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How to Build a Navy

November 17, 2009
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Chinese Navy destroyer Qingdao (DDG 113).

Strategypage reveals how China is now the world’s largest shipbuilder, proving she has what it takes to potentially create a world class Navy:

Sooner than anyone expected, China has surpassed South Korea as the world’s largest shipbuilder. Currently, Chinese firms have orders for 54.96 million CGT of ships, compared to 53.63 million CGT. Thus China has 34.7 percent of the world market. Since 2000, South Korea has had the largest share of the world shipbuilding market. South Korea took the lead from Japan…

China has invested much money and effort into expanding its merchant shipbuilding industry, as a way to improve its warship building capability. Three years ago, China produced about a quarter of the worlds merchant shipping, while South Korea was in first place, producing about a third. It was then believed that China would take first place in the next 5-10 years.
 The big thing holding China back in the warship building area was the shortage of skilled personnel. By encouraging merchant shipbuilding, the government creates experienced ship builders for the more complex task of building warships.

I don’t know. The way the West builds warships, government sponsored yards which produce 5-6 vessels annually, many very complicated, fueled with nuclear power, is clearly a much better way to maintain the fleet. I’m positive. Definitely. Sigh…

 The major difference between merchant vessels and warships is what equipment they have. Merchant ships are quite basic and plain. A 300,000 DWT VLCC is about the same size as a Nimitz class carrier, but costs much less to build ($130 million for the VLCC, versus over $4 billion for the carrier). Actually, it costs more to run a carrier for one year, than the VLCC costs to build. Part of that has to do with crew size, with the carrier having a hundred sailors for everyone needed to run the VLCC.

Here the idea of “missile barges” or arsenal ships might come into play. China could potentially create a large number of missile firing spartan warships, a handful of radar command motherships, even drone warships which yours truly proposed. This would be a major expansion of a very potent armada at less cost than the US could build a single carrier battlegroup.

(Oh please, let China build carriers. Oh please let them build aircraft carriers!)

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 18, 2009 6:19 am

    War News Updates-You may have been one of the few who got the “half-joke”. If China is obsessed with building a conventional carrier arm, seeing all the trouble the West and India are having fielding modern naval air arms, they would have less time to create asymmetrical forces, like these new missiles, plus submarines which could potentially disrupt our shrinking number of expeditionary ships.

    I don’t think they are that dumb, of course they may have the money to do both.

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 18, 2009 6:13 am

    Tangosix said-“if you would just start talking about larger numbers of cheaper ships instead of larger numbers of smaller ships”

    Thanks and I’ll try to do better, but to me smaller actually does mean cheaper on most occasions. I became thoroughly disgusted with Big Ships when the LCS started pricing up to half a billion and more. I feel that smaller ships would automatically drive down the costs of major warships, which in turn will ensure increased numbers.

    My bias against Big Ships is for the temptation to place ever more exquisite capabilities on board, which has the effect of driving up costs, which is shrinking our fleet size. If we make ships smaller, the planners would be less tempted to fashion the perfect hull form, and concentrate on putting new weapons to sea and more of them. The LCS hull is so exotic with high speed engines, stealth features, modular construction, someone forgot it needed to defend itself. Hence the patrol boat armament.

    Of course, seakeeping and a good stable platform is important, but as we see with the use of corvettes in foreign navies, small ships are good too! We used small warships in all our wars, including in Vietnam in the Delta. Our destroyers are good too, but if you can buy a vessel to do the same anti-piracy mission as a DDG, then you could buy 4-6 for the same price, this only makes sense and you could free up your battleships for contending with peer threats more suitable for their enhanced abilities and giant cost.

    The idea that Big Ships are better seakeepers than small vessels is a true statement, but doesn’t mean that corvettes aren’t good sea boats. Their missions will mostly take place in confined waters anyway, so this reasoning for not building up fleet numbers and forcing our crews to do extra duty on the handful of battleships we can afford, is misguided.

  3. Hudson permalink
    November 18, 2009 2:29 am

    Face it, the Chinese can build anything from toys to satellites and killer-satellites. Matthew S. is right, they are rebuilding everything across the board. If they don’t have the latest computer chip, they’ll steal it and produce it without license. In this regard, they’re like a pirate state. They have the funds to build a Chinese copy of our entire fleet, with our money. Put that in your pork fried rice.

    I don’t see a Sino-American war on the horizon–not yet. They’ll push here and there along the margins and ease us out of Taiwan when the time is right, pocketing their hardware, smiling all the way.

  4. November 17, 2009 11:30 pm

    “They are a generation or three behind the US at least.”

    Maybe so but if current trends continue, where will the Chinese be in 20-30 years? That’s the real question for defense planners. In 20-30 years will they be just one generation behind or will they have achieved parity?

  5. November 17, 2009 11:26 pm

    Hello Mike Burleson,

    sometimes this seems like the “argue with Mike Burleson blog” so I just wanted to say how completely I agreed with this statement of your’s.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “Not feeling as secure in our “technical superiority’ of late. The terrorists have effectively gotten around our overwhelming conventional capability in recent years, forcing us to launch great fleets, air armadas, and armies into the Middle East, and deeper in debt to the country mentioned above. Their war on us is extremely cost-effective, while Britain and the US struggle to replace rapidly aging force structures, with little hope the numbers will return to where they should be.

    As we see with high tech weapons like the LCS and the F-35 JSF, we seem to be getting more mediocre equipment at a gold-plated price. Mediocre isn’t so bad if your troops are well trained and motivated, but exquisite mediocrity gives you less quality and fewer numbers. Also, in terms of ships, every passing decade we are forced to make do with designs which are very ancient, including the 1980s Arleigh Burkes, Perry frigates from the 1970s, and the 1960s era Nimitz class will be around for a LONG time. All good ships, but for the money we spend, you’d think we could have our choice of modern designs.

    But the best equipment seems to becoming from overseas, as we often post here on foreign frigates, submarines, corvettes, amphibious ships, light fighters, ect. These from navies with a far smaller budget than the USN.”

    Now,if you would just start talking about larger numbers of cheaper ships instead of larger numbers of smaller ships,I might agree with you more often!

    tangosix.

  6. November 17, 2009 11:25 pm

    Hello Mike Burleson,

    it is not often that I agree with you so I just wanted to say how completely I agree with this statement.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “Not feeling as secure in our “technical superiority’ of late. The terrorists have effectively gotten around our overwhelming conventional capability in recent years, forcing us to launch great fleets, air armadas, and armies into the Middle East, and deeper in debt to the country mentioned above. Their war on us is extremely cost-effective, while Britain and the US struggle to replace rapidly aging force structures, with little hope the numbers will return to where they should be.

    As we see with high tech weapons like the LCS and the F-35 JSF, we seem to be getting more mediocre equipment at a gold-plated price. Mediocre isn’t so bad if your troops are well trained and motivated, but exquisite mediocrity gives you less quality and fewer numbers. Also, in terms of ships, every passing decade we are forced to make do with designs which are very ancient, including the 1980s Arleigh Burkes, Perry frigates from the 1970s, and the 1960s era Nimitz class will be around for a LONG time. All good ships, but for the money we spend, you’d think we could have our choice of modern designs.

    But the best equipment seems to becoming from overseas, as we often post here on foreign frigates, submarines, corvettes, amphibious ships, light fighters, ect. These from navies with a far smaller budget than the USN.”

    Now,if you would just start talking about larger numbers of cheaper ships instead of larger numbers of smaller ships,I might agree with you more often!

    tangosix.

  7. Chuck Hill permalink
    November 17, 2009 11:04 pm

    Saw a report earlier that they are planning to build large destroyers the size of Burkes or larger.

  8. Joe K. permalink
    November 17, 2009 10:58 pm

    Mike,

    I believe the reason for developing pretty good ships for their small size is largely because they have smaller defense budgets and aren’t as committed to the open seas as we are. So to protect the sovereignty of their waters of course they’d have more incentive to try to build stuff that has capability but fairly lower cost.

    But I’m pretty sure that if their budgets were substantially larger they wouldn’t reserve themselves to a meager fleet of lighter ships when they can go bigger.

  9. November 17, 2009 10:39 pm

    (Oh please, let China build carriers. Oh please let them build aircraft carriers!)

    Good one Mike, I am still laughing.

    But I would also add 5th Generation aircraft, Future Combat Systems, Laser Missile Defense Systems, a fleet of LCSs, some pork spending …. no …. make that a lot of pork spending, and a few little wars here and there.

    When the Chinese are doing all of the above, that is when we know that we have them.

  10. Matthew S. permalink
    November 17, 2009 10:03 pm

    “They are a generation or three behind the US at least. They have been cloning Soviet stuff unsuccessfully for decades now. It would be quite a feat to catch up and then surpass the US. Remember most of the tech built in China is old stuff. You won’t find Intel letting them produce 22nm chips for a few years yet.”

    This above statement is something people were saying in 1995. Its been 14 years and a lot has happened. Look at sinodefence.com and tell me if the Chinese are 1-3 generations behind us. Everything, literally ships, submarines, tanks, IFV’s, howitzers, drones, transport planes, fighter bombers, tankers, assault rifles, ICBM’s are all getting replaced with newer equipment. The Chinese military development is keeping pace with their economic development.

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 17, 2009 6:57 pm

    Not feeling as secure in our “technical superiority’ of late. The terrorists have effectively gotten around our overwhelming conventional capability in recent years, forcing us to launch great fleets, air armadas, and armies into the Middle East, and deeper in debt to the country mentioned above. Their war on us is extremely cost-effective, while Britain and the US struggle to replace rapidly aging force structures, with little hope the numbers will return to where they should be.

    As we see with high tech weapons like the LCS and the F-35 JSF, we seem to be getting more mediocre equipment at a gold-plated price. Mediocre isn’t so bad if your troops are well trained and motivated, but exquisite mediocrity gives you less quality and fewer numbers. Also, in terms of ships, every passing decade we are forced to make do with designs which are very ancient, including the 1980s Arleigh Burkes, Perry frigates from the 1970s, and the 1960s era Nimitz class will be around for a LONG time. All good ships, but for the money we spend, you’d think we could have our choice of modern designs.

    But the best equipment seems to becoming from overseas, as we often post here on foreign frigates, submarines, corvettes, amphibious ships, light fighters, ect. These from navies with a far smaller budget than the USN.

  12. Chuck Hill permalink
    November 17, 2009 6:14 pm

    Years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, looking at the Chinese Navy it struck me that they actually had a much higher percentage of Underway replenishment ships than the Soviets. Even then they were thinking sustained deployment.

  13. November 17, 2009 5:49 pm

    They are a generation or three behind the US at least. They have been cloning Soviet stuff unsuccessfully for decades now. It would be quite a feat to catch up and then surpass the US. Remember most of the tech built in China is old stuff. You won’t find Intel letting them produce 22nm chips for a few years yet.

    What you have to remember is that the Chinese are an industrial power in an information age.

    Their armed forces won’t be effective until they have established a NCO corps.

  14. Matthew S permalink
    November 17, 2009 5:16 pm

    JoeK

    Those quality arguments against China have been used for many years. At some point were going to have to realize that they have pulled even with us technologically and in some ways past us. Look at the destroyers, frigates, armored vehicles, the J-10 etc. They are pulling even at the very least.

  15. Joe K. permalink
    November 17, 2009 4:38 pm

    What’s to say that the shipbuilding efforts of China versus the US actually amount to something?

    It’s a given that their tech is not as advanced or has the same quality as the US. And I already mentioned the bit where their production of submarines was offset by the number they decommissioned (which was actually around 1 sub decommissioned for every 2 built in that time frame). Plus the majority of their craft are the much smaller boats meant for coastal patrol and defense, not the destroyers, cruisers, etc.

    Also they seldom venture outside of their own territorial waters. The last time they ever ventured into the Indian Ocean alone (before their contributions to the anti-piracy operations) was 600 years ago.

    Think CONTEXT.

  16. D. E. Reddick permalink
    November 17, 2009 3:13 pm

    Mike,

    Your wish “(Oh please, let China build carriers. Oh please let them build aircraft carriers!)” appears to be on track. The PLAN has a plan for enabling their pilot aircraft carrier qualifications by working with the Brazilian Navy’s single aircraft carrier NAe Sao Paulo (A12).

    An update on the training of PLAN officers in Brazil.

    Six month ago, it was reported that China and Brazil had reached an agreement to train PLA Naval personnel in Brazil on aircraft carrier operations. The recently reached “five-point consensus” agreement during the Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim’s visit to China seems to add credence to the earlier report.

    http://china-defense.blogspot.com/2009/11/update-on-plan-officers-to-train-on.html

    PLAN Officers to Train on Brazilian Aircraft Carrier

    http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=35116&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=13&cHash=f072084889

    In a May 9 interview with Brazilian defense, strategy and intelligence news website Defasanet, Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim stated that Brazil and China had reached an agreement to train personnel from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in Brazil. In the interview (available in Portuguese), Jobim announced that the two sides reached a training agreement to stage PLAN officers aboard the NAe Sao Paulo, Brazil’s Clemenceau-class aircraft carrier (Defesanet, May 13). There has been no reported official confirmation from the Chinese government concerning this agreement, however, on May 19 the official Xinhua News Agency released a news report in its Spanish portal (no equivalent has been found in the news agency’s Chinese or English portal), which cites remarks that Jobim made to the media about the nature of the plan in question. The Xinhua report cited Jobim as saying that the agreement was reached in April during Navy Admiral Carlos Soares de Moura Neto’s official visit to Qingdao to attend the PLAN’s 60th Anniversary Naval Review (Xinhua News Agency [Spanish], May 20). The defense minister noted that the Chinese wanted aircraft carriers for power projection, and that he hopes naval cooperation between Brazil and China can serve as the gateway for defense cooperation in other areas (Defesanet, May 13, Xinhua News Agency [Spanish], May 20). Jobim is planning a visit to China in September or October, which analysts say is likely to finalize the training agreement.

    China, Brazil reach five-point consensus to strenghten military exchanges

    http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-11/17/content_12471017.htm

    BEIJING, Nov. 16 (Xinhua) — China and Brazil here on Monday reached the five-point consensus to strengthen bilateral military exchanges during talks between their senior military officers.

    Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie held talks with visiting Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim Monday afternoon.

    The two sides have decided to increase group visits and strengthen young and middle-aged military officer exchanges.

  17. Marcase permalink
    November 17, 2009 2:27 pm

    The Arsenal ship concept is certainly attractive. It would also make for an attractive target; without the survivability of a true warship, a single missile or torpedo hit would be enough to turn it into another coral ornament.

    Also, Arsenals require OTH targeting, which require an integrated satelite surveillance and maritime ISR/targeting (MARPAT) network, something the US is very able at attacking.

  18. Scott B. permalink
    November 17, 2009 2:21 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “China could potentially create a large number of missile firing spartan warships, a handful of radar command motherships,”

    Then you’d just have to concentrate your hard kill or jamming effort on a handful of *radar motherships* to turn their entire fleet into so many sitting ducks.

    (Oh please, let China build a fleet entirely made of arsenal ships, radar motherships, with plenty of Type 022 Houbei for good measure !)

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