April 19, 2013

China Expanding in the Indian Ocean?

China's 6,500 ton 052C air defence destroyer (NATO code name Luyang II class, often referred to as Lanzhou class after the lead ship name)

East Timor, Indonesia and Australia are all on the edge of the Indian Ocean. Hence the gradual buildup of Chinese naval forces in the Indian Ocean is of strategic significance to those countries.

UPI Asia.com, February 27, 2009 reproduced this article "China's Naval Surveillance Capabilities" by Andrei Chang, Editor-in-Chief, Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, Toronto, Canada. Note that Chang originally used the term "battleship" which, I believe is a poor translation from Chinese. He must mean "warship". I have altered the text accordingly:

"Hong Kong, China — “Anti-piracy operations” have given China’s PLA Navy the best excuse to penetrate the Indian Ocean and station forces there permanently.

As fighting piracy around the Gulf of Aden becomes a long-term mission, the PLA Navy South Sea Fleet is likely to set up a sub-fleet to handle that task – perhaps the “Indian Ocean Sub-fleet of the South Sea Fleet” – and the PLA Navy will become the new owner of the Indian Ocean.

In recent months, Chinese military publications have carried a number of articles stating that “the Indian Ocean does not belong to India.” The intent of these articles is increasingly clear.

While carrying out anti-piracy operations, the PLA Navy’s warships will gain experience in long-distance maritime combat operations in preparation for the establishment of an ocean-going aircraft carrier fleet. The navy may dispatch other warships, such as its 054A FFG, on similar missions in the future.

China has a key military objective in dispatching warships to the Gulf of Aden. The “Chinese Aegis” class DDG it has sent to the region has the most advanced radar detection and C4IRS capabilities, and therefore can conduct effective battlefield monitoring exercises in this region. The Gulf of Aden provides the best geographical environment for the PLA Navy to conduct surveillance on the activities of the U.S. 5th Fleet.

The powerful detection capability of the Chinese Aegis DDG relies on the “Sea Lion” active phased array radar installed on the warships

China received some of the sub-systems and technological advice from the Ukrainian Kvant Design Bureau in developing this radar system. This is the bureau that participated in the research and development of almost all major Soviet surface warship radar systems. This includes the Fregat 2EM 3-D radar, which China imitated from the Russian system, working from a blueprint provided by Kvant.

China redesigned and reconfigured the Sea Lion radar system on its own, however, particularly the electric circuits, according to an authoritative source from the Ukrainian Administration of Arms Import and Export.

The development from passive to active phased array radar means huge technological progress, as the problem of the large radiator covering the antenna must be solved. The Chinese system uses the radiator cover designed by Ukraine; it regularly cools the antennas with a coolant to which a small amount of desiccant is added.

The technical perimeters of the radar system on the Chinese Aegis class DDG have never been officially released. Western observers generally believe that the Russian and Chinese “Aegis” DDGs’ data-processing systems lag far behind that of the U.S. Aegis class DDGs. The chief designer of the Chinese ship has also made similar comments.

The basic measurements of the Chinese Sea Lion radar system give some clues as to its performance features. It is a sea-to-air search radar capable of simultaneously searching for and tracking targets while constantly changing the beam indexes. It can search for more than 100 targets at once and track 50 of them.

Its search range for combat aircraft appears to be around 500-550 kilometers (roughly 300-340 miles). The design requirements for both Russian and Japanese phased array radar systems are such that even if 10 percent of the elements are lost, the radar system can continue to function.

China has built only two 052C DDGs outfitted with this advanced radar system; its purpose is to test the effectiveness of the Sea Lion for future installation on Chinese aircraft carriers.
This radar system on the No. 171 DDG currently deployed in the Gulf of Aden makes it possible for the PLA Navy to monitor most of the airspace above Yemen, Oman and the Strait of Hormuz.

Tankers carrying crude oil from Saudi Arabia would have to go through this strait. In addition, the 5th Fleet of the United States Pacific Fleet based in Bahrain, the Command Headquarters of the United States Central Military Command located in Qatar, and the activities of the combat aircraft of the Saudi Arabian Air Force could all come under the surveillance of the Chinese Aegis radar system.

Of course, while en route to the Indian Ocean – past the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and through the Strait of Malacca – the Chinese Aegis can conduct surveillance, including the airspace above southern India. The activities of the air forces in the above countries and voice communication signals may also be monitored and intercepted. A number of these countries have territorial disputes with China on land or sea.

Moreover, the No. 171 and No. 169 DDGs are equipped with China’s best electronic intelligence acquisition and countermeasure systems, and their antenna arrays are very similar to the electronic intelligence [interception] and support systems developed by Israel. These systems can effectively detect and acquire the radar signals of the U.S. 5th Fleet and record the data.

Naturally, the equipment can also monitor the radar signals and frequencies of the naval warships of the countries along this route. The No. 171 DDG is equipped with the NRJ6A ESM/ESM system; according to at least one military source, this microelectronic system is imported from Israel.

Any navy ship formation requires the support of a powerful underwater outpost force and reinforced anti-submarine capability to be able to engage in effective three-dimensional warfare.

The best anti-submarine measure is of course using submarines to undertake anti-tracking operations. Consequently, the possibility cannot be excluded that new generation 093 SSN or other diesel-powered submarines may have played the role of underwater outpost during recent anti-piracy actions of the PLA Navy in the Gulf of Aden.

Behind the curtain of the anti-piracy operations is in fact the rivalry of the naval forces of the major powers in establishing their new “national interest frontiers.”"
The article is an unusual combination of generalised political and strategic claims backed by more substantial technical detail.
References to "Chinese aircraft carriers" implies that they are an imminent threat when there appears to be no indigenous Chinese development program, no small carriers under construction, just vague statements by Chinese admirals. It would appear that organisations, like US Naval intelligence are hoping that China's reconstruction of the aging former Russian carrier Varyag amounts to a carrier program - that would provide extra justification for the US Navy maintaining its 11 carrier battle groups. However, reconstruction has proceeded for years and may be just for research.
Russia carriers have never been battle tested, to my knowledge. So $Billions spent by China and India (Admiral Gorshkov) reconstructing and modifying them, involves added technical and operational risk.
China's deployment of warships off Somalia does not yet prove a permanent intention to expand into the Indian Ocean in force but at least it is providing unprecedented opportunities to study China's most capable warships.