Sunday, April 18, 2010

Force Projection 3

This is a follow-up to earlier posts --
Force Projection, 2009 March 1
Force Projection 2, 2009 July 30

As discussed in the two earlier posts, the Chinese Navy has had a continuous presence in the Gulf of Aden since January 2009. My belief was that the Somali ant=piracy mission was an opportunity for the Chinese Navy to gain operational experience in international waters, as well as to observe the operational posture and procedures of other navies. Dr. J. Peter Pham has a column in the World Defense Review blog analyzing this position. The article dates back to March 2009, so it is a year old.

To recap -- the Chinese anti-piracy mission mission began on December 26, 2008 when the first flotilla left the naval base at Hainan Island, bound for the Gulf of Aden. This task force consisted of two missile-armed destroyers -- Haikou DDG-171 and Wuhan DDG-169 -- along with the supply ship Weishanhu.

On April 15, 2009, Wuhan and Haikou handed off to the second flotilla, consisting of the destroyer Shenzhen DDG-167 and frigate Huangshan FFG-570. The supply ship Weishanhu remained behind to provide logistics support.

A third force left Hainan Island on July 16, 2009. The guided missile frigates Zhoushan FFG-529 and Xuzhou FFG-530 along with the supply ship, Qiandaohu replaced all three of the ships on station in the Gulf of Aden. On November 1, 2009, Rear Admiral Wang Zhiguo hosted US Navy Rear Admiral Scott Sanders, the commander of the internationally constituted Combined Task Force 151, and members of Sanders' staff on board Zoushan.

Admiral Wang's problems during his tour included the capture by Somali pirates of the Chinese freighter De Xin Hai, a headache which he was able to hand to his successor. The missile frigates Ma'anshan FFG-525 and Wenzhou FFG-526 replaced Zhoushan and Xuzhou on November 12, 2009. On December 21, the missile frigate Chaohu FFG-568 joined the fourth flotilla, and a week later on December 27, a $4 million dollar ransom was paid to the Somali pirates for 25 hostages and the freighter De Xin Hai. It is assumed that Chaohu brought the ransom money.

On March 18, 2010, a handover ceremony was conducted on Ma'anshan to turn over operational responsibility to the fifth flotilla: missile destroyer Guangzhou DDG-168 and the supply ship Weishanhu joined the frigate Chaohu, relieving Ma'anshan, Wenzhou and Qiandaohu. On their way home, the three ships of the fourth flotilla were in Manila in the Philippines last week (April 13 to 17), on a five day port call, done apparently at the invitation of the Philippine Navy..

Of note for monitoring continuing operations is the fact that Weishanhu is now back in the Gulf of Aden for her second tour of duty. It appears that surface combatant vessels operate for 3 to 4 months, but the accompanying supply ship operates for 6 to 8 months. Thus far, both supply ships used to date have been units of the Qiandaohu class. Weishanhu (pennant number 887) supported the first and second flotillas, and is currently doing the same for the fifth. Qiandaohu (pennant number 886) supported the third and forth flotillas on a long (nearly eight month) deployment. There is reportedly a third ship in this class (NATO refers to it as the Fuchi class), but that ship has not been used. These ships also have their own complement of special forces troops and enough weaponry to deter attacks from pirates.

Since the Chinese Navy joined the UN anti-piracy mission in late 2008, Chinese warships have, as of the beginning of March 2010, escorted a total of 1,643 ships of various nationalities, and rescued 23 vessels from direct pirate attack. According to official Chinese government figures, more than 30 percent of China's foreign trade takes place via the Gulf of Aden route, which explains the continuing interest and ongoing commitment to providing military security.

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