“PRC, Please Build Carriers” by Colin Clark*

*Moderator's Note: This article was originally published on the Strategic Forecasts (STRAFOR) forum on 5 November 2010.  It is reprinted here with the author’s permission. Colin Clark is editor of DoDBuzz and Pentagon correspondent for Military.com.  You can find his biography here.  My thanks to CFPS Research Fellow Dr. Stan Weeks for bringing this article to my attention.

"PRC, Please Build Carriers"

It’s not often you hear an old navy hand, especially one who is an expert on the People’s Republic of China, voice the hope that China will build carriers, lots of them. But National War College professor Bernard Cole said just that today at the Center for National Policy during a presentation about the Chinese navy.

“As a former navy man I’d love to see them build a fleet of aircraft carriers which, increasingly, are just good sub targets,” Cole said. What would really worry Cole, if not some carriers? There would be two indicators. “What I would fear is a fleet of 20,000-ton ships carrying hundreds of UAVs. If one were to look for a more subtle indicator it would be the building of substantial ships designed for replenishment of its fleet at sea. China has five replenishment ships afloat,” he said. “One of them is a 40-year-old ship provided by the Soviets. None of the Chinese ships are larger than 22,000 tons compared to the American replenishment ships, which displace 40,000 tons.”

“If China were to suddenly continue to build 20 large replenishment ships I would start to take the threat of a blue water Chinese navy seriously,” he said. These ships would mark the serious commitment of China to that old chestnut, a blue water navy. But Cole did not think China was likely to do this. All their actions over the last decade indicate the PLA Navy is intent on making it difficult for America to aid Taiwan should China make a move and, more broadly, to modernize their fleet.

Cole offered one fascinating tidbit about the recent bellicose actions by the Chinese such as the international kerfuffle over the Chinese fishing captain who rammed a Japanese navy ship and the incident involving the USNS Impeccable, an ocean surveillance ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters.”

He said “a lot of what we are seeing” in China “may have to do with the succession” of the top Communist Party leadership. One recent indicator will be remembered by close readers of the New York Times will remember a recent article detailing what appeared to be a serious rebuke of Premier Wen Jibao on the front page of the People’s Daily. Note that Cole made clear at the beginning of his presentation today that he was presenting his personal views.