Mon, Oct 31, 2005 - Page 3 News List

China's navy not yet a threat to Japan and US

A former Japan Maritime Self Defense Force Fleet Air Wing commander, retired Rear Admiral Sumihiko Kawamura, spoke to 'Taipei Times' Staff Reporter Rich Chang on the Chinese navy's abilities - especially its submarine fleet - as well as the potential for military cooperation between the US, Japan and Taiwan

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Taipei Times: It is widely believed that China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been making substantial progress, particularly with their submarine force. What is your evaluation of PLAN?

Rear Admiral Sumihiko Kawamura: I see PLAN's capability as still being limited or weak in terms of the four major missions of a navy -- strategic deterrence, projection of power, sea control and sea-lane security. Let me analyze those items.

PLAN may have strategic deterrence ability. Their nuclear submarines may be able to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBMs] at locations close to their shores under their air force and navy's protection, but ICBMs are their only reliable weapons.

Regarding PLAN's ability to project power, its range only extends to the waters around Taiwan. PLAN's submarines have a very limited ability to prevent the US and Japanese navies from projecting their power to the waters around Taiwan.

As for its ability to control sea lanes, it would be impossible for PLAN to control the waters between China and Taiwan if it faced a US and Japanese joint naval force. In contrast, within the so-called first island chain [islands including the Aleutians, Japan, South Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan, the Philippines and Singapore], PLAN has a very limited capability to deny the US and Japan command of the seas.

So if China invaded Taiwan, PLAN would not be able to sustain logistic support from China because it cannot control the waters between Taiwan and China.

Finally, China also has a limited capability to conduct a blockade of sea lanes.

TT: So you don't have a high opinion of PLAN's submarine force?

Kawamura: China has about 70 submarines. Most of China's submarines are conventional submarines, which need to come up to surface about every four to seven days. So those submarines are easy to detect any time they surface. In addition, conventional submarines are difficult to operate in the ocean. That means PLAN's submarines have a limited ability to confront US forces in the Pacific Ocean.

TT: Are their more advanced submarines such as the Kilo Class submarines so easy to detect?

Kawamura: It is easy. Kilos are not cutting-edge submarines. In the past, the US and Japan easily tracked Russia's submarines, and in comparison, the Russian submarines were quicker than China's.

If the US and Japan jointly go to war with China, I am afraid China's submarine fleet would be unable to survive for more than one week after a conflict broke out, and it would be a one-sided game

TT: It is widely believed that China is operating undersea surveys in waters south and north of Taiwan to find an effective way to block the US navy in the event of military conflict in the Taiwan Strait. Would PLAN succeed?

Kawamura: It would not succeed. The US and Japan would be able to operate against their submarines from the air. While the US has 80 P-3C maritime-patrol aircraft stationed in Japan, Japan also owns over 120 P-3Cs. Our P-3C force would be able to detect and destroy Chinese submarines in waters to the south and north of Taiwan before the US fleet entered waters close to Taiwan. So their scheme would not succeed.

TT: The US has approved the sale of 12 P-3C aircraft, three PAC-3 anti-missile batteries and eight diesel-power submarines to Taiwan, but the arms bill has been stalled in the legislature. Among those items, which should be the priority for Taiwan? Do you agree with some who say that Taiwan's military should put the submarines at the top of the list?

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