Growing Asymmetries in the China-Japan Naval Balance emailEmail this article printPrint this article by Richard Fisher, Jr. Published on November 22nd, 2005 ARTICLES China’s increasingly conspicuous assertion of claims to maritime territorial and resource areas adjacent to those claimed by Japan highlights both the increasing potential for maritime incidents, and the growing asymmetries in the China-Japan naval balance. In 2005 it would appear that Japan has the decisive edge over China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). The well-equipped Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) is widely respected for its professionalism and the experience derived from years of intensive training with the U.S. Navy. In addition, the longstanding presence of a U.S. Navy 7th Fleet aircraft carrier battle group in Yokosuka would seemingly compensate for any JMSDF deficiency. Today, the Japanese Navy would appear to have a decisive advantage in the areas of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-air warfare (AAW) over the PLAN. However, with respect to anti-ship missiles the advantage goes to the PLAN, which also looks set to challenge JMSDF capabilities in the submarine and naval air power balance. China’s reported development of anti-ship ballistic missiles poses a challenge that neither the JMSDF nor the U.S. Navy can counter today. China’s Increasing Assertiveness in the East China Sea On January 22, 2005 a JMSDF P-3C ORION ASW aircraft spotted a PLAN SOVREMENNIY class destroyer in the disputed Chunxiao gas field area. On September 9, 2005 a JMSDF P-3C spotted five PLAN warships near the disputed Chunxiao gas field in the East China Sea, about 290 nm Northwest of Kume Island, Okinawa Prefecture. The group consisted of a the new SOVREMENNIY class destroyer No. 137, two older JIANGHU class frigates, the new replenishment ship No. 886 and a new electronic/signals intelligence and space tracking ship No. 851. According to one Japanese report a PLAN frigate pointed its 100mm gun at a Japanese P-3. Japan did not respond to this show of force. China has reportedly created an "East China Sea Reserve Squadron" within its East Sea Fleet for this type of operation. Please login to see links and more information. Please login to see links and more information. Please login to see links and more information. September 2005: Japanese P-3 aircraft shadow the PLAN force deployed to assert China’s claims to the Chunxiao gas fields in early September 2005. Source: Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force This incident was in sharp contrast to the morning of November 9, 2004, when a force of JMSDF destroyers and ASW aircraft tracked a PLAN HAN-class nuclear attack submarine (SSN) for several hours as it passed through Japanese territorial waters near Ishigaki Island, Okinawa Prefecture. The incident caused a furor in Japan, with Japanese leaders demanding and receiving a meek Chinese apology. According to Japanese sources, HAN class SSN No. 405 was conducting a considered operation to test U.S. and Japanese reactions by circumnavigating Guam and then deliberately making a sharp detour into Japanese waters. These sources noted the operation was commanded by PLAN Commander Admiral Zhang Dingfa and thus must have had the approval of the PLA’s Central Military Commission, which is led by Chinese President Hu Jintao. HAN No. 405 remains very noisy for an SSN, even though it emerged from a refit in 2002 and is the most well outfitted version. It appears that the U.S. tracked No. 405 from the beginning of its journey and handed the track to waiting Japanese naval forces. November 2004: According to Japanese sources Han-class SSN No. 405 circumnavigated Guam and then made a sharp detour to cut through Japanese territorial waters. This late 2004 photo shows the crew on the deck of a Han-class SSN. Source: Internet From April to September 2005 the Japanese Air Self Defense force (JASDF) had to scramble interceptors 30 times to turn away Chinese aircraft approaching Japanese airspace, up from about 13 times in 2004, and the previous five years which saw only one or two such intercepts a year. For a seven month period in 2004, it was reported that 25 Chinese survey ships had entered waters within Japan’s claimed economic exclusion zone (EEZ), a four-fold increase over 2003. Most of these incursions were around Okinotori Island, and there was speculation the PLA Navy was surveying the seabed to support future PLAN submarine operations aimed at preventing the U.S. Navy from coming to the defense of Taiwan. Dangers of Confrontation From its 1975 strike which took the Paracel Islands away from a foundering South Vietnamese government to its 1995 occupation of Mischief Reef in the Philippine EEZ, China has combined periods of military assertion with periods of intense diplomacy to promote acceptance of a new "status quo" and quell anger at is claims to most of the South China Sea. At the time of China’s military actions, neither South Vietnam nor the Philippines had the means to stop or contest China’s moves. In 1988 when China swept Vietnamese troops out of several areas in the Spratly Island chain, China also chose to apply superior force to overcome the defenders. Therefore in examining the China-Japan naval balance, a critical task is the identification potentially dangerous asymmetries that could tempt China to strike. New Status Quo: After China took the Paracel Island group away from South Vietnam in 1974, it built an airbase on Woody Island, that could now launch fighter bombers to attack Taiwan or to attack Japanese shipping that rely on nearby sea lanes. Source: Internet Differing Missions Japan’s balanced naval force of about 45 destroyers, 9 frigates and 16-17 submarines are divided into four Escort Flotilla’s designed to protect shipping lanes in concert with shore-based ASW and strike aircraft, and to work in cooperation with U.S. naval forces. Anti-submarine warfare is the main mission for Japanese surface warships though most have a balanced complement of ASW, anti-air and anti-surface weaponry. Most now carry at least one SH-60J ASW helicopter. The JMSDF operates about 80 P-3C ORION ASW aircraft and can call on three squadrons, or about 60 Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) fighters equipped to carry medium-range anti-ship missiles. Four new B-767 based airborne early warning and control system (AWACS), ten E-2C HAWKEYE AWACS plus a number on electronic/signals intelligence aircraft can provide persistent surveillance for the fleet. Japan is now building two 13,500ton helicopter carrying ASW cruisers but would a need larger ship to support either AV-8B HARRIER or F-35B short take-off capable Joint Strike Fighters. The PLAN was long dominated by doctrines and forces that stressed coastal defenses. But today its fleet of about 70 submarines, 25 destroyers and 44 frigates, divided into North Sea, East Sea and South Sea Fleets, is developing the doctrines and capabilities needed to dominate the "First Island Chain," which would extend to Okinawa, and then the "Second Island Chain," extending that line to Guam. PLAN naval doctrine appears to emphasize Sea Denial strategies with a potential move toward active support for nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). This later mission would most likely require PLA dominance of the Northern Yellow Sea or the area south of Hainan Island, the most likely base areas for SSBNs. The PLAN stresses submarines for anti-ship missions with the current goal of being able to increasingly coordinate long-range missiles strikes by subs, ships and strike aircraft. The PLAN has some Y-8 based maritime patrol aircraft, about 6 to 8 Y-8 based airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft and is now producing new versions of the Y-8 to support electronic and signals intelligence (ELINT/SIGINT) gathering missions, which could be combined to compliment shore and ship-based ELINT/SIGINT platforms to provide persistent surveillance. In the near future PLA Air Force (PLAAF) KLJ-2000 (Il-76) AWACS and KLJ-200 (Y-8) AWACS could also support the PLAN. The PLAN has an organic air strike force of 24 Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30MKK2 fighter-bombers and about 60 Xian JH-7 missile-carrying fighter bombers. It could also call on over 70 PLAAF Su-30MKKs and a growing number of JH-7A fighter-bombers. Wild cards would include possible acquisition of Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 BACKFIRE supersonic bombers, Tu-142 long-range ASW/strike bombers, or a near-term conversion of the partially-built Soviet/Ukrainian aircraft carrier Varyag, now in Dalian harbor, into an active aircraft carrier. Anti Ship Missiles A key area in which the PLAN has an advantage over the JMSDF is in anti-ship missiles. As the chart below illustrates, China is now acquiring Russian and domestic anti-ship missiles that out-range and out-punch both Japanese and U.S. anti-ship missiles. Reportedly, U.S. SSNs no longer carry the sub-launched TOMOHAWK or HARPOON anti-ship missile. China is now marketing its 280km range YJ-62 (C-602) anti-ship missile, which may also form the basis for basis for a longer-range Land Attack Cruise Missile (LACM) family for the PLAN and PLA Air Force (PLAAF). In PLAN service this missile’s range is likely greater than 300km. And while the 40km range YJ-81Q sub-launched anti-ship missile is known, there may also be a sub-launched version of the 120km range YJ-82. Of particular concern are the PLAN’s new Russian Raduga 3M-80E MOSKIT on its SOVREMENNIY destroyers and the Novator 3M-54 CLUB-S supersonic anti-ship missiles that will arm the 8 Project 636M KILO submarines now being delivered to China. Both missiles are capable of high-speed "jinxing" maneuvers which greatly complicate ship defenses. Both Japanese and U.S. naval Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), centered on the 20mm gatling gun PHALANX system, can deal with subsonic missiles but may not be capable of defeating the PLAN’s newer Russian maneuverable supersonic missiles. Please login to see links and more information. Please login to see links and more information. PLAN’s Long Arm, Novator 3M-54E: The 220km range and supersonic 3M-54E is now entering PLAN service on its 8 new Kilo 636M submarines, which may all be delivered in 2006. Source: RD Fisher and Internet While this advantage might not be decisive if the full force of U.S. and Japanese airpower came into play, there are situations in which the "longest boxing arm" could prove critical. For example, should both PLAN and JSMDF ships deploy in a stand-off over the disputed area of the Chunxiao gas field, amid a period of crisis diplomacy, China might be tempted to ambush a Japanese ship with its longer range missiles, expecting that Washington or other Asian capitals would then pressure calm on Tokyo’s part to avert a larger conflict. China is also interested in purchasing the Russian Kamov Ka-31 airborne early warning (AEW) radar helicopter, which would give even a small "Reserve Squadron" the ability to achieve the situational awareness needed to prosecute a limited engagement. Please login to see links and more information. Please login to see links and more information. PLAN’s Long Arm, YJ-62: The 280+km range YJ-62 may now be entering PLAN service on the LUYANG 2 class air defense destroyer, and perhaps, soon in an air-launched version. Source: Internet Another developing area of PLA superiority may be in the area of anti-ship ballistic missiles. In 2004 the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) warned "…Chinese writings state China intends to develop the capability to attack ships, including carrier strike groups, in the waters around Taiwan using conventional theater ballistic missiles (TBMs) as part of a combined-arms campaign." This fear was also echoed in the 2005 Pentagon report on PLA modernization. Candidate missiles include the 600km range DF-15, 1,000km range DF-15 Mod 1 and the 2,000+km range DF-21C solid-fuel mobile ballistic missiles. ONI fears the PLA is developing a maneuverable ballistic missile warhead that also contains a terminal guidance system that apparently may use both active and passive radar. While the PLA may be capable of building such a missile, to do so would require very advanced guidance and surveillance systems. However, today neither the JMSDF nor the U.S. Navy has the means to defend against anti-ship ballistic missiles. Successful acquisition of this capability by the PLA would serve to undermine both the deterrent capabilities of the Japanese and U.S. navies. Submarines Another area where the PLAN is developing a superiority is submarines. By 2010 the PLAN could possess a fleet of modern SSKs over twice the size of Japan’s, supplemented by several of its new second generation SSN. Submarines can operate independently to pick-off unsuspecting targets, or in concert with ships and aircraft to attack larger enemy formations. But as it will possess a force of capable nuclear powered submarines, the PLAN will have the future potential of being able to attempt interdiction of all of Japan’s major sea lines of communication to the Persian Gulf and possibly beyond. The JMSDF has a highly professional submarine force that is proficient in anti-submarine as well as anti-surface work. They are also a force that complements the surface fleet; the JSMDF does work on coordinated ship-sub-aircraft operations. But Japan’s submarines are also small and unsuited for wide-ranging patrols. This force is comprised today of about 16 to 17 conventional subs in three classes. The most modern is the OYASHIO class of which 11 are expected to be launched by 2006. Thought to be among the best SSKs in the world, they reportedly can dive to 400m and are equipped with a sophisticated sonar suite to include a towed array—optimal for detecting other submarines. They are also outfitted with advanced quieting technologies, like anechoic tiles, and armed with six 533mm torpedo tubes. By 2007 Japan is expected to launch an improved OYASHIO equipped with a Swedish Stirling air-independent propulsion (AIP) engine that will allow many days of submerged operations, where as the earlier versions must surface to recharge batteries--a vulnerability shared by every other Japanese submarine. These may begin to replace the 7 HARUSHIO class SSKs, which while optimized for ASW work, can only dive to about 350m and are not all equipped with advanced quieting gear. While Japan’s submarines are armed with the respectable 120km range HARPOON anti-ship missile, they lack a long-range anti-submarine missile like the Novator 91RE1 that will arm new PLAN KILO submarines and possibly YUAN class SSKs. At this point Japan has no public plans to develop nuclear-powered attack submarines that would allow for longer-range missions, but there are former Japanese naval officials who publicly advocate this option. Please login to see links and more information. JMSDF Ohyashio Class SSK: Japan’s most modern submarine will soon have air independent propulsion, but will remain tied to defensive doctrines and missions due to their size. Source: Internet Numbering about 70, the PLAN’s submarine force outnumbers that of Japan’s. This number should hold until 2010, but the difference will be a much higher proportion of modern conventional and nuclear submarines. Today most PLAN submarines are of the obsolete and noisy Type 033 (@20) and Type 035 SSKs (@20) which are being supplanted. While Type 035 No. 361 suffered a grievious accident, losing its crew in April 2003, this submarine class deserves respect. It has been upgraded with French sonar and could serve as a decoy to divert enemy forces or to flush-out enemy submarines. Please login to see links and more information. YJ-82Q ?? : While the PLAN is known to arm its Type 039 SSKs with the 40km range YJ-81Q anti-ship missile, this photo of a model from a brochure released at the 2004 Zhuhai Airshow indicates there may be a sub-launched version of the 120km range YJ-82 anti-ship missile. Source: RD Fisher The PLAN now has about 12 to 14 modern Type 039 SONG attack submarines and recently expanded production of this type to a second shipyard, that could support annual production of 2 to 3. The Type 039 has benefited from some foreign assistance, including Israeli electronic and design assistance, German diesel engines and very likely, German design assistance to correct the Israeli assistance. It incorporates modern quieting technology like a 7-blade skewed propeller, anechoic tiling, and is equipped with extensive digital command and sonar processing equipment, and is armed with the YJ-81Q, and perhaps the YJ-82Q anti-ship missile. Having purchased four Russian KILO class submarines in the late 1990s, the PLAN is now receiving the first of 8 Project 636M KILO submarines ordered in 2002. Known for their quiet and combat-survivable design, the 636M will be armed with the formidable Novator CLUB-S anti-ship, land-attack and ASW missile system. There could be follow-on orders for the KILO after the 8 are delivered, most likely by 2006. But in 2004 the PLAN launched the first of its new YUAN class, which bears a suspicious resemblance to Russia’s new Project 677 LADA class SSK. Inasmuch as the 677 incorporates improved crew-reducing automation, better sonar, and in the future, AIP systems, it can be surmised that the YUAN may benefit from all these technologies. This analyst estimates that by 2010 the PLAN could possess at least 35 new and far more capable SSKs. Please login to see links and more information. Please login to see links and more information. Modern PLAN SSKs: New Type 039 SONG SSKs are now being produced in two shipyards and the new YUAN was recently photographed in trials at a North Sea Fleet base. Source: Internet Far less is known about the PLAN’s second-generation SSN, known as the Type 093, or SHANG class by its U.S. Navy designator. According to Asian sources two were launched by late 2003, with a third being built at that time. Some sources estimate five will be built, but inasmuch as the PLAN is believed to be building a second nuclear submarine base on Hainan Island, it stands to reason that more Type 093s, or a successor class, could be built. U.S. sources have noted the Type 093 will benefit from extensive Russian assistance, especially in its nuclear power plant. And while U.S. sources note it will approximate the capability of the Soviet/Russian VICTOR III SSN, could it also be possible the Type 093 may benefit from better SSN technologies Russia is developing for its new 4th generation Project 885 SEVERDOVINSK class SSN? This is suggested by Russia’s increasing willingness to sell China its most advanced military technologies, and the fact that Project 885 production has seen a recent revival, raising the possibility that this was made possible by Chinese funding. Should the 093’s performance exceed that of the VICTOR III that would present a new and serious challenge to the ability of new U.S. SSNs to contain the PLAN. Offensive/Defensive Air Power An additional area where the PLAN is building a superiority over Japan’s forces is in the ability to support its naval forces with offensive and defensive airpower. Regarding offensive airpower, Japan has historically relied on the United States, as required by its "pacifist" constitution. This has meant that Japanese combat aircraft have lacked the ability to attack far-away targets. The most capable air-launched anti-ship missile to equip JASDF fighters is the 65km range ASM-1C missile. At this range JSMDF aircraft would be exposed to newer PLAN anti-aircraft missiles like the Russian-made 120km range RIF-M, soon to enter service on two new Type 051C DDGs. By 2007 the PLAN will have ten new destroyers that may carry up to 480 new medium range and long-range anti-aircraft missiles. The U.S.-made 130km range HARPOON is carried by the very slow P-3C ASW aircraft. Please login to see links and more information. Please login to see links and more information. Japanese F-15Js Are Vulnerable: Japan is just starting to modify some of its F-15J fighters to carry modern medium-range self-guided AAM-4 anti-air missiles, but it is not clear when they will have helmet-sighted short-range missiles, both of which now arm the latest PLA fighters. Source: TRDI and Internet While JASDF units have a high professional reputation, and have increased their exercise participation with U.S. air forces in recent years, in weaponry they would today enter combat with PLA fighters at a potential disadvantage. Japan is beginning to examine the purchase of a new air-superiority fighter to succeed its 70 or so F-4EJ fighters. This acquisition program may begin as early as 2008. Japan is considering the purchase of the Lockheed-Martin F/A-22 RAPTOR and the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Joint Strike fighter, even though the later would not be available until after 2013. The Boeing F-15, F/A-18E/F and Eurofighter TYPHOON are also being considered. The F/A-22 is now in production, and thus available. It’s advanced stealth, phased array radar, and ability to "supercruise" as supersonic speeds for extended periods would assure Japanese air superiority over PLAAF fighters for most of the next decade, but it is also the most expensive fighter to purchase. Purchase of the F-35 would give Japan the option to build larger aircraft carrying ships, as two F-35 versions would be carrier compatible. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Lockheed-Martin are also proposing a far more capable version of the multi-role F-2 fighter, but this program has recently been cut back from 130 to 96 aircraft. On area where Japan has aerial superiority over the PLA is in ASW and maritime patrol aircraft. The JMSDF’s 80 or so P-3C ORIONs are among the most modern and capable ASW patrol aircraft in the world, and their crews receive constant training in their mission. While vulnerable to modern PLAAF fighters, the P-3C force would provide long-range radar coverage to support surface ships. The PLAAF currently lacks a dedicated ASW patrol aircraft. It does maintain a small number of Y-8 based maritime patrol aircraft, and is beginning to modify increasing numbers of Y-8s for ELINT/SIGINT and electronic warfare missions. The PLA is going to purchase a small number of Beriev Be-200 turbofan powered amphibious aircraft, but it is not clear these will be able to carry significant armament. However, their ability to land at sea means they can be used to rapidly deploy Special Forces to occupy small contested outcroppings and begin the construction of larger territorial markers or even small bases. Please login to see links and more information. Please login to see links and more information. P-3s and Y-8s: While JMSDF P-3Cs are the numerically and technologically superior ASW patrol platform, the PLA is now rapidly building new variants of the Shaanxi Y-8 for AWACS, ELINT/SIGINT and submarine communications missions. Source: Internet The PLA is now building a formidable capability for naval air strike in East China Sea or against bases on Okinawa. Combined, the PLAAF and PLANAF have about 100 Su-30MKK and Su-30MKK2 fighter-bombers. At medium fuel-states the Su-30 is more maneuverable than the F-15, an advantage accentuated by its possession of helmet-sighted missiles and the R-77 medium range AAM. In some scenarios the PLA Sukhois would be superior to the JASDF F-15s, or at a minimum would present for Japan the unacceptable prospect of an even combat exchange ratio. But both PLAAF and PLANAF Sukhois are armed with a range of attack missiles that pose a threat to JMSDF and U.S. Navy ships. Provided that PLAAF Su-30MKKs are modified, they and the Su-30MKK2s can carry supersonic 70km range Zvezda Kh-31A or 100km range Kh-31A Mod 2 anti-ship missile. Both can also carry the 110km range Kh-31P anti-radar missile designed to counter U.S. and Japanese AEGIS radar systems. By 2006 Russia’s Raduga Co. could be offering its 285km range radar-guided Kh-59MK anti-ship missile to the PLA. When it was revealed at the 2001 Moscow Airshow this missile was clearly being marketed to China. The PLANAF now has about three regiments of Xian JH-7 fighter-bombers, and they may soon be supplemented by more capable JH-7A fighter-bombers. This program was revived in the late 1990s by the transfer of British Rolls Royce Spey turbofan engine technology. Reports indicate that Xian is working to double engine production to 60 units a year, which could support the production of 30 JH-7As a year. The JH-7A is armed with Chinese-made anti-ship missiles like the 50km range YJ-81K and the 130km range YJ-82K. It can also carry a missile know as the YJ-91, which may be an engine from the Kh-31 combined with an anti-radar seeker assisted by Israel. In addition, it can be expected that JH-7As and older PLA H-6 bombers, which have recently resumed production, may carry longer-range versions of the JY-62 anti-ship missile. Please login to see links and more information. Please login to see links and more information. Now In Production: Xian is now producing JH-7A fighter-bombers and H-6 bombers that can carry several types of new anti-ship missiles. Source: Internet According to interviews in August 2005, both China and Russia have been negotiating for the sale of Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers and Tu-142 ASW/bomber aircraft to the PLA. Acquisition of either would significantly increase the PLA’s naval strike capability. The supersonic Tu-22M3 could be armed with long-range supersonic anti-ship missiles and the Tu-142 could be its cueing platform, in addition to hunting submarines. Both aircraft have sufficient range to pose a threat to U.S. forces now being stationed at Guam. In September 2005 the PLA contracted to buy at least 6 Il-78M refueling aircraft, which could extend the range of Sukhoi fighter-bombers or potential future Tupolev bombers. One potential PLA advantage that could be developing rapidly is that of aircraft carriers. It is growing more and more likely that the PLA is going to modify the ex-Soviet/Ukrainian aircraft carrier Varyag for some kind of military mission. This carrier has recently emerged from a drydock in Dalian harbor painted in PLA Navy grey and appears to have benefited from significant work on its hull and internal systems. At the 2005 Moscow Airshow officials from two Russian aerospace companies commented that the Chinese were considering the purchase of the Sukhoi Su-33 carrier-based fighter, or the development of a special version of the Chengdu J-10 fighter, for a future carrier. Chinese internet sources also indicate the possibility that China is developing a small AWACS aircraft suitable for an aircraft carrier. PLAN deployment of an aircraft carrier, even on of medium size like the Varyag, would give China a deterrent capability and an actual opportunity to seize naval dominance over Japan in some scenarios. Please login to see links and more information. PLAN "Varyag" ??: This Chinese-made model of a Varyag-type carrier with Chinese-made missiles and ship defenses may indicate that China intends to produce its own version of the Russian carrier, perhaps beginning in the next 5-year plan period. Source: Internet Please login to see links and more information. Well, here are my reflections. I find it quite surprising that the Japanese F-15J's didn't have the capability for BVR's until just recently. Also, the Japanese do have the best ASW units in the world, but how will the Japanese Air Force protect those slow P-3C's if the F-15's don't have the fire power to go against the PLAAF and PLAN? Another point is that it looks like the Chinese nuclear subs are still a bit noisy, but I heard the latest one that the PLAN is fielding is similar to that of the early Los Angeles Class subs. One last comment: this report did source sinodefence.com and this article is written by an actualy strategic thinktank. Just wanted to add that.