Category Archives: china

Philippines flexing over demands they unreef their ancient LST

We’ve talked in the past about the 2,000-tons of tetanus shots that is the mighty BRP Sierra Madre (L-57), formerly the ex-USS Harnett County LST-821, which has been grounded on Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Reef) in the South China Sea since 1999, serving as a forward base for a squad-sized group of PI Marines and a Navy radioman. The move came as a counterstroke to China’s controversial, and likely unlawful, armed occupation of Mischief Reef— barely 200 kilometers from the Philippine island of Palawan– in 1995.

Well, in recent weeks, the Chinese have aggressively prevented resupply and rotation of the guard force on the Sierra Madre, warning off civilian vessels approaching the condemned LST with water cannons.

Finally, on 22 November, two civilian boats, Unaizah May 1 and Unaizah May 3, were able to tie up next to the Sierra Madre and unload, while a Chinese coast guard ship in the vicinity sent a RIB with three persons to closely shadow the effort, taking photos and videos, acts the Philipines described as “a form of intimidation and harassment.”

To this, China says Ayungin Shoal is “part of China’s Nansha Qundao (Spratly Islands)” and has told the PI to quit the reef and scrap the rusty outpost.

From Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana on China’s demand to remove BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal:

Ayungin Shoal lies within our EEZ where we have sovereign rights. Our EEZ was awarded to us by the 1982 UNCLOS which China ratified. China should abide by its international obligations that it is part of. 

Furthermore, the 2016 Arbitral award ruled that the territorial claim of China has no historic nor legal basis. Ergo, we can do whatever we want there and it is they who are actually trespassing.

With that, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief, Lt. Gen. Andres Centino, on Monday said that his leadership would ensure better living conditions of the troops manning the BRP Sierra Madre, refurbishing the vessel in place as a permanent government post. 

Mic drop.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021: From Casablanca to Taipei

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021: From Casablanca to Taipei

U.S. Navy Photo #80-G-219560 from the United States National Archives

Here we see the future Cannon/Bostwick-class destroyer escort USS Carter (DE 112) launching at the Dravo Corporation yard in Wilmington, Delaware, 29 February 1944.

Named for a 20-year-old TBF gunner, AOM3 Jack Carter (2686624), who was lost at sea during the Torch Landings after searching for a Vichy French submarine, Mrs. Evelyn Carter Patterson sponsored the new tin can, the late aircrewman’s aunt.

Carter was a TBF Avenger gunner flying from VGS-27 on the escort carrier USS Suwannee (ACV/CVE-27), which has spent the preceding days raining 325-pound depth charges on French cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and even ground targets between Fedala and Casablanca in Morocco. The carrier’s report from the accident on the morning of 10 November 1942, via NARA

What were the Cannons?

USS Cannon (DE-99) Dravo builder’s photo. USN CP-DE-99-19-N-51457

The Cannon class, ordered in 1942 to help stem the tide of the terrible U-boat menace in the Atlantic, was also known as the DET type from their Diesel Electric Tandem drive. The DET’s substitution for a turbo-electric propulsion plant was the primary difference with the predecessor Buckley (“TE”) class. The DET was in turn replaced with a direct drive diesel plant to yield the design of the successor Edsall (“FMR”) class.

Besides a heavy ASW armament, these humble ships carried a trio of Mk.22 3″/50s, some deck-mounted torpedo tubes to be effective against larger surface combatants in a pinch, and a smattering of Bofors/Oerlikon AAA mounts.

In all, although 116 Cannon-class destroyer escorts were planned, only 72 were completed. Some of her more well-known sisters included the USS Eldridge, the ship claimed to be a part of the infamous Philadelphia Experiment. The vessels were all cranked out in blocks by four yards with Carter— along with class leaders Cannon and Bostwick— among the nine produced by Dravo.

Getting into the war

Commissioned 3 May 1944, with LCDR Francis John Torrence Baker, USNR (Sewickley, Pa.) as her only wartime skipper, Carter reported to the Atlantic Fleet. After two months of shakedowns to Bermuda and back, her first turn in the barrel was, appropriately for her namesake, shepherding Convoy UGS 50 bound for North Africa as the flagship of Escort Division (CortDiv) 79, a task she would repeat before the year was out with Convoy UGS 63 from Norfolk to Gibraltar, arriving at Oran to have Christmas dinner there three days late due to heavy storms.

On her way back through the Med returning home, she had a close brush with one of Donitz’s wolves when U-870 (KrvKpt. Ernst Hechler) pumped a torpedo into the Liberty ship SS Henry Miller on 3 January 1945.

From Carter’s War History, in the National Archives:

While Miller was a constructive loss with no injuries to her crew and managed to unload her cargo once towed to port, this was balanced out three months later when U-870 was herself sunk by Allied bombs while dockside at Bremen. 

Notably, with the likelihood of engaging a German cruiser or surface raider slim to none by this stage of the war, Carter landed her torpedo tubes at Philadelphia Navy Yard.

She was then assigned to regular antisubmarine patrols from Casco Bay in early 1945 as part of an all-DE submarine Killer Group, a tasking she would conduct for the remainder of the war in the Atlantic. It was with this that she was part of the endgame, moving against the last U-boat offensive against the Eastern Seaboard, one that the brass thought (falsely) might contain V1/V2 rocket carrying subs.

The rumors, mixed with intel that seven advanced U-boats, assigned to Gruppe Seewolf, the last Atlantic Wolfpack, were headed across the Atlantic, sparked Operation Teardrop, an extensive barrier program of ASW assets that ranged the East Coast in early 1945. In the end, Gruppe Seewolf was a dismal failure and the German rocket submarine program never got off the drawing board.

From Carter’s War History, on the engagement she shared with USS Neal A. Scott (DE 769) west of the Azores against U-518, an experienced and successful Type IXC under Oblt. Hans-Werner Offermann, on her seventh patrol. The submarine would not have an eighth:

In May, Carter and her group oversaw the surrender of two U-boats– U-234 (Kptlt. Johann-Heinrich Fehler) and U-858 (Kptlt. Thilo Bode), the latter a Type IXC/40 that had never successfully fired a torpedo in anger, and, true to form, was the first German warship to surrender to U.S. forces without a shot.

U-234, on the other hand, was a big Type XB U-boat built as a long-range cargo submarine with missions to Japan in mind. Commissioned 2 March 1944, she left Germany in the last days of the war in Europe with a mysterious cargo that included dozen high-level officers and advisors, technical drawings, examples of the newest electric torpedoes, one crated Me 262 jet aircraft, a Henschel Hs 293 glide bomb, and 1,210 lbs. of uranium oxide. She never made it to Japan as her skipper decided to make it for Canada instead after the fall of Germany. Two Japanese officers on board committed suicide and were buried at sea while the sub– packed with her particularly important glow-in-the-dark stuff– surrendered south of the Grand Banks, Newfoundland on 14 May, a week after VE Day.

Former U-234 is torpedoed by USS Greenfish (SS-542), in a test, on 20 November 1947, 40 miles northeast of Cape Cod.

Former U-234 is torpedoed by USS Greenfish (SS-542), in a test, on 20 November 1947, 40 miles northeast of Cape Cod.

Speaking of Japan, after three weeks in New York City, during which the veteran destroyer escort saw “an almost complete turnover in personnel” as it was thought “the Carter would be readied for Pacific duty,” instead the tin can was dispatched to Florida to clock in for lifeguard work on plane guard duty for new aircraft carriers working up in the warm waters down south, carrying 64 members of the USNA’s Class of 1946 with her on their Mid cruise.

Post-VJ Day saw Carter make for the big round of victory celebrations including “Nimitz Day” in Washington, D.C. (where 10,000 locals visited the ship), followed by Navy Day in Pensacola anchored alongside with USS Guadalcanal (CVE 60), Floyd B. Parks (DD 884), and Gunnel (SS 253) where the tiny warship, her glad rags flying, was “open for inspection with myriads of people getting the thrill of being on a warship.”

With the fighting over, at least for now, Carter continued her role as a plane guard in Florida into April 1946, where she was placed “out of commission in reserve” at NAS Green Cove Springs in the St. Johns River and added to the 500-strong mothball fleet that swayed at a series of 13 piers built there just for the purpose.

Carter received one battle star for World War II service.

Jane’s 1946 listing for the 57 strong semi-active Bostwick class, including Carter and noting numerous transfers to overseas allies.

A long second life

While Carter’s initial service would last 23 and ¾ months, others could desperately put the low-mileage destroyer escort to good use.

Ultimately 14 of the Cannon/Bostwick class went to France and Brazil during the war, followed by another eight to the French– who apparently really liked the type– four to Greece (including USS Slater which returned home in the 1990s to become the only destroyer escort afloat in the United States), three to Italy, two to Japan, six to the Dutch, three to Peru, five to the Philippines, two to South Korea, one to Thailand, and two to Uruguay.

When it comes to Carter, she and three sisters: Bostwick, Thomas (DE-102), and Breeman (DE-112), in a short ceremony on 14 December 1948, were transferred to Nationalist (Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT) China. Carter became Tài zhāo (also seen transliterated as Taizhao, T’ai Chao, and Tai Chao) after the capital city in central Jiangsu province in eastern China, with the hull/pennant number DE-26.

The four destroyer escorts were soon put into emergency use. During the last phase of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the 26 loyal ships of the ROCN engaged in the protection of supply convoys and the withdrawal of the Nationalist government and over 1 million refugees to Taiwan.

Carter/Tài zhāo was captured in great detail during this time period in Nationalist use by LIFE magazine.

In this image, she still has her 3″/50 Mk22s up front

Fuzing 40mm Bofors rounds. Note the traditional crackerjack and flat cap used by the Nationalists

Crackerjacks combined with M1 helmets and US Navy Mk II talker helmets

The No. 3 mount now has an additional 3″/50 rather than the 40mm Bofors it held as Carter. Also, that is A LOT of depth charges for those 8 throwers and two rails! Ash cans a-go-go

Needing bigger guns for the work envisioned of them, the Chinese quickly upgraded their two forward 3-inchers to a pair of 5″/38 singles in open mounts, as well as substituting the stern 40mm mount for one of the same which gave the ships a 2+2 format with twin 5-inchers over the bow and a 5-inch over a 3-inch over the stern. 

The 1950s saw the fleet heavily involved in the pitched and tense engagements around Kinmen (Quemoy), Matsu (where Carter/Tài zhāo fired 160 5-inch shells against a Red artillery battery ashore), and the Yijiangshan and Dachen Islands in the Taiwan Straits as well as the clandestine Guoguang operations in which the KMT tried to retake the mainland by landing would-be guerilla organization teams in Red territory.

Propaganda shells fired into Red-controlled areas. By John Dominis LIFE

In all, Carter and her three sisters continued to hold the front lines of the Taiwan Straits for 25 years and, for the first decade of that, were the most powerful assets available to the ROCN, a title they held until two Benson-class destroyers (USS Benson and USS Hilary P. Jones) were transferred in 1954. They were also later fitted in the 1960s with Mk.32 12.75-inch ASW torpedo tubes for Mk 44s– which were a lot more effective than depth charges.

Taizhao anchored at the Kaohsiung Xinbin Wharf, late 1940s.

Jane’s 1973-4 listing for the Taiwan Bostwicks, including Carter.

As part of the pressure on Communist China in the tail end of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the Nixon administration transferred a huge flotilla of more advanced warships to Taiwan between late 1970 and early 1973 that included two GUPPY’d Tench-class submarines (one of which is still active), five Gearing-class destroyers, six Sumner-class destroyers, four Fletchers, and USS McComb (DD-458)— a late Gleaves-class destroyer that had been converted to a fast minesweeper. With all these “new-to-you” hulls, the long-serving destroyer escorts could be retired and, by the end of 1973, Carter and her three sisters in Formosan service had been disposed of for scrap.

While Tài zhāo’s name was not recycled by the ROCN– probably as it is the name of a 4-million person city on the mainland– the ChiCom People’s Liberation Army Navy has had two Taizhous including a Type 053 frigate commissioned in 1982 and a Russian-built Sovremenny-class destroyer (ex-Vnushitelnyy) commissioned in 2005.

PLAN destroyer Tài zhāo, photographed by the Japanese in 2015.

Epilogue

A number of Carter’s WWII war diaries, as well as her war history and plans, are in the National Archives.

Besides the museum ship USS Slater (DE-766), now sitting dockside in Albany New York, and the pier side training ship USS Hemminger (DE-746) (now HTMS Pin Klao DE-1) in Thailand, there are no Cannon-class destroyer escorts still afloat.

USS Slater is the only destroyer escort preserved in North America– and is Carter’s sistership

The Destroyer Escort Sailors Association honors the men of all the DEs, regardless of class. Sadly, their 45th annual convention last year was their last as their numbers are rapidly declining.

In 1967, Revelle released a 1:248 scale model of “Nationalist Chinese frigate Tai Chao,” complete with box art that showed her racing among bracketed ChiCom shell plumes, no doubt a fitting tribute to those years of the warship’s life spent fighting an undeclared shadow war in the Taiwan Straits.

Specs:

Cannon class DE’s via USS Slater.com

Displacement: 1,240 tons standard, 1,620 tons full load
Length: 306.1 ft
Beam: 36.1 ft
Draft: 11.5 ft full load
Propulsion: 4 GM Mod. 16-278A diesel engines with electric drive 4.5 MW (6000 shp), two screws
Speed: 21 knots
Range: 10,800 nm at 12 knots
Complement: 15 officers 201 enlisted men
Armament:
(1944)
3 × single Mk.22 3″/50 caliber guns
3 × twin 40 mm Mk.1 AA gun
8 × 20 mm Mk.4 AA guns
3 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes
1 × Hedgehog Mk.10 anti-submarine mortar (144 rounds)
8 × Mk.6 depth charge projectors
2 × Mk.9 depth charge tracks


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DOD Annual China report: Could have 1K Nukes by 2030, has 355 Naval Units

Fresh from the folks over at the Pentagon/DIA:

The Defense Department today released its annual 192-page report on military and security developments involving China, commonly referred to as the China Military Power Report.

The report provides background on China’s national strategy, foreign policy goals, economic plans and military development.

“The report provides a baseline assessment of the department’s top pacing challenge, and it charts the modernization of the PLA throughout 2020,” a defense official said Tuesday. “This includes the PLA developing the capabilities to conduct joint, long-range precision strikes across domains; increasingly sophisticated space, counterspace, and cyber capabilities; as well as the accelerating expansion of the PLA’s nuclear forces.”

A key revelation in the report are China’s advancements in its nuclear capability, including that the accelerated pace of their nuclear expansion may enable China to have up to 700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027.

“The accelerating pace of the PLA’s nuclear expansion may enable the PRC to have up to about 700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027,” the official said. “And the report states that the PRC likely intends to have at least 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030 — exceeding the pace and the size that we projected in the 2020 China Military Power report.”

The report also reveals that China may have already established a nuclear triad, which includes the ability to launch such missiles from the air, ground and sea.

“The PRC has possibly already established a nascent ‘nuclear triad’ with the development of a nuclear-capable, air-launched ballistic missile and improvement of its ground- and sea-based nuclear capabilities,” the report reads.

New to the report this year is a section on the Chinese military’s chemical and biological research efforts. It says China has engaged in biological activities with potential dual-use applications and that this raises concerns regarding its compliance with the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The report concludes that China continues to be clear in its ambitions to be competitive with world-class military powers, the DOD official said.

“The PLA’s evolving capabilities and concepts continue to strengthen its ability to fight and win wars, to use their own phrase, against what the PRC refers to as a ‘strong enemy’ — again, another phrase that appears in their publications. And a ‘strong enemy,’ of course, is very likely a euphemism for the United States,” he said.

According to the report, a big part of China’s effort to match the strength of a “strong enemy” involves major modernization and reform efforts within China’s army. Those efforts include an ongoing effort to achieve “mechanization,” which the report describes as the Chinese army’s efforts to modernize its weapons and equipment to be networked into a “systems of systems” and to also utilize more advanced technologies suitable for “informatized” and “intelligentized” warfare.

Also of significance are China’s efforts to project military power outside it’s own borders.

“The PRC is seeking to establish a more robust overseas logistics and basing infrastructure to allow the PLA to project and sustain military power at greater distances,” the DOD official said. “We’re talking about not just within the immediate environments, environments in the Indo-Pacific, but throughout the Indo-Pacific region and indeed, around the world.” The official said China’s army has sought to modernize its capabilities and improve its proficiency across all warfare domains, so that, as a joint force, it can conduct the range of land, air, and maritime operations that are envisioned in army publications, as well as in space, counterspace, electronic warfare and cyber operations.

A big takeaway is the number of naval battle force units (355 including more than 145 major surface combatants) which, for those keeping count at home, would make the PLAN the largest naval force on the planet in size although not likely in tonnage as the U.S. Navy still fields a smaller number of much larger units (10 CVNs vs 3 smaller CVs, 9 carrier-sized LHDs, 68 x ~9,000-ton Burkes and more building et. al)

The PLAN is arranged in three primary fleets, all, by nature of geography, very central to the Western Pacific

Then there is the country’s increasingly capable Rocket Force, which is all about area denial out to the Second Island Chain.

Do you see what I see?

Then the growing nuclear arsenal, which can reach all of the U.S. save for South Florida. 

Of course, this is all theoretical MADness…

The full report, here.

National Security Cutters Get Chance to Flex National Security Muscle

Via the U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska (emphasis mine):

During a routine maritime patrol in the Bering Sea and Arctic region, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL-750), spotted and established radio contact with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) task force in international waters within the U.S. exclusive economic zone, Aug. 30, 2021. All interactions between the U.S. Coast Guard and PLAN were in accordance with international laws and norms. At no point did the PLAN task force enter U.S. territorial waters. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ensign Bridget Boyle.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ensign Bridget Boyle.

The U.S. Coast Guard demonstrated its commitment to the Bering Sea and Arctic region with deployments of national security cutters Bertholf (WMSL-750), and Kimball (WMSL-756), and a U.S. Arctic patrol by icebreaker Healy.

“Security in the Bering Sea and the Arctic is homeland security,” said Vice Adm. Michael McAllister, commander Coast Guard Pacific Area. “The U.S. Coast Guard is continuously present in this important region to uphold American interests and protect U.S. economic prosperity.”

Crews interacted with local, national and international vessels throughout the Arctic. During the deployment, Bertholf and Kimball observed four ships from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) operating as close as 46 miles off the Aleutian Island coast. While the ships were within the U.S. exclusive economic zone, they followed international laws and norms and at no point entered U.S. territorial waters.

The PLAN task force included a guided missile cruiser, a guided missile destroyer, a general intelligence vessel, and an auxiliary vessel. The Chinese vessels conducted military and surveillance operations during their deployment to the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean.

All interactions between the U.S. Coast Guard and PLAN were in accordance with international standards set forth in the Western Pacific Naval Symposium’s Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea and Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.

While the PLAN doesn’t “officially” have any cruisers, the brand new Type 55 DDGs (NATO designation Renhai-class) are big ships, running to 13,000-tons, and having a 112-vell VLS launcher installed with missiles cued by a phased array radar. In other words, a bigger, newer version of a Tico. They are the largest and most advanced Chinese surface combatant. 

PLAN’s Nanchang (DDG-101) Type 55, from a Japanese MOD intel picture/press release earlier this year. Look at all those VLS cells…

Bertholf. At 4,500-tons and armed with a 57 mm gun, a 20mm Close-In Weapons System, four .50-caliber machine guns, two M240B 7.62mm GPMGs, and space for two helicopters, along with passive EW and SRBOC systems, it is about as heavily armed as current US Coast Guard cutters get. Of course, I’d like to see a few Harpoons/NSSMs, Mk 32 Torpedo tubes, and maybe a RAM missile system on her, but that’s just me.

Facing off against this, the pair of 4,500-ton Legend-class National Security cutters combined had two 57mm Bofors, two CIWS, and some mounted machine guns.

In all seriousness, such interactions, coupled with the use by the Navy of the same class of white hulls to cruise through the contested South China Sea on Freedom of Navigation Patrols, point to the USCG’s larger cutters at a minimum getting an armament upgrade to swap out CIWS for C-RAM and pick up a few Naval Strike Missiles to at least put them on-par with the admittedly under-armed littoral combat ships. 

If you act like a frigate, no matter the color of your hull, you better be able to back it up. 

September 2021, Royal Australian Navy fleet oiler HMAS Sirius (AO-266) conducts a dual replenishment at sea with the amphibious assault dock HMAS Canberra (LHD-2) and USCGC Munro (WMSL-755), during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2021. (RAN Photo by LSIS Leo Baumgartner)

Frigate-sized Goodwill

Via Kazuhiko Koshikawa, the Ambassador of Japan in the Philippines, yesterday, on the occasion of the launching of the largest cutter ever for the Philippine Coast Guard (Tanod Baybayin ng Pilipinas), from the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding launching ramp in Japan:

Attended the virtual launching ceremony of the 94m class patrol vessel with (Philipines Department of Transportation Secretary Art Tugade). This huge vessel was unveiled through a nautical tradition of blessing the ship and its crew on its voyage, and will become the PCG’s largest flagship in early 2022!

The new 308-foot Multirole Response Vessel (pennant number 9701), as Koshikawa noted, will be the largest ship in the 17,000-member PCG, a force that has been beefing up in recent years to confront interlopers (See: China) into the huge Filipino Maritime Zone.

Remember, if you can’t police your EEZ, you don’t have an EEZ.

The two building 94m-MRRVs are funded through a ¥16.5-billion ($150M) grant from the Japanese government through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and are set to become the largest vessels in the PCG. At that price, you can be sure they are constructed to commercial standards rather than military but they do have a frigate profile with significant at-sea endurance and helicopter handling capabilities, as well as the capability to host a platoon-sized VBBS force. 

Part of the Philippine Department of Transportation, the PCG– which has a lineage going back to 1901– has long just fielded a force of several hundred small (day running) brown water craft such as whalers, RIBs, and Swift boats.

However, the fleet has expanded greatly in recent years with the adoption of true blue water assets such as the 274-foot French-built OPV BRP Gabriela Silang, four Australian (Tenix)-built 184-foot San Juan-class OPVs, 10 Japanese (JMU)-built 146-foot Parola-class OPVs, and four Ilocos Norte-class 115-foot Tenix patrol boats, all of which have been added in the past ~15 years. Note that the Parolas, the PCG’s most numerous over-the-horizon vessels, were also built in Japan with JICA funds.

Lightly armed for constabulary use, they generally have M2 .50 cal machine guns installed for muscle, in addition to the small arms of their landing teams, as well as soft-kill devices such as LRADs and water cannons.

Also, you have to love the traditional launching festivities used by the Japanese. Compare the above joyous image above to this one, taken some 96 years ago this week:

Launch of Lead Ship, Destroyer Mutsuki at Sasebo Naval Arsenal on July 23rd, 1925

Royal Navy Headed Back ‘East of Suez’

In a reversal from the Admiralty’s policies since 1997, the British Ministry of Defense is planning on permanently stationing warships in the Pacific region.

During a two-day visit to Japan this week, the UK’s Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, met with Japan’s Prime Minister Suga and Defence Minister Kishi. The big news from that meeting, going past the upcoming visit by the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Group’s historic cruise through the area:

Following on from the Carrier Strike Group’s inaugural deployment, the UK will permanently assign two offshore patrol vessels to the Indo-Pacific region from later this year. It will also contribute a Littoral Response Group (LRG) in the coming years, thereby demonstrating the UK’s commitment to collective defence and security in the region in the decades ahead.

The nuts and bolts of the announcement, the RN’s River-class offshore patrol vessels, are constabulary/coast guard style vessels, running in the 2,000-ton neighborhood and mounting a medium 20mm or 30mm gun. The British are increasingly using the Rivers in the old “station ship” roles in low-risk areas around the world, a task formerly fulfilled by light cruisers before WWII.

HMS Medway (P223), a Batch 2 River-class OPV. The most advanced version of the class, they mount a single 30mm gun forward and have a few stations for GPMGs and Mini-Guns. Slow (24 knot) vessels, they can operate a medium helicopter for a short period and carry a platoon-sized element of Royal Marines or SBS Commandos. They have an independent endurance of 35 days. (MoD image)

Currently, HMS Medway (P223), a Batch 2 River, is the West Indies guard ship (Atlantic Patrol Tasking North) while her sistership HMS Forth (P222) is the Falklands guard ship and a third River, HMS Trent (P224), is forward-deployed to Atlantic Patrol Tasking South out of Gibraltar, with an area of operations than spans along the West African coast.

The British Littoral Response Group concept recently stood up is basically a dialed-down version of a U.S. Navy Amphibious Ready Group. The LRG established earlier this year for a Baltic cruise was made up of the 20,000-ton amphibious assault ship HMS Albion (L14), the 16,000-ton landing dock RFA Mounts Bay (L3008), plus Type 23 frigate HMS Lancaster, with embarked Wildcat helicopters from 847 Naval Air Squadron and a light battalion-sized element of Royal Marines from 45 and 30 Commando.

However, the Brits are platform poor. They only have eight River-class OPVs (with just five of them being the more advanced Batch 2 ships), two Albion-class LPDs, and four Bay-class landing ships. With that, the likelihood of a pair of Rivers heading to the Far East to assume a long-term station alone is going to be a heavy lift and the prospect of an LRG more likely to be a passing cruise every other year or so.

Nonetheless, the move stands to return the RN to the Pacific, which has only been visited by the occasional transitory unit once the post of Commodore-in-Charge, Hong Kong, was disestablished in 1997. Permanently based at that treaty port was a trio of Peacock-class patrol corvettes, which were roughly the same size as today’s Rivers but were at least armed with a 76mm OTO Melara gun.

The Peacocks were sailed to Manila and sold to the Philippines, warm transferred in a bittersweet handover.

Prior to that, the Singapore-based British Far East Fleet disbanded in 1971 after the expiration of the bilateral Anglo-Malayan Defence Agreement, ending a station that was held since 1837.

What a Difference a Step Makes

Founded May 1, 1844, the Hong Kong Police lost its “Royal” designation in 1997 after the long-time treaty port was handed back to China. Now, some 24 years later, some Commonwealth traditions endure.

In 2016, a dozen Hong Kong Police sergeants graduated from a three-week British Army course at the Army School of Ceremonial in Catterick in pacing, colours, and sword drills, graded by some of the toughest Colour Sergeants in the Guards. They took the training back home and have enshrined it in the HKP’s parade work where four British SNCOs traveled and provided supplemental instruction to others.

Although PLA soldiers in olive green uniforms have been seen giving instructions at Hong Kong Police College’s parade ground on how to march in the Chicom goose-step fashion, the 33,000-strong HKP is planning to keep as much of its Commonwealth martial tradition as possible and will continue to keep its British Army marching style– blending it with the Chinese style on some public occasions.

PLA soldiers deliver marching training to police officers at the parade ground in Wong Chuk Hang. Photo: Handout

“At the moment we do not have plans to change our marching style,” said HKP Commissioner of Police Chris Tang Ping-keung.

‘Cognitive Warfare’ and Chinese Aircraft Carriers

A recent photo of the CO and XO of the Flight IIA Burke-class destroyer USS Mustin (DDG-89) observing the Chinese Type 001 (Kuznetsov-class) aircraft carrier Liaoning (16)  off the warship’s port side bridge wing is getting lots of heartburn in the Western Pacific.

PHILIPPINE SEA (April 4, 2021) CDR Robert J. Briggs and CDR Richard D. Slye monitor surface contacts from the pilothouse of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin. Mustin is assigned to Task Force 71/Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, the Navy’s largest DESRON and the U.S. 7th Fleet’s principal surface force. (U.S. Navy photo 210404-N-YA628-2309 by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Arthur Rosen)

Largely because of editorial cartoons such as this:

From the South China Morning Post: 

“In the photo, Commander Briggs looks very relaxed with his feet up watching the Liaoning ship just a few thousand yards away, while his deputy is also sitting beside him, showing they take their PLA counterparts lightly,” said Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at Taiwan’s Naval Academy in Kaohsiung. “This staged photograph is definitely ‘cognitive warfare’ to show the US doesn’t regard the PLA as an immediate threat.”

The Australian Financial Review: 

The US Navy has released a provocative photo showing senior officers watching a Chinese warship as China and the United States flex their maritime muscle in the East and South China Sea.

The Taiwan News: 

A researcher at the Beijing-based Yuan Wang think tank conceded to the newspaper that there is still a “big gap between the US and Chinese aircraft carrier strike groups.” Meanwhile, Kanwa Defence Review editor-in-chief Andrei Chang asserted the photo was meant to serve as a “warning to the PLA” that the U.S. was fully aware of the carrier group’s movements.

Meanwhile, the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group [USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11, USS Bunker Hill (CG 52), USS Russell (DDG 59)] and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group [USS Makin Island (LHD 8), USS Somerset (LPD 25), USS San Diego (LPD 22)] with the 15th MEU embarked, recently joined forces in the South China Sea to conduct Expeditionary Strike Force operations. 

SOUTH CHINA SEA (April 9, 2021) The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group transits in formation with the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group in the South China Sea April 9, 2021. The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal (CG 73) are conducting expeditionary strike force operations during their deployments to the 7th Fleet area of operations. As the U.S. Navy’s largest forward-deployed fleet, 7th Fleet routinely operates and interacts with 35 maritime nations while conducting missions to preserve and protect a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Terence Deleon Guerrero)

Chainsmokers

A group of Marines having a smoke while checking out what looks to be a shell and fuse for either an 81mm mortar or 75mm howitzer.

Dig the M1917A1 Brodie helmets with EGAs, sewn-on stripes on light khaki uniforms, and the top-charging M1928A1 Thompson submachine gun. The Tommy gunner also has pretty bad trigger D and what looks to be a set of wire cutters in his five-cell stick mag pouch. At least there isn’t a mag in the Chicago typewriter. 

I can’t find a full-fledged source for the image, but reverse sources are all Chinese-language pages for 1938 Shanghai, a tense place and period in history as the country was torn between the Reds and KMT while under aggressive attack by the Empire of Japan as the rest of the world stood by to wish the Chinese the best of luck.

These men are likely of the 4th Marine Regiment, the famed “China Marines” stationed in Peiping, Tientsin, and Shanghai from 1927 to 1941. Pulled out of the continent only weeks before Pearl Harbor, they were withdrawn to the Philipines just in time to defend Bataan.

There is this great follow-up picture of these Devils.

Little Blue Men en masse

It appears that a huge flotilla of 220 People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia vessels are massed at Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, notably inside what the Philippines sees as its EEZ.

Via the Philippines National Government:

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) received a confirmed report from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) that around two hundred twenty (220) Chinese Fishing Vessels (CFVs), believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were sighted moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) on March 7, 2021.

The Reef is a large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs), located approximately 175 Nautical Miles west of Bataraza, Palawan. It is within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf (CS), over which the country enjoys the exclusive right to exploit or conserve any resources which encompass both living resources, such as fish, and non-living resources such as oil and natural gas.

Founded in the 1950s as something kind of akin to the U.S. Coast Guard Auxillary, the CMM has grown massively in size over the past 20 years and has increasingly been on the “front lines” of China’s expansion into the Pacific in the past decade or so, in short, using government-sponsored fishing ships equipped with PLAN-capable satellite communication terminals and manned by trained paramilitary crews in lieu of official naval assets. This includes the persistent 2009 interference with USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS-23), the 2011 harassment of Vietnam’s survey vessels (Viking II and Binh Minh), swarming the USNS Howard O. Lorenzen (T-AGM-25) in 2014, the ongoing Scarborough Shoal standoff (Tanmen Militia) and the Haiyang Shiyou-981 oil rig standoff.

Pretty uniform…

Peacetime training for CMM’s “little blue men” includes target identification, intelligence collection methods, and operation of communication terminals, typically running at least 15 days per year to include one of political education. During times of war, it is expected that CMM trawlers and longliners will be used for scouting and recon purposes, resupply of outposts, and minelaying.

Basically the old “Russian trawlers” of the Cold War, only in supersized numbers. 

USS ABNAKI (ATF-96) Keeping the Soviet Trawler GIDROFON under surveillance in the South China Sea, December 1967. K-43379

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