile watching hotspot in the Outback. You will love the live music and pubs, and tours through the Outback. But watch out for the crocs and snakes — they are plentiful.

In the meantime, Sydney will be a primary port call, too. Australia's largest city that offers nightlife, hiking and shopping. The city is host to an exciting mix of nightlife and shopping, outdoor activities such as surfing the Great Barrier Reef or hiking the northern wilderness, and world-class sites such as the Sydney Harbour opera house.

Another key hub is Singapore, which will become the forward base for littoral combat ships in 7th Fleet. As many as four LCS vessels will be based in Singapore in coming years; these vessels will be swapped between ship crews, which will flyown over from the states for four-month deployments. The first ship crew returned to the U.S. in February to the U.S. after a four-month patrol on the Fort Worth, the first of the four patrols it will complete during its of the 16-months deployment to it's set to spend in 7th Fleet. Singapore offers the U.S. Navy close access to the Strait of Malacca and the contested South China Sea. LCS crews are conducting 10-month deployments in Singapore; other ships will have occasional port calls, as well. This clean and disciplined city gives a unique view of Asian culture, and offers everything from crocodile wrestling to rides on a 540-foot Ferris wheel that overlooks Marina Bay. Like Hong Kong, it provides a mix of big city with mountains and ocean; here you will find ancient customs living amid 21st Century technologies. And both offer great shopping experiences where you can barter deals for everything from silk suits and souvenirs to rugs and perfume.

Another key strategic location is Subic Bay in the Philippines, which has seen a growing number of port calls for liberty and maintenance. It's also likely to see a growing number of aircraft and Marines. The close ally also boasts scenic hiking and exciting liberty in nearby Manila. will host an increasing number of U.S. ships, Marines and aircraft on a regular basis. Manila, the nation's capital, is just a stone's throw. Want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city? Trek up a nearby volcano or explore Corregidor Island, a former fortress that guards the entrance to Manila Bay.

These and other port calls and duty stations are likely in your future, but make no mistake: The Pacific shift is not all fun and games.

China's maritime surgeHINA'S LAND GRAB

Make no mistake — tThe Pacific shift isn't all fun and games.

China's drive to build military muscle is multifaceted, and driven by the claim of full ownership of nearly all islands and resources in the South China Sea and East China seas. In 2013, China set a 200-mile maritime exclusive economic zone to regulate foreign military activities, and an Air Defense Identification Zone designed to control airspace above the East China Sea. The United States responded by sending strategic bombers through the disputed zone, which it does not recognize, in an act of strategic defiance.

Ensign Matt Delavega, from Grass Valley, Calif., uses a set of high-powered binoculars to observe a Chinese navy vessel from the bridge of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett (DDG 104). Sterett is underway in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility as part of the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group. Carl Vinson and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing 17, are on deployment in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations supporting Valiant Shield. Valiant Shield is a U.S.-only biennial exercise in which participation will focus on the integration of joint training among U.S. forces. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Eric Coffer/Released)
Ensign Matt Delavega, from Grass Valley, Calif., uses a set of high-powered binoculars to observe a Chinese navy vessel from the bridge of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett (DDG 104). Sterett is underway in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility as part of the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group. Carl Vinson and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing 17, are on deployment in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations supporting Valiant Shield. Valiant Shield is a U.S.-only biennial exercise in which participation will focus on the integration of joint training among U.S. forces. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Eric Coffer/Released)

Ensign Matt Delavega uses high-powered binoculars to observe a Chinese navy vessel from the bridge of the destroyer Sterett in 7th Fleet. The ship was taking part in Valiant Shield in September.

Photo Credit: MC3 Eric Coffer/Navy

Territorial clashes are increasingly common. In addition to long-standing turmoil with Taiwan, China has recently clashed with Vietnamese ships, had close calls with Japanese aircraft over the Senkaku Islands, and engaged in a turf war with the Philippines over Scarborough Reef and Second Thomas Shoal. China's most recent tactic is to use land reclamation to build air strips and outposts on reefs and islands in the South China Sea. In addition, China shares a border with the unstable North Korean regime. China must be prepared for humanitarian and strategic implications in the event of collapse.

The result is a strategic powder keg that could be ignited with the slightest spark, according to a 2014 Rand Corporation report, which that titled "Blinders, Blunders, and Wars What America and China Can Learn." The report warned that war between these China and the U.S. powerhouses "is most likely to be the result of misjudgment by one, the other, or both, but could be terribly destructive nonetheless."

That concern, on top of recent run-ins, has led the U.S. Navy, China and other countries to adopt a code of conduct at sea to help ensure encounters between ships at sea don't escalate from escalating into a crisis. Indeed, the Fort Worth and Chinese frigate Hengshui put these protocols into practice in the South China Sea on Feb. 23.

There have been many close calls. A Chinese amphiibious ship crossed the bow of the cruiser Cowpens by less than 100 yards in international waters on Dec. 5, 2013, a danagerous pass that nearly led to a collision. Analysts said a likely scenario would emerge from a confrontation between China and a U.S. ally that would draw the United States into conflict, but there have been close calls with U.S. forces, as well. The guided missile cruiser Cowpens on Dec. 5, 2013, nearly collided with a PLA Navy vessel in the South China Sea. Though the U.S ship was operating 32 miles southeast of Hainan Island in international waters, two Chinese vessels approached and one altered course to cross directly in front of Cowpen's bow. This forced the U.S. warship to come to full stop to avoid collision as the PLA Navy vessel passed within 100 yards. Then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called the action "irresponsible" and marked the need "to be able to diffuse some of these issues as they occur."

And on Aug. 19, 2014, an armed Chinese fighter buzzed jet aggressively confronted a P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft within 20 feet of its wingtips on Aug, 19, 2014, over international waters in the South China Sea, which Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby called ansaid the "unprofessional and unsafe" maneuvers included passing within 20 feet of the Navy aircraft's wingtips.

"It was very, very close and very dangerous. … I think the message they were apparently sending is they were resisting the flight of that patrol aircraft," Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.

Many of China's emerging leaders believe the nation is entitled to recover territory lost when China was weak, according to the report, and they see the United States as determined to prevent any expansion that would establish China as East Asia's leading power.

This drives China's development of "a military capable of acting as an anti-access/area-denial force — a force that can deter U.S. intervention in a conflict in China's near-seas region over Taiwan or some other issue, or failing that, delay the arrival or reduce the effectiveness of intervening U.S. forces," wrote according to Ronald O'Rourke, a naval expert with the Congressional Research Service in a Specialist in Naval Affairs who presented his analysis in a September 2014 Congressional Research Service report.


The Chinese are a is improving nearly every facet of itstheir naval and air forces. They have substantial hurdles to surmount in building a modern force, including at sea logistics, amphibious transport, air defense and carrier flight operations. China has developed an anti-ship missile capable known as the "carrier killer" for its reported 1,000 mile range and evasive maneuvers. It China is building nearly three submarines a year with the capabilityies to counter U.S. technological prowess. The good news is they have numerous challenges to overcome. Chief among them is the integration of increasingly complex weapons and subsequent training of personnel, according to a February 2015 Rand report titled "China's Incomplete Military Transformation Assessing the Weaknesses of the People's Liberation Army." At-sea logistics is also a problem, as is amphibious and air lift needed to transport sufficient ground units. Simply put, an island hopping campaign is not in the near future. Similarly, area air defense capabilities are a critical weakness for "distant seas" operations.

But China is busy building a newer, stronger military, and has emerged as a viable threat.

"The Chinese military clearly believes that they need to be prepared to deter U.S. military intervention or conflict along China's periphery, and to be able to deal with U.S. military intervention if deterrence fails," said Michael Chase, senior political scientist for the Rand Corporation and co-author of the aforementioned report. "The [People's Liberation Army] is becoming more professional and more capable. Increasingly, they are getting out of their own defense industry the kinds of capabilities they used to procure abroad."

This effort is not new; it was birthed in light of U.S. intervention and operations in Iraq in 1991, the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995–1996, and Kosovo in 1999, Chase said. In the latter, the United States accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy. Chinese leaders never believed it to be an accident, and from the rubble emerged a new strategy: Whatever the adversary fears is what China should develop.

This effort has been realized, according to Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. In Jan. 28 testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, he was asked about the Pentagon's technological superiority. Kendall's reply was blunt: "We're at risk and the situation is getting worse."

"What I'm seeing in foreign modernization, again, particularly China's, is a suite of capabilities that are intended, clearly to me, at least, to defeat the American way of doing power projection — [the] American way of warfare when we fight in an expeditionary manner far from the United States," said Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics in Jan. 28 congressional testimony.

China has in some cases exceeded U.S. missile technology in regard to accuracy and the ability to penetrate defenses. Kendall added that a number of things, to include electronic warfare and anti-satellite capabilities "are being developed very consciously to defeat the American way of projecting power and we need to respond to that."

Indeed, China's goal is quality over quantity, according to the Office of Naval Intelligence. In congressional testimony last year, analysts testified that China "is rapidly retiring legacy combatants in favor of larger, multi-mission ships, equipped with advanced anti-ship, anti-air, and anti-submarine weapons and sensors."

of This will include stealth frigates with vastly improved air defense and anti-ship missiles, according to O'Rourke's report. Also in the works are destroyers with phased-array radars similar to the Aegis combat system, a vertical launch system, and stealth naval guns needed to protect a carrier battle group or amphibious assault ships during a beach landing. Of great concern is an anti-ship ballistic missile with a range of at least 1,000 nautical miles and a maneuverable warhead, which means it is capable of hitting moving ships at sea. The official name is the DF-21D, but most analysts call it the "carrier killer."

China is operating its first aircraft carrier, albeit without an embarked air wing. The Chinese government in early February removed from websites reports that a second aircraft carrier is under construction, but U.S. intelligence officials are confident that multiple aircraft carriers are expected to be built over the next decade. This output is possible largely because the carriers are not nuclear-powered and lack a catapult — the carrier-capable J-15 fighter uses a "ski ramp" to launch on its own power.

Though half of China's 1,500-plane air force is remarkably old, fourth-generation aircraft comprise the rest and fifth-generation stealth fighters are in the works, according to the CRS report. A long-range stealth bomber is in development to replace upgraded bombers, which are 1950s-era Soviet designs.

China also is adding nearly three submarines per year. Like the rest of its efforts in military expansion, the sub force has its strengths and weaknesses. Nuclear-powered subs are not nearly as quiet as Russian counterparts, for example, but the Jin-class ballistic missile sub carries one dozen nukes that can hit all 50 states from mid-ocean locations east of Hawaii.

African missions

Experts say U.S. and Chinese forces are also likely to also interact around Africa, where China's presence grows by the day. All this adds up to the need for a greater U.S. military presence to protect national interests and allies, according to the analysts. Interestingly, one location in which Chinese and U.S. forces are likely to have the most interaction is not in the Pacific, but in Africa.

China's presence in Africa is growing by the day. Of the five U.N. Security Council members, China is the largest contributor to peacekeeping operations in Africa and is the continent's largest trading partner. It has sent senior military officials to South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Djibouti, and has had port visits in nine African countries in the past year.

While this provides deployment experience, China's interest is primarily economic; leaders look to obtain and protect natural resources as well as promote exports, said Larry Hanauer, senior international policy analyst at Rand Corp., who views China as a potential partner in the region. The nation also looks to build political legitimacy.

He does not see China as a strategic rival in Africa, and said this is not a new Cold War in the making. In fact, China often works in concert with U.S. interests in areas in which China was previously seen as a contributor to instability. For example, it leveraged energy exports to pressure Sudan to reign in militias. China also stopped selling some weapons there, and sent special envoys and peace-keeping forces.

"I don't see China seeking military facilities on the continent," Hanauer said. "They may seek greater access to ports."

But Chinese investments will broaden and political engagements deepen. That is of note as "the United States and China have pursued different policy objectives and priorities in Africa in virtually every arena," according to "Chinese Engagement in Africa," a Rand Corporation report co-authored by Hanauer. China is winning friends fast in Africa, aided greatly by the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. China has gone so far as to build English-speaking television stations there to provide "a Chinese spin on news," as well as cultural centers designed to promote the Chinese way of life.

While China may be a player in Africa — and one with whom you may work — its presence is not the key factor driving deployments there, according to Michael O'Hanlon, a defense expert senior fellow of foreign policy at the Brookings Institute. That think-tank on Jan. 15 held a panel discussion on Top Priorities for Africa in 2015, in which O'Hanlon noted a decrease in civil warfare and increase in democracy and strong economic trends. But trends are not as good in regard to terrorism and extremism. Nigeria, Sudan, and South Sudan are of specific concern, he said.

Nevertheless, Deployments to Africa are likely to continue for anti-piracy missions and partnership trainingstay the course, O'Hanlon told Navy Times on Feb. 18. Anti-piracy efforts are going well and will likely see similar commitment in the future. The bulk of deployers will therefore wear green, rather than blue.

"My expectation is that our role will remain very modest: 100 special forces guys here or there, a couple hundred trainers here or there, the typical effort and number of people we put in," he said. "Even if we do a little more in Nigeria, for example, I would think it is probably still going to be pretty small."

There is a case for doing more, like possibly sending a brigade-sized unit into peacekeeping operations like the one in Congo, he said. Navyal Expeditionary Combat Command would be most affected by these efforts, as the building of facilities and provision of humanitarian aid would be a key part of the mission. A wider training of the Nigerian military after elections is another worthy endeavor. Other missions that could require "up to a few thousand Americans each," O'Hanlon said, adding he hopes "we would not rule [these] out dismissively because it hasn't been the norm."

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