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Surface Forces: The Chinese Threat
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December 20, 2009: The U.S. Navy is looking for a sufficiently impressive foe to help scare more money out of Congress. The Chinese Navy (or, more correctly, the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army Navy) is now the favorites candidate, for navy and defense industry analysts, to become the new Big Bad. Just how dangerous are these Chinese sailors and their ships? It turns out that, on closer inspection, not very.

 This is the sort of thing that what went on during the Cold War. Russian military prowess was hyped by American the military, and their defense suppliers, to justify further increases in defense spending. When the Cold War ended, it was revealed how the Russian military, and defense manufacturers, plaid the same game. It also revealed that Russian military capabilities were far less than the hype indicated.

The basic weapon for this sort of thing is FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt). Works every time, although it is difficult to pitch the Chinese navy as a crack force. Most of their ships are elderly, poorly designed and rarely used. Their nuclear subs are worse than the first generation of Russian nukes back in the 1960s. The most modern Chinese ships are Russian made, Cold War era models. Chinese ships don't go to sea much, not just because it's expensive, but because Chinese ships tend to get involved in nasty incidents. Like the submarine that killed its crew when the boat submerged (and the diesel engines did not shut down when the batteries kicked in, thus using up all the oxygen.) Breakdowns are more common, as well as a lot of accidents you don't hear about (weapons and equipment malfunctions that kill and maim.)

Unlike the Russians, who started a ruinous arms race in the 1960s, the Chinese have been increasing their military budget in line with economic growth. Russia was spending over 20 percent of GDP on defense during the Cold War. China spends far more, and far less. While China increased its defense spending 14.9 percent this year, that's down from the 17.9 percent jump last year. China claims that its defense spending is only 1.4 percent of GDP (compared to 4 percent for the U.S. and 1-2 percent for most other Western nations.) But China keeps a lot of defense spending off the official defense budget (a technique long favored by communist nations), and actual spending is more like 3-4 percent of GDP.  Thus while China spends far less of its GDP on defense, it is spending what it can afford, and is currently spending about as much as the Soviet Union did per year, during the 1980s (using the black market exchange rate for the ruble).

Meanwhile, as a percentage of GDP, U.S. military spending continues a decline that has been going on since the 1960s (when, because of the $686 billion cost of the Vietnam war, defense spending was 10.7 percent of GDP). That went down to 5.9 percent of GDP in the 1970s and, despite a much heralded defense buildup in the 1980s, still declined in the 1980s (to 5.8 percent.) With the end of the Cold War, spending dropped sharply again in the 1990s, to 4.1 percent. For the first decade of the 21st century, defense spending is expected to average 3.5-4 percent of GDP.

Last year, China passed Germany to become the third largest economy on the planet (after the U.S. and Japan). Currently, the U.S. has a GDP of $13.8 trillion, Japan $4.4 trillion and China, $3.5 trillion. The per-capita share of that GDP varies greatly, since the U.S. has 302 million population, China 1,300 million and Japan 127 million. Thus the average Japanese generates more than ten times the GDP as the average Chinese. But 30 years of constant, nearly ten percent a year, economic growth have turned China into an economic superpower, at least in terms of national GDP. The problem is that there are two Chinas. About twenty percent of the population are enjoying most of this growth. They mainly live along the coast, where a recent survey found, to no one's surprise, that 80 percent of the coastal waters were polluted by several decades of sharp economic and industrial growth. But the interior is poor, and angry. In other words, you've got about 300 million people doing quite well, and another billion that are not happy with the situation at all. This does not bode well for the Chinese military budget.

China has a lot of domestic problems to worry about, which is apparently one reason the government isn't willing to give a lot of money to the military. In fact, the generals have been told to shrink their manpower strength, and gradually increase the quality of equipment and training. Over the next three years, China will shrink its armed forces by another 700,000 troops. The Chinese armed forces has already shrunk by 1.7 million troops in the last twenty years, and now consists of 2.3 million active duty personnel. In three years, there will be only 1.6 million troops (not much larger than the 1.4 million American force). China also has 660,000 personnel in the national police, and 1.2 million organized reservists. Remember, China is still a communist police state. There are a lot of Chinese unhappy with the government (which is actually rather corrupt and inefficient by Western standards.)

Given the sorry state of Chinese weapons and equipment, it will take them decades to even have a chance of "catching up with the United States". And that's apparently the Chinese plan. And it's a very traditional plan. The Chinese like to think long term. Works for them. Meanwhile, China does not want to make the U.S. Navy angry. China is now dependent on imports, especially oil and other raw materials. Access to the sea is a matter of life or death for the Chinese economy, and the survival of the communist dictatorship. But the same could have been said for Japan in 1941. The difference is that China is not making bug trouble with any of its neighbors, and China and the United States both have nuclear weapons.

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warpig       12/20/2009 10:20:34 AM
PLAN certainly has a long way to go just to be able to stand toe-to-toe with Japan if it needed to, much less America.  But this stuff is pretty ridiculous, especially the part about the Russian-made ships.  I think it's a pretty safe bet that this is not how NMIC and ONI-Sword would describe them:
"Most of their ships are elderly, poorly designed and rarely used. Their nuclear subs are worse than the first generation of Russian nukes back in the 1960s. The most modern Chinese ships are Russian made, Cold War era models. Chinese ships don't go to sea much, not just because it's expensive, but because Chinese ships tend to get involved in nasty incidents."
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benellim4       12/20/2009 11:32:53 AM
What this totally glosses over is the fact that the PLAN is spending more time at sea. In 2007 and 2008, for instance, submarine patrols increased. The number actually doubled in 2008. Obviously, the 2009 numbers aren't in yet. It also glosses over the fact that the PLAN is conducting a sustained out of area deployment in the Gulf of Aden. Battle groups are relieving other battle groups on station. That's not the actions of a green water navy. That's blue water territory right there. 

Can they stand up to the USN in the middle of the Indian Ocean or Pacific? No. But they can make life "interesting" in and around the Western Pacific.

Once again, a SP article that is full of "fail." 
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sinoflex       12/20/2009 2:26:50 PM
From Link

Figure 1:
Chinese Submarine Patrols 1981-2008" alt="" width="450" />
Chinese attack submarines conducted 12 patrols in 2008, double the number from 2007. Yet Chinese ballistic missile submarines have yet to conduct a deterrent patrol.


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sinoflex    Naval War College Review   12/20/2009 2:49:49 PM
Winter 2008 Issue - Link
A Reputation for Mastery?
This article demonstrates that Chinese strategists are keenly interested in the U.S.
Navy?s submarine force. Thousands of articles have reviewed various aspects of
American submarine capabilities, operations, and developmental trends. There is
clear evidence that Chinese naval analysts have enormous respect for U.S. submarines,
submariners, and their weapons. Certainly, China aspires to be a submarine
power and hopes to emulate certain aspects of American experience. However,
it is equally clear in these writings that the U.S. submarine force is seen as a key
challenge in any military confrontation between Beijing and Washington. It is
significant in that regard especially that Chinese analysts are increasingly drawing
attention to, and seeking to remedy, their antisubmarine warfare deficiencies. The
study also reveals an apparent assumption within Chinese naval analytic circles
that American submarine force levels are on a downward trajectory.
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gf0012-aust       12/20/2009 6:36:54 PM

What this totally glosses over is the fact that the PLAN is spending more time at sea. In 2007 and 2008, for instance, submarine patrols increased.
they've also lifted their passive observer status, they've also elected to particpate in piracy events, and that would seem to indicate a willingness to see how others co-ordinate @response events, they're also practicing escorting their own flagged or "nations of interest" (atypically african flags with chinese resources etc....)  that demonstrates large vessel escort practice, they've lifted their foreign port visits and they've extended the range of where their subs are prepared to go and in different oceanic locations etc etc.....
they're far from being benign
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trenchsol       12/21/2009 8:15:03 AM
One can't say how would particular nation behave in war effort. In the past, some nations were at technical and other kinds of disadvantage, but they adapted to their conditions and were able to fight  on equal terms.  Examples are Finnish-Russian war, and wars in ex-Yugoslavia, where Serbs got almost all the weapons of former Yugoslav Army.
Other nations got discouraged and collapse. Perhaps, recent Georgian war was the example.
So, Chinese Navy might not be in perfect shape, but, faced with a war, they might adapt and overcome their disadvantage. So, I believe that Congress should grant money that US Navy needs.


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Headlock       12/21/2009 12:07:18 PM
"plaid" the same game.

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Headlock       12/21/2009 12:10:19 PM
This is such a terribly blinkered, poorly written, minimally researched article.

As noted above, buckets of Fail.

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Nanheyangrouchuan       12/21/2009 12:26:45 PM
There is some panda-hugging going on in SYSOPs.
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cwDeici       12/24/2009 10:51:26 AM
Also for military spending China's PPP of roughly 7 trillion is more accurate than GDP.
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