Leadership: April 6, 2005

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The Chinese navy is having a hard time dealing with the task of training crews able to handle high tech equipment and ships. The Chinese admirals know that, if they are to prepare for war with the Taiwanese, American, or even Japanese, fleets, they have to close the training gap. The U.S. Navy, and its major Asian allies, all spend a lot of time at sea, and get lots of technical training, using computerized training aids and expert instructors. 

China started with a lot of disadvantages when it comes to training. Until the 1990s, China didnt even try to train to Western standards. Most of their ships were low tech, and conscript sailors could be taught simple tasks using officer instructors and lots of classroom training and some OJT (On The Job Training.) China was poor, and could not afford the fuel to send their ships to sea a lot. They could not afford the wear and tear (and repairs and maintenance that follow that) either. Since Communist China built its navy using Russian assistance, they did not develop NCOs (Petty Officers). In particular, a navy needs lots of  experienced CPOs (Chief Petty Officers, or Chiefs.) Its not just a catchy saying that, the Chiefs run the navy, its true. The officers command the ships, but without the Chiefs, the effectiveness of those ships, and their crews, would quickly decline. 

Reforms have been underway for some time. Over the last two decades, the Chinese navy has gone from 25 percent of the sailors being petty officers, to sixty percent. Along with this has come an avalanche of training courses, including paying for about ten percent of petty officers to get some college training (two or four year.) Its been more difficult creating a lot of those crusty old Chief Petty Officers. That takes time. A few generations of effort will do it, but the Chinese are already seeing these guys start to appear in greater numbers. But there arent enough of them to put the fleet on the same level as the United States and its Asian allies. Moreover, China still has problems with the naval officers, who have not gotten over the old Russian style of leadership. This involved officers doing a lot of the training and supervisory work the Chiefs and other petty officers are supposed to be doing. However, time will cure this problem. Junior naval officers are glad to have experienced Chiefs around, and in another decade or two, the Chinese navy will be run efficiently by thousands of experienced Chiefs. 

But theres still the money problem. With the price of oil over $50 a barrel, the Chinese navy cant afford a lot of sea time for its ships. Its that abundance of sea time that gave Western navies an edge. The Japanese learned this before World War II, and their crews were formidable during World War II because they had spent lots of time at sea beforehand. Japan, in the 1930s, was willing to spend the money to keep their ships at sea. China today is more reluctant. Foreign sailors can see the results when Chinese warships are at sea. The ships are poorly maintained, and operated in a haphazard, by Western standards, manner. If China decides to spend the money on fuel, and keeps developing its petty officers, in another decade, Chinese warships will present a more formidable appearance at sea, and be more lethal as well.

 


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