David Axe wrote yesterday in his War is Boring blog about maritime artist Tom Freeman’s painted depiction of an American nuclear aircraft carrier in flames after a Chinese ballistic-missile strike.

This week’s news of China further developing anti-ship ballistic missile technology has fueled chatter throughout U.S. naval circles and a cause of concern for U.S. maritime security.

Mr. Freeman told the U.S. Naval Institute, “I did the painting to make the powers that be aware that this is what it might look like if a missile attacked an American carrier.”

Freeman’s impressive maritime paintings can be viewed on his website.

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China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy sailors on review. Image: Getty

China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy sailors on review. Image: Getty

The Naval War College Review Spring, 2009 issue  published an interesting article titled, “Gunboats for China’s New “Grand Canals,” written by Andrew Erickson and Lyle Goldstein, whom are research faculty in the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the U.S Naval War College.

This article explores China’s “military capacity to protect its long and increasingly vital maritime oil supply lines.”

The authors believe “it is time to consider seriously the prospect of future PLAN missions to defend Chinese interests not only in East Asia but also beyond.”

Informative highlights over China’s oil security and the PLAN’s role in securing it:

  • In 2007, approximately 85 percent of Chinese oil imports passed through the Strait of Malacca;
  • Defense of oil SLOCs [sea lines of communication] may become a driver in future PLAN [People’s Liberation Army Navy] evolution;
  • Gunboats were once used to invade China in the name of protecting international commerce. Now China is itself acquiring powerful warships, but its precise reasons for doing so remain unclear;
  • China’s 2008 Defense White Paper for the first time treats the ground forces as a distinct service equivalent to the Navy, Air Force, and Second Artillery, suggesting that they are becoming less dominant within the military and that the PLAN may grow correspondingly over time in funding and mission scope;
  • The PLA Navy’s subsequent deployment of two destroyers and a supply ship to the Gulf of Aden is an unprecedented move that may presage a more active Chinese presence near global maritime energy routes.

Erickson and Goldstein delve into voluminous Chinese naval and maritime affairs literature for an understanding of China’s mindset into advancing maritime oil security essential to securing their economic growth.

They direct attention to “Chinese naval and maritime analysts view that PLAN’s capabilities for protecting China’s long oil SLOCs are minimal at present.”

Both authors agree on a need for “cooperation to blunt nonstate threats to maritime oil shipments can help build trust and reduce the potential for state-on-state naval confrontations over energy-supply security.”

A troop unit of the airborne force of the PLA Air Force. Image: PLA Daily

An airborne troop unit of the PLA Air Force. Image: PLA Daily

The Office of the Secretary of Defense has released its annual report to Congress on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China.  The seventy-eight page report outlines China’s quest to modernize its armed forces and improve capabilities.

Key findings in the report:

  • People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is pursuing comprehensive transformation from a mass army designed for protracted wars of attrition on its territory to one capable of fighting and winning short-duration, high-intensity conflicts along its periphery against high-tech adversaries – an approach that China refers to as preparing for “local wars under conditions of informatization.”
  • PLA’s modernization vis-à-vis Taiwan has continued over the past year, including its build-up of short-range missiles opposite the island. In the near-term, China’s armed forces are rapidly developing coercive capabilities for the purpose of deterring Taiwan’s pursuit of de jure independence.
  • The PLA is also developing longer range capabilities that have implications beyond Taiwan. Some of these capabilities have allowed it to contribute cooperatively to the international community’s responsibilities in areas such as peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and counter-piracy.
  • Over the past several years, China has begun a new phase of military development by beginning to articulate roles and missions for the PLA that go beyond China’s immediate territorial interests, but has left unclear to the international community the purposes and objectives of the PLA’s evolving doctrine and capabilities.
  • Moreover, China continues to promulgate incomplete defense expenditure figures and engage in actions that appear inconsistent with its declaratory policies. The limited transparency in China’s military and security affairs poses risks to stability by creating uncertainty and increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation.

The report also mentions construction of a new People’s Liberation Army Navy base on Hainan Island. “The base appears large enough to accommodate a mix of attack and ballistic missile submarines and advanced surface combatant ships. The port, which has underground facilities, would provide the PLA Navy with direct access to vital international sea lanes, and offers the potential for stealthy deployment of submarines into the deep waters of the South China Sea.” p. 49.

Yulin (Sanya) Naval Base on Hainan Island. Image: FAS

Yulin (Sanya) Naval Base on Hainan Island. Image: FAS

The new base means the Chinese want to project power into the South China Sea and Indian Ocean, said Dan Blumenthal, of the American Enterprise Institute who is quoted in Stars and Stripes.

Blumenthal said the move has already made other countries in the region nervous. That includes India, which has begun upgrading its aircraft carriers in response.

Click here to read the report in its entirety.

The Spring 2009 issue of the Naval War College Review is now online.  The following titles have been published: The Navy’s Changing Force Paradigm; The Heart of an Officer: Joint, Interagency, and International Operations and Navy Career Development; Gunboats for China’s New “Grand Canals”? Probing the Intersection of Beijing’s Naval and Oil Security Policies; The Naval Battle of Paris; The Fundamentals of Strategy: The Legacy of Henry Eccles.

[H/T: @NavalWarCollege]