By Robert B. Murrett, Deputy Director, Institute for Security Policy and Law
(Military Times | March 22, 2021) There is a good deal of interest these days in the growth of the Chinese navy, known officially as the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Most of the discussion tends to focus on the steady and significant increase in the inventory of PLAN ships and submarines, as well as the gradual expansion of the operational reach of these ships.
However, the other dimensions of seapower that constitute the real effectiveness of any navy are not always sufficiently considered. In the case of China, an assessment of strategy, operational proficiency, regional and global naval power, and leadership deserve additional emphasis.
The PLAN “order of battle” — the total number of ships, submarines, naval aircraft and supporting infrastructure continue to make gains, which will likely continue in future years. With this as a baseline, the strategic, operational and tactical proficiency of the Chinese navy has also made progress in parallel, with varied results. At the strategic level, the Chinese navy has attempted to strike a balance between regional focus on the western Pacific and adjoining waters, and other, sustained operations in distant waters.
While it is accurate that the Chinese navy has expanded the scope of their operations over the past decade, they do not have sustained global presence and reach. Concentrating maritime power in areas such as the East China Sea and South China Sea has certain advantages, although the cumulative impact of years of at-sea time and tough challenges in the world’s oceans is an important barometer of capability. The PLAN will achieve the proficiency associated with extended maritime employment in time, but a strategy which allows both a regional and global deployment posture has yet to be fully realized.
As China’s strategic naval posture is dealt with, operational-level skills associated with complex warfare challenges are a second important standard. Integrated anti-surface, anti-submarine and anti-air operations are fundamental and can only be gained by hard experience. These warfare basics should be viewed in the context of operational-level integrated joint and combined command, control and communications, and a sober assessment of Chinese capability and experience in this area cannot be overemphasized …