The Great Wall at Sea: China's Navy Enters the 21st Century Review

The Great Wall at Sea: China's Navy Enters the 21st Century
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The Great Wall at Sea: China's Navy Enters the 21st Century ReviewThe Great Wall at Sea is on balance a decent introduction to the modern Chinese Navy that is geared more towards breadth than depth. It tries to put the current state of the Navy in a historical context, and explains briefly training, recruiting, personnel administration, fleet organization, systems, the maritime interests of the Chinese (as best it can), and fleet exercises. This provides a lot of fundamental, basic information which is a solid foundation for understanding the Chinese Navy, but in and of itself does not go far enough to deliver any such in depth knowledge of it or any elegant analytical conclusions of intentions.
One draws several major impressions of the Chinese Navy
- It is becoming increasingly technically oriented, and at a fast pace, especially with regards to its manning and training. However it still has a long way to go and its Soviet model fleet structure, with each fleet having it's own training commands and systems, makes progress uneven and relatively uncoordinated.
- The Chinese Navy evolved from the Mao-era coastal defense force into a "green water" Navy, i.e. one capable of projecting power several hundred miles beyond it's own shoreline but not across the world the way practically only the US Navy can anymore.
- It is divided into three fleets which are practically their own Navies. One geared towards the Korea/Japan region (which is getting the most advanced destroyers), one geared towards Taiwan (which is sub-intensive), and one geared towards the South China Sea, which is where the amphibious forces are located. From this force structure the author cautiously deduces that China is strategically more worried about physically seizing the Spratley Islands and other nearby chains to secure a source of reliable oil, as they claim these are their territorial lands (based on a convoluted and not traditionally accepted worldwide definition of the continental shelf belonging to their country and not the 12 mile offshore standard). The fear of a surface action is against the modernizing South Korean and extremely capable Japanese navy, whereas the Taiwan strategy appears to be based on sea denial using submarines rather than amphibious invasion. The author knows he is on tenuous ground making these assertions about strategy from force structure (usually you go the other way around, build a force structure from strategy but you can "invert" the problem to try to figure out your enemy, but it's not a one-to-one correlation, one force structure can be the result of multiple strategies.) For example, it wouldn't be physically difficult for the South Sea fleet's amphibious forces to swing north to invade Taiwan, even though it's in another fleet's AOR.
- The Chinese have strategic maritime interests in securing sources of oil, but little ability to currently protect sea-lanes from the Persian Gulf to their own shores. They are however laying the groundwork for such a capability with ties to countries along the route, such as Myanmar, Pakistan and Iran.
- The Chinese Navy has does not have a robust enough amphibious force yet to invade Taiwan and does not appear to be modernizing their amphibious forces particularly.
- The gem of the Chinese Navy, according to Maoist theory, has always been their SSBN force, consisting of a single not working too well sub right now. However they are currently working on a new design and will continue to build an SSBN based nuclear deterent.
- The Navy is organizationally hampered by too much autonomy and overlapping administrative functions between the three fleets. The three fleets also have a difficult time coordinating action apparently.
- The individual fleets are conducting impressive combined arms exercises however and the competence of individual chinese Navy sailors and officers is generally quite high.
- The Navy used to be a political Navy, with literally two chains of command, one operational and one political based on the old Soviet model. It is not terribly well known how political it remains with the modern changes underway in China, nor which chain of command would have ultimate authority in any conflict situation.
- The Chinese do not have sufficient domestic ship building and design capabilities to arm a modern force and will rely on foreign systems for some time, including Russian and European sources primarily.
There's a lot of information in the book, and some attempts at analysis of Chinese strategy and where they want to take their Naval force in the future. Currently the Chinese Navy is an amalgam of disparate types and technologies (making logistical supply difficult) and equally confusing in terms of its administrative and operational structures.
With the quick pace of Chinese military modernization this book -through no fault of its own- is probably already somewhat dated.
The biggest drawback of the book for me however was that it lacked a chapter that had vital statistics and background on the major ship, sub, helo, aircraft and weapons systems the Chinese navy used. Nor does it have any information regarding the number of hulls in the Navy, their types, their names and designations, and their fleet assignment. Although the above info would be a "snapshot in time" only, it would have been useful nonetheless for better being able to gauge just how capable the Chinese Navy is.
Recommended for Naval Officers, Defense Analysts, Defense Contractors working with Naval Systems, and people interested in gaining in depth information about China and particularly its military.The Great Wall at Sea: China's Navy Enters the 21st Century Overview

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