December 2012 marked the fourth anniversary of China’s ongoing antipiracy mission in the Gulf of Aden. Over four-plus years, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has deployed 34 warships with 28 helicopters in 14 task forces, safely shepherding more than 5,000 commercial vessels and rescuing or assisting more than 50 of them across 500 escort trips.1 Nearly 10,000 select personnel have sharpened their skills, improved coordination mechanisms, and tested new platforms and technologies.
Unmatched in Chinese history, these antipiracy task-force deployments, which typically last several months, offer the first major window into China’s far-seas operations and approach thereto. In fulfilling this new mission, PLAN leaders have faced unprecedented questions that can only be answered through action and experimentation:
• How best to ensure PLAN ships’ supply and replenishment?
• What coordination and communication demands attend far-seas deployments?
• What food and medicine should be stored aboard for a crew of nearly 1,000 at sea for several months, and what may be replenished in port?