January 4, 2017

Liaoning carrier group 2 - Submarine Activity & Air Wing

Map A. The Liaoning Carrier Group left the North Sea Fleet HQ Base (Qingdao) - followed the red line through the Miyako Strait - south, east of Taiwan - then moved west across the Bashi Channel (Luzon Strait) - then (unlike the map) it moved due west to Sanya/Yulin Naval Base, Hainan, China.


Reports of the Liaoning carrier group's late December 2016 activity beyond the First Island Chain  concentrated on surface warship details but, as usual, not subsurface details. Subsurface details therefore need to be imagined in the absence of harder information.

One or more Chinese submarines would protect the Liaoning carrier group by helping to prevent an enemy submarine getting between the carrier and the carrier's surface escorts. The carrier group zone that a Chinese submarine protects can be called the "Box".

The way I see it quiet Chinese SSKs (SongsYuans or in future Lada/Kalina similar Type 039Cs) would precede the group's movement by a day or two to protect the route of the group against  submarines or against fast moving surface ship threats. Setting out early is necessary to allow the slow moving SSKs time to get into useful positions.

By using SSKs the amount of lead time may alert enemy submarines and other sensor platforms (eg. the Miyako Strait undersea array) that a carrier movement may be imminent. Use of SSNs for this long range lead-checking would have been preferable, but China has not had the time or the defence budget to develop sufficiently quiet SSNs or produce such SSNs in quantity. Chinese MPA (aircraft) and UUVs (in future) might also do lead-checking (also called "sanitising").

Still, a Chinese SSN or two within the Box may accompany the group. The noise of the surface ship engines may mask relative (to diesels and turbines) more quiet SSN nuclear engines.

As can be assumed from the youtube below the East China Sea, bordered by the Miyako Strait, is saturated with enemy sensors (including long range radars) and by weapons, including submarines and by anti-ship missiles and aircraft on island bases. In practice this saturation would preclude Chinese carrier movements in medium level warfare (shooting war) or high level (nuclear) warfare.

Submarine threats (or just infomation gathering against the Liaoning Group may include:

-  Japanese (Oyashios and Soryus)
-  US Los Angeles and Virginia SSNs
-  South Korean Type 209s and 214s, and
-  Taiwanese Hai Lung class

For the purposes of initial carrier group trials China is forced to use this "near seas" environment. Reasons include:

-  this hostile submarine threat, and
-  questions about the reliability of the Liaoning's propulsion (possible need to tow Liaoning at short

Also keeping Liaoning in the near seas is its inadequate protection from its airwing. Liaoning's airwing is still weak, with only 24 short range (due to ski jump launch) J-15 fighter aircraft. Liaoning therefore needs to operate under the "bastion" protection of aircraft and DF-21D anti-ship missiles on Chinese mainland and Hainan Island.

Long range Chinese airpower and SAMs on Woody Island and other South China Sea islands can also help protect Liaoning. Perhaps DF-21Ds and DF-26s will be based on South China Sea islands in future.

Like other Kuznetsov carrier derivatives Liaoning may utilise land (including island) air bases for its strike fighters to increase the fighter's range and weapons capacities. China's South China Sea island base building therefore has that extra value - not yet officially apparent. This is noting Russia's  Kuznetsov has been sending its own fighters to land air bases in Syria.



Josh said...


I don't see the PLAN using SSKs for scouting (escort is impossible). They might perhaps be used for a couple specific points of interest, such as scouting out a specific straight or designated exercise point, but they wouldn't be able to do more than investigate a CZ sized area before the force steamed by it. Even running their diesels at full tilt they wouldn't be able to keep up. As far as I know Kilo/Song/Yuan lack the generator capacity to run their engines at full and maintain their hotel load even if detection wasn't an issue (they would also be blind).

PLAN SSKs are not especially effective ASW platforms - their sonar suit lacks the size, sophistication, and variety of sonar arrays to be particularly effective against quiet targets. They are almost exclusively anti-shipping platforms. MPAs could be used instead for scouting for surface targets (and to some extent subs), so an SSK would bring little to the table. I might expect SSKs to deploy for an ASW exercise but they'd have little use outside that as far as I can tell.

SSNs could at least practice coordinating with the group which would be useful training for establishing future doctrine for follow on carriers and quieter SSNs. Though doing so likely would make their presence fairly obvious to any sonar asset listening to the group.

On that last point, its worth noting again that the PLAN benefits from operating in their own back yard (land air support, simplified logistics, etc) but also still suffers from a home field disadvantage - the waters close to their shore already can be expected to be monitored by opposing units and sensors that are more familiar with sonar conditions as they are (hence the antagonism toward UUVs and MPAs in the past). I'd be shocked if the foreign subs monitoring this task force didn't outnumber the PLAN boats assigned to escort/train with it.


Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

In the video of Japan Strategic Challenge (4m18sec), A narrator said “Tsushima or Tokto island is controlled by Japan”, but this statement does not reflect the fact: i) Tsushima and Tokto (Takeshima) islands are different [1,2], and ii) Takeshima island is controlled by SK, not by Japan.

[1] https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E7%AB%B9%E5%B3%B6_(%E5%B3%B6%E6%A0%B9%E7%9C%8C)
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsushima_Island


Peter Coates said...

Hi S

Thanks for your positive and informative comments. Reading https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsushima_Island I had no notion of extensive canal building back to 1671 (rather than canals being a 19th Century practice).

The Liancourt Rocks [1], also known as Dokdo or Tokto Islands, being an issue of friction between Japan and South Korea was also new to me.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liancourt_Rocks



Anonymous said...

Hi Pete,

Huludao Shipyard, which is responsible for the contruction of nuclear subs, just finished building a new construction-complex.

It's twice the size of BAE Systems' facility in Barrow-in-Furness.

Maggie's Farm in Barrow-in-Furness can build three SSN/SSBN at the same time in different stages.

It seems the PLAN thinks that the Type-093B or upcoming Type-095 are good enough to start serial production. What else would they need the new facility for?

As KQN stated the Type-52D-DDG must be good enough, due the 3 units per year construction-pace.

I think you can update this article in 3/5 years. By the time the second STORBAR CV reaches FOC in let's say 2023 - there could at least 4 or so Type-093B/095 ready for deployment. When the first CATOBAR CV reaches FOC in let's say 2028 Huludao might be reaching 1.5 SSN per year.

Still if the Electric Boat maintains its' 2 SSN-per-year the USN should stay ahead in SSN-numbers.

Team Eurowussies

Peter Coates said...

Hi Team Eurowussies

It would be, of course, interesting if Western satellites or other sources could gain regular updates of the number and stages of Type-093B, 095, SSBN or any SSK construction at Bohai/Huludao Shipyard.

Yes more rapid production of ships (eg. Type-052D DDG) or Song submarine types does imply Chinese satisfaction with their quality.

A shipbuilding program, of course, is marked not only by numbers started and launched. Trials (as with Russian and Indian carriers) can often find major problems that require years of rectification (eg. propulsion systems and airwing). Especially India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/India-without-aircraft-carrier-for-8-months/articleshow/53407213.cms

New ships/sub classes might be described as being "in commission" but are they really? Labels are often chiefly political.


Moving from ships to aircraft - I've heard that 2 F-35A's have been "handed over" to Australia and another 2 to Japan, but none will leave the continental US for years. Some F-35Bs are allegedly in Marine Amphibious carrier service but these aircraft are years away from being able to fire their ground-attack cannon.