Strike Groups with Chinese Characteristics
The centerpiece of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN’s) emerging power projection strategy is the aircraft carrier. In December 2019, China commissioned its first indigenously built carrier, the Shandong. The ship is the PLAN’s second aircraft carrier, following the Type 001 Liaoning, a retrofitted Soviet-era Admiral Kuznetsov–class aircraft carrier.
In June the Liaoning transited the Miyako Strait and entered the Pacific Ocean for only the second time since the PLAN began operating aircraft carriers. It will not be long before the Shandong likewise operates in the Pacific, and perhaps even dual carrier operations will occur, as Beijing seeks to create perceptions about its carriers.
The Shandong has inherent limitations when compared to U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, such as the ski-jump assisted short take-off barrier-arrested recovery (STOBAR) system for the short-range J-15 Shenyang carrier-based fighter.
Yet, the strategic importance of a Chinese aircraft carrier was immediately exhibited as the Shandong conducted a northbound transit of the Taiwan Strait just two weeks before Taiwan’s national elections. This followed a southbound transit that ended with photos of the ship in port on Hainan Island with seven J-15 fighters and four Z-18 helicopters.
—Captain James Fanell, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Out from the Gulf
One of the key missions of the Islamic
Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) is to conduct out-of-area operations and naval diplomacy beyond the Strait of Hormuz. Since 2009, the IRIN has maintained near-continuous deployments for counterpiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, foreign port visits, and bilateral exercises with regional navies. IRIN leaders tout the navy’s presence in the “Golden Triangle”—an area bounded by the Strait of Malacca, Bab el-Mandeb, and the Strait of Hormuz, where substantial maritime commerce occurs—as evidence that it protects international shipping while gaining experience in the operating area. Despite its obsolescent platforms, the IRIN has been moderately effective in maintaining readiness and sustaining operations.
The IRIN’s fleet comprises primarily traditional surface combatants and submarines. Most of the IRIN’s surface ships are old, dating back to the 1960s and 1970s, and include three British-built Vosper Mk 5–class corvettes and several French-built Combattante-class patrol craft. Iran has built several Combattante patrol craft and three new-design Jamaran-class corvettes, which closely resemble Iran’s lone Vosper Thornycroft corvette but with modifications, such as a helicopter flight deck. The domestically built Moudge class includes three completed and four in-construction frigates.
Japan: Growing and Graying
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) share of Japan’s 2019 defense budget was $11.3 billion—25 percent, ranking the JMSDF second relative to the other services.
programs of record include:
• Construction of 2 destroyers, bringing the total number to 54. Construction of 2 oil tankers. Procurement
of 2 Aegis ashore systems and SM-3 Block IIA/IB missiles to improve
ballistic-missile defense. Research and development (R&D) to refurbish the Izumo-class destroyers for operations of very-short-takeoff-and-landing aircraft such as the F-35B stealth aircraft.
• Construction of 1 submarine, bringing the total number to 22. Procurement of advanced torpedoes for sea control/denial.
• Procurement of one battery of Type 12 surface-to-surface missiles for antisurface warfare. R&D of hypervelocity boost-glide vehicle for island defense.
• Procurement of nine E-2D airborne early warning aircraft and one long-endurance RQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle. R&D for unmanned underwater technology for maritime surveillance.
• Continued investments in the recruitment, retention, promotion, and welfare of qualified women.
Japan is graying, and male recruits have become harder to come by. By 2030, the JSDF/JMSDF plans to increase the number of women serving to 9 percent, after appointing the first female warship squadron commander, Captain Ryoko Azuma, in 2018.
—Captain Tuan Pham, U.S. Navy