Tuesday, 30 December 2014

PLAN outnumbering the US Navy

The Chinese navy, the People’s Liberation Army Navy or PLAN, is planning to have 351 ships in active service by 2020. If these numbers are true then the PLAN will outnumber the US Navy. At the moment the US Navy lists 288 ships as deployable, however this number is not correct as it does not include ships under construction or maintenance.
The correct number of US Navy ships in service is open to debate. As a result of budget cuts the US Navy found new ways to count the amount of ships it has in order to preserve it funding. The total US Navy strengths is somewhere around the lower half of 300 ships, depending on what sources and calculation a person takes.

Regardless of the exact number of ships the US Navy has in its inventory, it is indeed in trouble of being outnumbered by the PLAN. The PLAN budget keeps rising every year while that of the US Navy has been decreasing over the past years. China also builds more ships every year then the US Navy can. Stating that the PLAN will outnumber the US Navy by 2020 is becoming more a certainty then a possibility. But even with the US Navy outnumbered the question remains if the US Navy will be out powered by 2020.

US Navy task Force: cruisers and destroyers form the screen of an aircraft carrier

Although the PLAN might have a quantitative superiority over the US Navy in 2020 it will not yet have a qualitative superiority. The PLAN still lags behind in the technological gap that exists between both navies. This gap however might be closed faster than anticipated. China has been taking big steps forward in technology these past years, albeit aided by stealing technology from the United States by cyberattacks. Still, as Chinese weapons and systems become more advanced its navy will start posing a bigger threat.

One must also take in account the major imbalance between the PLAN and the US Navy. The US Navy is a blue water navy for combat on the open ocean and is centered around aircraft carriers, cruisers and nuclear submarines. The PLAN is a green water navy designed to operate between the Chinese mainland and the First Island Chain. The PLAN mainly employs frigate sized warships and diesel-electric submarines. These ships pack a lesser punch in terms of amount of weapons compared to their US Navy counterparts. Although China is trying to build larger destroyers and even cruiser sized warships in an attempt to create a blue water navy task force.

As part of being a blue water navy the US Navy prefers to use carrier aviation to fight its naval battles. With 11 aircraft carriers in service the US Navy vastly out powers the PLAN in this field. The PLAN only has one aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, that can carry only half the amount of aircraft of a US Navy Nimitz class aircraft carrier. More dramatic is the fact that the carrier wing of the Liaoning will only be fully ready for service in 2016. China plans to build 3 more aircraft carriers and it remains unsure if these new aircraft carriers will be of the same design as the Liaoning or if China makes the transition to a nuclear powered aircraft carrier with catapults.

PLAN task forces: frigates are the main units in the PLAN compared to destroyers in the US Navy
The PLAN is however working to close this gap in capabilities. The PLAN currently focus heavily on building air defence frigates and destroyers. The new 052D type destroyer is currently the most advanced air defence destroyer in the PLAN. It is not even sure if the PLAN wishes to develop the same capabilities as the US Navy. The PLAN has always put a great emphasize on missile technology then on carrier aviation. It is possible that the PLAN wishes to use an asymmetric naval warfare in which it overwhelms US Navy ships with massive missile attacks and that carriers will only serve to give local air protection for PLAN warships.

The biggest imbalance in technology and numbers are found in submarines. The PLAN has more submarines then the US Navy has. Unlike the US Navy nuclear submarines, the PLAN uses diesel-electric submarines. These submarines are more quite then their US counterparts and harder to detect. They lack however range and speed to patrol large areas, even with air independent propulsion. Still, the PLAN knows how to build modern submarines and with luck and skillful positioning these submarines can be deployed in ambushes against US Navy task forces. In the past PLAN submarines already succeeded in surfacing inside a US carrier task force and simulate an attack.

The PLAN is working to modernize its nuclear submarine forces. New submarine designs are being made but no real construction has begun. Even these new nuclear submarine types will still be outdated compared to the modern US Navy nuclear submarines but they will still be a vast improvement over the PLANs current nuclear submarines.

Even with the US outnumbered against China, the US Navy still has allies that can fill in the missing numbers. Both South-Korea, Japan and Australia have modern navies and are working close with the US Navy. China on the other hand can only count on allies like North Korea and Russia. The former being an unreliable partner with a small and outdated navy, the later lacking any significant numbers at the moment.

The PLAN is planning to outnumber the US Navy by 2020. Given its higher budget increases and faster ship building capability this news doesn’t come as a surprise. Even outnumbers the US Navy can still contain the PLAN as it is a technological more advanced navy. The PLAN is however working hard in closing the technological gap, sometimes even aided by technology theft through cyberattacks.
The PLAN is also a green water navy, operating smaller ships with lesser weapon systems on them as compared to the US Navy which is a blue water navy operating larger warships. China will counter this by developing a missile centric approach instead of a focus on carrier aviation, a field in which China will continue to lag behind the US Navy for the next decades.
Chinese submarines are less advanced then the US nuclear submarines but they are modern, hard to detect and capable of suppressing US task forces.  China will continue to develop its submarines, even its outdated nuclear submarine forces in an effort to close the technologic gap.
Even outnumbered the US Navy can still count on several allies with modern navies whom are capable to contain the PLAN within the first island chain. China however lacks such allies.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Overview of the Baltic States navies

General overview

The Baltic states compose of 3 small countries: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These countries have small economies and can economically not afford a large standing navy, especially when the armed forces of these countries are all focused on the army and how to deter Russia.
All three countries have a focus on mine countermeasure (MCM) warfare. As a part this task has been historically since the Baltic Sea is covered with sea mines from both World Wars and the Cold War. In a more modern approach MCM has the current relevance in keeping the Baltic ports open for both trade as well as an economic window with the western world. The ports also serve as points of debarkation for EU and NATO forces in case of any crisis.
Only Lithuania and Latvia have the capability to patrol their coastal waters with special patrol boats. Both countries operate modular ships in an attempt to increase their operational capabilities.
In general it is clear that the Baltic navies can keep their own waters free of mines but when it comes to powerfully enforcing their own sovereignity in their coastal waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) then these countries require the aid and protection of frigates and destroyers, supplied by other EU navies.


The Estonian navy is mainly focused on minesweeping and mine hunting. Since the Baltic Sea is covered with sea mines from both World Wars and the Cold War this is not a surprise. At the same time the port of Tallinn is the only major port in Estonia and both the port as its approaches can be blocked by sea mines.
The Estonian Navy has therefore in the past 10 years made a strong contribution to the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasure Groups (SNMCMG). It has also taken part in several operations aimed to integrate the maritime forces in the Baltic Region as well as cooperation with other EU and NATO partners. These operations include BALTOPS, Open Spirit and Northern Coasts.

The Estonian navy only operates 5 different ships. The main units are the 3 minehunters of the British Sandown class. These ships were laid down in 1988, 1990 and 1992 and transferred to the Estonian Navy between 2006-2009. Although these ships are 26 to 20 years old they still have an expected life service for another 10 to 15 years, depending on the wear and tear and quality of the maintenance. Still, around the 2025 timeframe the Estonian navy will be forced to start looking for replacements.
Admiral Cowan: one of three Estonian minehunters

Also in service with the Estonian navy are the two Danish build diving ships that are part of the mineships division of the Estonian Navy. These two ships of the Lindormen class are built in 1977 and transferred in 2006 and 2009 to the Estonian Navy. One of these ships is currently in reserve. The author didn’t managed to get any details about these two ships but these ships,  given their age of 37 years, are also in need of replacement in the next coming years.


Just like Estonia, Latvia has a focus on mine countermeasure warfare although it also operates a small contingent of (coastal) patrol boats. Unlike the Estonian navy sole focus on MCM operations, the Latvian navy is tasked with blocking harbors and shipping routes in case of crisis as well as providing control, surveillance and intelligence of inner and territorial waters and the economic zone, and providing Coast Guard functions.

The major units in the Latvian navy are the 5 tripartite minehunters it received from the Dutch Navy in the 2007-2011 timeframe. These are the same class of minehunters that are also in use by the Dutch, Belgian and French navy. Build in 1984, these vessels are currently 30 years old. Given the fact that both the Dutch as the Belgian navy are planning to replace these vessels in their own navies around the 2020 timeframe then one can expect that Latvia will follow this move and start looking for new minehunters around the 2020-2025 timeframe.

The 5 patrol boats of the Skrunda class form the other major part of the Latvian navy. These ships are aimed to patrol the coastal waters and enforce Latvian law such as fisheries inspections, search and rescue, sovereignty enforcement and other tasks.  Build between 2009 and 2013 these are the most modern ships in the Latvian navy. These ships are also capable to carry a mission module the size of a 20ft ISO container and a weight up to 6 tons. This allows each ship to carry a mission module tailor made for each type of mission ranging up from weapon systems, hydrographic survey or even supporting equipment for divers.

Skrunda class patrol boats

The Virsaitis  class minelayer dates back from 1978 and was transferred from Norway to the Latvian navy in 2003. The ship currently serves as the command and support vessel although it is still capable of performing the task of lying mines.
The Varonis dates back from 1973 and entered service in 2004 after having served in the Dutch navy and serves now as a logistics and training vessel.


The main element of the Lithuanian navy are the 3 ships of the Danish Flyvefisken class patrol vessels, also known as the Standard Flex  300 class. These ships were transferred to the Lithuanian navy in the 2008-2010 timeframe. Although these ships are built between 1985 and 1995 they are still in a good condition. The main advantage of the Standard Flex  300 is that it is capable of carrying mission modules in containers, allowing these ships to change their roles in a 48 hour timeframe. These ships can either be used for surveillance and combat against light enemy warships or to perform MCM or minelaying operations. They even have the capability to carry Harpoon missiles and light weight torpedo’s.
P12 Dzukas: a Standard Flex 300 patrol boat

Like it’s two Baltic neighbors, the Lithuanian navy also has a MCM capacity that is currently in the process of being upgraded. The two Lindau class minesweepers dating back from 1957 are replaced by two Hunt class minehunters from the Royal Navy. However, these two ships will be in need of replacement in the 2020-2025 timeframe given the fact that they date back from 1982 and are already 32 years old. Nevertheless is the transition from minesweeping to minehunting already a big improvement for the Lithuanian navy. Before these two minehunters were delivered they underwent upgrades both in sonar, weapons as machinery.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Australian Navy integreating itself in the US Navy

Australia has been aligning itself with the Unites States ever since World War 2. The latest developments and acquisitions by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) will further integrate the RAN with the United States Navy (USN).

Among the latest acquirements of the RAN the following weapon systems can be found: The SM-6 missile, the F-35B aircraft and the AEGIS system. This means that the RAN will not only operate the same weapons as the USN but also have the same control systems to operate these weapons. This allows the RAN to integrate its naval forces quickly in any USN task force. US naval commanders can immediately calculate the extra fighting power the RAN brings to their task forces and make a correct assessment of its offensive and defensive capabilities.
Hobart class destroyer: although a copy of the Spanish
Alvaro de Bazan class frigate it will be equiped with
United States weapons

The acquisition of the F-35B deserves a special note. A new concept in the US Navy, called NIF-CA (Naval Integrated Fires-Counter-Air), will also become available to the RAN. NIF-CA is a special set up that gathers all data by every sensor the fleet or task force can deploy and shares this integrated picture with all users. The F-35B plays a key role in the NIF-CA. Every plane will act as a sensor and they all share their information over the same network. Commanders thus get a far better integrated picture of what is out there. This translates itself in a better situational awareness and deployment of weapon systems.
Just as the F-35B the SM-6 missile plays a key part in the NIF-CA concept. The SM-6 is designed to operate beyond the radar horizon of the ship that fires the missile. It is steered by data link towards the area it needs to be deployed and can use its own active seeker in the last phase of the attack. This can only be done in a scenario where the firing ship has a clear situation awareness and receives information of sensors deployed beyond its own sensor horizon.
The F-35B and SM-6 missile therefor allow the RAN to not only integrate themselves in the US Navy but also to deploy themselves in the new NIF-CA concept.

The most important fact of the RAN capable in joining the NIF-CA concept is that it gives the RAN an edge when confronting the Chinese Navy (PLAN). As the PLAN can bring more planes and ships to any theatre of operations the RAN needs do deploy itself very carefully and use quality to beat the Chinese quantity. NIF-CA allows ships and task forces to have a far better situational awareness then other naval task forces. Every F-35B acts as both a sensor and a node in the network so the loss of several F-35Bs will not have a dramatic impact on the situational awareness as long as other F-35Bs can cover the area. A better situational awareness over greater distances and being able to deploy weapons beyond the ships radar horizon, thanks to the network provided by NIF-CA, allows the RAN to detect and engage the PLAN long before the PLAN can even detect, let alone shoot back at, the RAN.

By integrating themselves with the US Navy in both weapon systems as well as the new NIF-CA concept the RAN is capable to create a capable deterrence against the PLAN, whom is viewed as the most destabilizing force in the Pacific over the next years.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Overview of the Swedish Navy

The Swedish Navy is one of the biggest navies in the Baltic Sea together with the Russian Baltic Fleet. These two countries alone have more naval power then their neighbors and as such they determine the balance of power in the Baltic Sea.
The Swedish armed forces face themselves in a strange situation. On one side they are not a NATO member but on the other hand they are a part of the European Union (EU) of whom most member states are NATO members. This complicated situation means that in case of war involving NATO, Sweden would be neutral but any war involving the EU would mean Sweden does have to be involved as well. This makes defense politicians wonder in what kind of scenario’s Sweden would be involved in which ones they would remain neutral.
Thus Sweden poses a great unknown in the Baltic Sea. It is therefore important to understand the strength of the Swedish Navy in order to understand what military force Sweden can decide to deploy inside the Baltic Sea and beyond.
The Swedish Navy has in its inventory a decent arsenal of diesel-electric submarines.
The oldest submarines in the Swedish navy are the 2 Södermanland class submarines (or the A-17 class) . Originally constructed in 1988, these submarines underwent a major modernization program in 2003-2004 with the installation of air-independent propulsion (AIP), allowing these submarines to stay under water for several weeks. Also during these modernizations there was an update on their filter systems and cooling units. These are now converted to operate optimally with cooler, less saline water. As such, these submarines are well suited to operate in the northern Atlantic Ocean or Baltic Sea, meaning their mean adversary would be the Russian Navy. These 2 submarines are planned to be retired around 2019-2020 and will be replaced by a new class of submarines.
The 3 submarines of the Gotland class (A-19) are the backbone of the Swedish submarines. Commissioned in 1996, these submarines operate with AIP. Their engines can use the surrounding sea water as a heat sink, therefore diminishing the need for cooling pumps, generally believed to be the loudest piece of equipment on board of a submarine. A high degree of automation on these submarines allow them to operate with a minimum crew. In retrospect, a diminished crew allowed to build better living spaces on board which in turn improves the overall endurance of the crew.
The Gotland class operates two type of weapons. The four 533mm torpedo tubes are used to fire anti-ship torpedo’s. These torpedo’s are wire guided and can be steered on their target from the submarine. The two smaller 400mm torpedo tubes are used to fire anti-submarine torpedo’s.
All 3 Gotland class submarines are planned to be overhauled to increase their life span to 2025. The overhaul is currently ongoing and is expected to end in 2017.
Gotland class submarine
Two new A-26 class submarines are currently being constructed in order to replace the two older Södermanland class submarines.
Given the nature of the Swedish coastline, small corvettes are more suited to defend the littoral waters and protect the Swedish sovereignty. Sweden can rely on a small but modern and well equipped force of corvettes to protect its shores.
Commissioned in 1986, the two Stockholm class corvettes are the oldest corvettes in the Swedish Navy. These two corvettes were rebuild and modernized in the 1999-2002 period and are capable of serving in the Swedish Navy until halfway the 2010’s. Armed with anti-ship missiles and a 57mm gun these ships are designed for anti-surface warfare.
Just like the Stockholm class, the last two remaining Götenborg class corvettes are designed for littoral combat and anti-surface warfare. Commissioned in 1990 and 1993 these ships are going through a mid-life modernization to extend their service life to the mid 2020’s.
The by far most renowned corvettes in the Swedish surface fleet are the Visby class corvettes. These five stealth corvettes are Swedish most modern vessels. The main role of these ships are mine countermeasures (MCM) and anti-submarine warfare. This emphasizes Sweden’s view on its Baltic position in which many mines can still be founds and many nations have quite submarines, as lately has been proven by what was thought to be a Russian midget submarine operating in Swedish territorial waters.
For the anti-surface warfare capabilities the Visby class relies on anti-ship missiles and a 57mm gun. The ship can also deploy 400mm torpedo’s, depth charges and rocket-powered grenade launchers to perform an anti-submarine warfare role. The Visby class is also capable of letting helicopters land, refuel and take off from its deck but lacks a hangar to store a helicopter.
Visby class stealth corvettes
In the future the Swedish Navy plans to replace their two Götenborg class corvettes with two K-40 class corvettes. The K-40 is envisioned to be an enlarged Visby class corvette up to a frigate size. The commissioning of these two vessels is planned in the mid 2020’s.
Other ships
The Swedish Navy can, aside from the previous mentioned main naval forces, count on several other vessels. 12 Trapper class coastal patrol boats with machineguns as well anti-submarine rockets, depth charges and mines add another force capable of defending and patrolling the Swedish coast. Adding to this capacity are up to 147 CB90 combat patrol boats and although these belong to the Swedish Naval Brigade, they can be used to patrol the coast as well.
Sweden can also count on 5 minehunters from the Koster class to deal with any mine treath. The most important support ships are the Orion that can collect intelligence and the Belos that is being used as submarine rescue ship.
The Swedish Navy operates two distinct navies. It’s green water navy with diesel-electric submarines and modern corvettes are all aimed to operate in the Baltic Sea. It’s brown water navy of patrol boats  are used for coastal defense as well as patrols in the littoral.
Sweden is a neutral country, and it has the tools to enforce its neutrality. However at the same time Sweden is carefully looking towards the Russian Baltic Fleet. As Sweden and Russia have always been at odds with each other it is naturally that Sweden views the Russians as their main opponent. As such, Sweden will always try to match the Russian combat power in the Baltic Sea both in numbers as well as in quality.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Russia's assertive stance in the Pacific

The recent appearance of a group of Russian warships in the Coral Sea near Australia not only came as a surprise to most people but it also signifies that the Russian Pacific Fleet still is a player to be recognized in this area.

The Russian task force comprised  the missile cruiser Varyag, the destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov, the tanker Boris Butoma and the fleet tug Foty Krylov.
In itself, this task force seems small but the Varyag missile cruiser packs enough firepower to engage and win a battle against an carrier task group. By sending a large and powerful ship, the Russians are making a keen political statement aimed at Australia.

Russia's Missile cruiser Varyag

Given the fact that Australian prime minister Tony Abbott threatened to confront his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin over the MH17 plane attack a couple of weeks before the summit, the appearance of this Russian task force, just days before a G20 summit in Australia sends a powerful message. It tells Australia that, given Russia’s military might, annoying the Kremlin too much could result in a Russian naval presence that has an impact on Australia’s security.

At the same time Russia is sending also a message to the rest of the world, namely that it still is a military power in the Pacific to be recognized with. Although the Russian Pacific Fleet cannot match the strength of the Chinese fleet or the US Pacific Fleet it is still a capable force. As the Russian navy is expanding it is also trying to expand its Pacific Fleet. New ballistic missile submarines of the Borei class will be stationed in the Pacific, being able to deter both China and the United States whilst operating from their naval base at the Kamchatka Peninsula. Also the first of Russia’s Mistral class amphibious warships are planned to serve in the Pacific Ocean.

Taking on a secondary place in the Pacific, Russia finds itself in the same position as Japan, South Korea and Australia. All these countries have a decent navy but none of them are powerful enough to confront the Chinese or the Americans on their own.
Russia’s assertive use of military means to bolster its political position will mean that these incidents will only occur more frequent. We can expect that within the coming years we will see more Russian military maneuvers with warships operating deeper in the Pacific.