Chinese vessels recently tried to intimidate Australian pilots with lasers. This is only one of the many instances of intimidation experienced by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) flagship HMAS Canberra.
Euan Graham’s experience in the South China Sea
Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019 (IPE19) is a large-scale defense engagement between Australia and Sri Lanka. Academic sea-rider Euan Graham gets a first-hand experience of the engagement for three months. In particular, he gets to see a glimpse of the situation in the South China Sea (SCS), a controversial region claimed by China and other Asian countries as their own. He also learns how the Australian Navy handles their navigation in the conflict-ridden territory.
Aboard the landing helicopter dock HMAS Canberra, interactions between the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and RAN were kept professional. Australian warships kept bridge-to-bridge radio communications to notify the Chinese about any corrections to their course beforehand. But during some of the Tiger attack helicopter exercises, passing Chinese vessels started pointing lasers at them.
A Chinese warship began following them from a distance. Graham couldn’t help but think whether these actions were coordinated or the Chinese reacted to something they didn’t expect. Still, HMAS Canberra continued with its activities, unfettered by the intimidation tactics of the Chinese vessels. Graham concluded that PLAN’s naval capability in the South China Sea is growing.
China has been militarizing the South China Sea region for several years. Surveillance aircraft, military equipment, and guided missiles are scattered in the region. Beijing has also started pressuring other countries to drop their claims in the region through a combination of military and political influence. But countries like Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Indonesia are yet to back down.
“Australia’s navy has gamely demonstrated its willingness to remain present in the SCS, operating in several locations at once. China has equally underlined that it can detect foreign warships and has the capacity to deploy screening forces across the SCS. That’s a sobering development. If Australia continues to operate in the SCS in the long term, as I hope it will, its ability to do so will depend increasingly on the support of its allies and partners. This is not a job to do alone. IPE represents a head start on developing the defence and security partnerships that Australia needs to invest in for a less benign future,” Graham said in a statement (The Strategist).
China’s military has commissioned two additional guided missile destroyers. With this, Beijing will be able to take the total number of such warships to 20. Destroyers are basically warships that accompany aircraft carriers and are capable of maneuvering long distances. The move to bolster its naval force is in line with a new doctrine announced by President Xi Jinping that aims to cut down the country’s reliance on its army while boosting the navy and air force.
In the future, it is possible that the Chinese naval force will have 30 destroyers that will play a crucial role in Beijing’s plan to dominate the South China Sea. The two new commissioned destroyers belong to Type 052D, which is an improvement on the previous generation Type 052C and are equipped with 64 vertical launch missile cells.