China's navy surpasses India's in both strength and doctrine - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 24 April 2019

China's navy surpasses India's in both strength and doctrine

PLA Navy doctrine advances steadily from "coastal defence" to a "far seas" concept

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 24th April 19

Two of the Indian Navy’s latest vessels – a destroyer, INS Kolkata and a fleet tanker, INS Shakti – were part of a multi-national naval fleet that Chinese President Xi Jinping reviewed on Tuesday on the 70th anniversary of the raising of the People’s Liberation Army (Navy), or PLA(N).

INS Kolkata and INS Shakti have sailed to the port city of Qingdao, which hosted warships from 60 countries for the maritime spectacle.

The Indian Navy participated for the third consecutive time in the PLA(N)’s five-yearly international fleet review (IFR). “The navy has deployed its finest assets for the IFR with an aim to strengthen existing cooperation, enhance mutual trust, extend interoperability and build greater synergy to address common maritime concerns among participating navies,” the navy stated on Tuesday.

When the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) captured power in 1949, it inherited neither a navy, nor a maritime tradition – that had last existed six centuries ago, when China’s legendary eunuch admiral, Zheng He, led trading flotillas across the Indian Ocean, bringing back shiploads of treasure. But in 1435, the Ming dynasty emperor, threatened by the Mongols from the north, ordered his navy sunk and concentrated on strengthening the Great Wall.

Now modern China’s new emperors have returned their focus to the seas. Beijing stated in a White Paper in 2015: “The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned.”

That turnaround took time coming. Until the 1970s, political turmoil within China, the Korean War and the border confrontation with the Soviet Union left Beijing resources only for “coastal defence”. This changed after Deng Xiaoping’s economic opening in the 1980s, when the PLA(N) graduated to a “near seas” strategy based on “offshore defence”.

From the turn of the century, a growing China cast its gaze further, beyond the so-called First Island Chain – which runs north-to-south from Sakhalin to Borneo, along the Kuril Islands, Taiwan, and the northern Philippines. 

Beijing’s 2015 White Paper talks about “open seas protection”, earlier termed the “far seas” concept. This expands China’s sphere of influence, by dominating approaches to the Second Island Chain, which runs north-to-south from the eastern edge of the Japanese archipelago, along the Bonin and Marshal islands to the Palau archipelago.

Towards that end, the PLA(N) is building warships at an unprecedented rate. It now operates an aircraft carrier, 33 destroyers, 50 frigates, 41 corvettes, 109 missile boats and 75 submarines – a fleet three-to-five times the size of India’s. In the last two years alone, it has launched four massive new Type 055 destroyers – each displacing 12,000 tonnes, almost twice INS Kolkata’s size.

In contrast, India has commissioned only four destroyers in the last two decades. Four more are under construction in Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai.

Chinese vs Indian naval power

Type of vessels
Chinese navy
Indian navy

Aircraft carriers
1 + 1*
1 + 1*
16 + 5*
* Being built

In submarine power too, the PLA(N) has far outpaced India, operating 75 submarines to India’s 14 (with five more being delivered soon). The PLA(N) launched its first indigenous submarine in 1971 and, three years later, inducted its first nuclear attack submarine. Initially rudimentary, Chinese submarines now incorporate more modern technologies, such as ultra-long-wave communications systems, automated command systems and improved survivability.

If India has an edge over the PLA(N), it is in the demanding realm of naval aviation. While India chose to develop aircraft carrier-borne power projection with the purchase of INS Vikrant in the late 1950s, the PLA(N) only landed a helicopter on a warship for the first time in 1980. Only in 2017 did the Liaoning, a refurbished Russian aircraft carrier, joined the PLA(N) fleet. Now the PLA(N) is planning to induct 4-5 carriers into its fleet.

The PLA(N) is divided into three fleets: the North Sea Fleet, based in Qingdao and responsible for the Yellow Sea; the East Sea Fleet, based in Ningbo and responsible for the East China Sea; and the South Sea Fleet, headquartered in Zhanjiang and responsible for the South China Sea.

The PLA(N) is emphatically abandoning its traditional insularity. It conducted its first foreign visit only in 1985, and held its first joint exercise with a foreign navy in 2003. But in 2008, a PLA(N) flotilla of three vessels set sail for counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. Since then, the PLA(N) has maintained that presence in West Asia and Africa, and strengthened it with a naval base in Djibouti. China is also growing its naval presence in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.


  1. Yesterday the most powerful man in the world Xi Jinping showed ships of the Chinese navy.
    This month we read in this blog that Gen Hooda has brought a report on national security which talks of competition with China.
    We are becoming to China what Mexico is to America - and there should be no further talk of military competition for many decades - Meanwhile it would be wise we accommodate ourself to the new reality that we have a military superpower at our doorstep.
    China is where it is now - because it gave priority to educating its people right from the time of Mao - Deng’s educated and healthy population was rapidly able to industrialise China.
    Hooda should have emphasised in his report that a strong economy is the bedrock to India’s security and stability:, pointing out that our demographic bulge and unemployment is a grave security threat and will cause future instability in Indian society.
    That investing in healthcare and education is building security. Economic development will accelerate if we make peace with our neighbours and resolve the insurgency in Kashmir.
    Instead of being a Mexico we must aspire to be a Canada to our neighbouring superpower, which also means accepting Chinese friendship by entering into the Belt and road initiative as part of a shared interest in economic development.
    Instability of society is considered serious threats to the Chinese Government they do all they can to diminish it.
    This message was repeated by Xi Jinping to Modi in China. Education and a healthy population was how China did it Modi was told via China’s own historical example, but unfortunately our Prime Minister has his own agenda and failed to understand Xi’s message.

  2. Does this mean plan can now deter india in the ocean?

  3. Bangladesh also has its eye on acquisition of submarines in line with its strategy for it armed forces, as outlined in Forces Goal 2030.
    It will add to its two Ming-class type 035B submarines which India so vehemently objected to.
    The Bangladeshi soldier is better equipped than the Indian and it armed forces are being rapidly modernised following the American pattern, with $ 30billion foreign exchange reserve there is No real shortage to buy the latest weapons.
    Bangladeshi infant mortality and life expectancy is higher than India’s - the average citizen of Bangladesh will be richer that the Indian citizen by 2020, Note the average Bangladeshi citizen is significantly richer than from India’s Hindi speaking belt of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. So it’s rather ironic that Amit Shah goes around these areas warning the inhabitants there of “ illegal cockroaches from Bangladesh”.
    The Bangladeshi slogan is - “not only will Indians build the FENCE but Indians will pay for it” -
    When the fence is completed by 2030 the standard of living will be appreciably higher in Bangladesh than in India and this fence will prove most useful to Bangladesh.
    (And a much more sincere thank you to Indira Gandhi, our people are better of economically and live longer and in better health than Pakistan, under a future Congress rule our friendship will get closer)

  4. Why not thinking out of the box.
    Just consider some wave piercing catamaran ferries like the HSC Francisco, maybe with a small nuclear reactor and this new generation of Siemens turbines which have 60% efficiency..
    Just look at the HSC Francisco : 99x26.48m which runs up to 57kts = 107km/h
    Let's make a kevlar/ceramic protection while speed will protect from torpedoes then, considering the size, it's just like having a 200m long cruiser.
    An OTO Melara 76/62 Super Rapid could be mounted at the bow, so classic shells as much as the guided anti-air DART or the anti-surface VULCANO can be shot, now look at the stern :
    a larger folding platform could be considered for helicopters which then would slip into the hull, used as hangar.
    Add 3 NBS MANTIS as CIWS incl. against swarms of suicide speedboats, on each side of the stern, one at the bow, just in front of the 76/62.
    Add a full Iron Dome battery with the 4 launchers (80 missiles).
    The radars' mast can be put just over the command post while, look at the roof : a really impressive number of VLS cells can be fit, likey about 200.
    Torpedos can be ejected through tube on each side while 2 ASROC with 10 kilotons tac-nukes as depth charges would be like fishing with grenades...
    Nevertheless, such a ship may easily carry 96 BrahMos, 48 Aster-30 or Stunner and 48 Arrow-3 while moving more than 2,500km per 24 hours, about twice as fas as any navy fleet. And Arrow-3 is likely to shoot down satellites as much as IRBMs while Aster-30 or Stunner can get rid of Toshka/Scud-likes, Aster-30 was even proven OK against 2m altitude Mach3 cruise missiles, so is able to deal with a P-800 Oniks or alike.

    Such a concept is simply "thinking out of the box" to provide serious force multipliers.
    I've already pointed herein how India can absolutely deal with both Chinese+Paki air forces by using both Rafale and Tejas w. the Dassault proposed mods, then how to arm them in a way to demolish a land invasion, also what HAL could do to provide a dual-prop+small jet strike aircraft way more destructive than a A-10.
    I've also pointed how to make a riffle like Tavor replacing 18 assault-riffles, snipers and machineguns with a unified calibre (.243WSSM) efficient up to 1km (bullpups allow 64cm barrels while staying compact), how to have a modular SMG/PDW the size+form factor of a H&K MP7 as efficient as an AK-74U, or AK-74 or VSS Vintorez by just changing the barrel and having either .25 or .300-subsonic bullets. There is even a small US company making by far the best body armour on market (Dragon-Skin) that was rebuked by US militaries, thanks to heavy lobbying and IMHO, they'd surely be pleased to move to India and get a huge client like the Indian army.
    It's not without reason I deemed the idea to buy some gear like C-17, C-130J, CH-47, AH-64 or Do-228 as not so clever. It'd had been way more clever to do a licensed An-22 Antei-NG, go for A400M since it can go everywhere C-130J goes with the double payload, then see with Dassault to re-create the Bréguet Br.941 "NG" in a modern way. Even re-creating a Tu-95 "NG" in composites for mar-pat purposes could have been very interesting, although I'm not sure if economically efficient.

    China is surely richer since her economical take-off happened 2 decades before India and she assumes 3-4x Indian military budget, but by putting up a force-multiplying doctrine, it's absolutely feasible to be REALLY feared, especially if you act a bit like a mad dog, Israeli style. If someone shoots AK-47 over the border and you answer with a CAESAR 155mm gun or a gunship chopper, it fixes that you're into escalating. May be useful to have a few 5 megatons nuke in stores, r at least make people believe you have such city-busters : deception is also an interesting way to deter ;-)

  5. - I'd add that, to stay with InCat, that the HSC Express-class is even bigger than the HSC Francisco w. 112.6x30.5m and 10,600t. 2 if not 4 blocks of 8x4 VLS cells could be added. The Express-class is not as fast, but since I've considered a nuclear reactor, more can be considered, then you have an ultra fast cruiser.
    - The InCat 74 and 78m designs have potential to be used as corvettes while being as heavily armed as frigates. The company has already delivered several military ships for USA and Australia, although these weren't armed with more than a few .50BMG machineguns as they were used as ferries. One has been hit by a C-802 anti-ship missile shot by Khamenei's Yemeni puppets but she didn't sunk

    >>>> The advantage at militarising such initially civilian designs allow to spare a LOT in R&D.

    It'd also be interesting to have a few submarines acting as carriers for several combat-modules to be left "sleeping" at the bottom of the sea or anchored in case of serious depth, each with sub-launched torpedoes and/or cruise missiles. Tidal energy and a radioactive source producing heat could keep batteries loaded so the module may move slowly by itself and keep its sensors passively watching or receiving launches orders.

    - I'd consider having MICA-VL in each Scorpène submarine : if hunted, these may be the doom of ASM choppers/aircaft.

    - Something between a mine and a torpedo with potentially super cavitation ability wixed with a slow classic propelling could be interesting : Scorpènes are very stealth, so can go pretty close to a fleet.
    Such assets could double/triple the number of assets able to intercept a fleet.
    Note that a nuclear torpedo can be a very bad surprise for a whole enemy fleet.
    - It could e interesting to consider fitting external 'conformal' cannister to the Scorpène/Kalvari-class in order to carry either ballistic or cruise missiles.

    - Note that since Siemens new generation of nuclear turbines have a serious gain in efficiency : 60% instead of 35% for the previous, a pretty small nuclear reactor can be used to reload batteries. Maybe a mix AIP/electric/nuke may be interesting to fit in Scorpènes? I'd need the CATIA blu-prints to study the subject, maybe nuke+batteries, and having the two running together if you need to run? Nevertheless, such turbines really allow to use much smaller reactors.

    - Just think that the 180 MWth reactor used in INS Arihant would produce 108 MWe. The 4x 21.5MW Mermaid pods on RMS Queen-Mary 2 propell her to 30 knots and she's 345m long for 80,000t so there'd be no problem for an aircraft carrier like Naval Group's (DCNS) DEAC aircraft carrier that was presented to India in 2014. Note that DCNS proposed her to France for €2.3B
    Consider that the AIP module in a Scorpène/Kalvari-class means to elongate the ship by 8.3m, adding 305t... more than enough to fit a 80MWth=>50MWe reactor : enough for a 2,400t-2,600t Rubis-class SSN, so modifying a 2,000t Scorpène/Kalvari-class is not a problem, while a reactor not even half the power of the one on INS Arihant would be OK. Big versions of these turbines would also greatly optimise Indian nucear power-plants by near doubling the produced energy. Note that despite sanctions, Putin managed to smuggle 3 sets of these turbines to provide energy to Crimea, Luhansk and Donbass withut building any new plant.

    - Aircraft carriers : This is the DEAC I pointed :
    I'd consider the 21.5MW Mermaid pods here, these would make more room into the ship, they are also easier to repair, e.g. you can replace each part of the propeller separately. Their ability to turn at 360° may allow surprising agility in manoeuvres.
    I'd HIGHLY advise India to give up the idea of EMALS : way way too expensive, and there is far better/cheaper around : the ICCALS technology

  6. Another possibility for Aircraft carriers is to consider the cusstomisation of a pretty affordable design.
    ust consider the French Mistral-class of LHDs. The 5 built are 199m long BPC-200, but these ships are modular : a 214.5m long version has already been proposed and a 230m version is feasible, even likely a 245.5m one. It seems that an additional section of 15.5m would cost about $40M.
    Here is the HMS Victorious (R38)
    and she was refit from 226.7m to 237.21m in 1957 with an angled deck.
    What is interesting is that she was operatig the 28t MTOW Blackburn Buccaneer S.2 and she was validated for the F-4 Phantom-II, although retired before using these since Royal Navy got budget cuts.
    HMS Eagle (R05) and HMS Ark Royal (R09) were also pretty small (245m), also had an angled deck added and both were operating the 28t MTOW Buccaneer and Phantom-II, another point being that, if we consider the Essex ( ) and Midway ( ) classes which also were added with angled decks, sponsons allow to add flight deck extensions that can be pretty large comparing to the hull. These appear clearly on the next pictures :
    Why would I opt for the Mistral-class as a base for an aircraft-carrier mod?
    - They are modular, so internals can be adapted to needs at will. Since, as an aircraft carrier, the army HQ and the large hospital are not necessary, the aircraft hangar cand be extended.
    - Now look at the height of the internals then... consider HMS Eagle hangars :
    and the height of the ship :
    Bingo : a 2-3 modules elongated Mistral-class will allow a 2 stories hangar and so to carry as much aircraft as a super-carrier

    Now, what I'd recommand :
    - Having at least a 203m long angled deck : shorter means you'll need a tractor to take a Hawkeye or C-2 out of the way.
    - Opting for pretty large external elevators on the sides, cf. Charles De Gaulle's ones able to lift two Rafales at once.
    - Get rid from the classic island concept! Some much smaller frigate tower/mast will be able to carry all necessary antennas while there are electro-optical "balls" allowing 360° all weather vision and be placed all around the ship. Just consider that Rafale's OSF-IT is a 2nd gen QWIP providing even more range than many radars. Having several even allow to work like a multi-mirror telescope.
    It will also reduce the building cost and allow a larger symetric deck, this would facilitate aerial operations.
    - Since the well-dock becomes useless, it'd be interesting to install the nuclear reactor on a rail system. This would allow to extract the full reactor and replace it by a spare one instead of immobilising the ship to change the fuel rods. It may also allow to dump it into the sea in case of meltdown. A classic turbine running on kerosene still can be left onboard in case of emergency or to provide a power boost if necessary.
    - 2 or 3x Alstom Mermaid 21.5MW pods would be enough to propel the ship and very fast. I'd opt for three, if ever the ship has to run.
    - Since the ICCALS are much more powerful than both steam and EMALS, the shorter C13-3 catapult rails (75m stroke) like on the Charles de Gaulle CVN would be more than enough. Note that ICCALS costs are extremey low since 95% of components can be purchased off the shelves on civilian market. 1st catapult would cost no more than $30M, then $5M per additional one. Fitting 3 catapults would be OK. If the deck is made symetric and without island, it'd be possible to have a starboard catapult
    - For sure, do note hope for the €451.6M/ship as a classic Mistral-class ship, considering the Italian Cavour-class costs €1.1B and is 245m long, I'm optimistic with the ability to make a serious aircraft carrier based on the Mistral design for around €1.3-1.5B

  7. @Anonymous :
    Seriously, you have understanding neither of economics, nor about weapons systems, the criteria you advance are totally bogus on absolutely EVERYTHING!


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