China and its Logistics capability


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I wrote this a while back, this is the open source version, and uses open sources, it was written in September 2019.

The Logistics of it all

With recent world events changing dramatically over the last decade, and with the rise of China in that past decade, it is often cited that China will become a superpower equal to the United States by the middle of this century.
I want to explore the notion using only open sources, to see if this prediction is not only true but if it is plausible.
One key element of being a superpower / Global power that is often overlooked is your logistics, that one key feature defines your status, and no its not just about having a dozen aircraft carriers at your beck and call, its about having the ships and the capability to be able to re supply them, after all its nice having them ships but once they run out of food, fuel and munitions they become nothing more than a floating target.

Three nations peak my interest, one rose for half a century to challenge the United States and lost, and now we are seeing a small come back, the other two appear to be in a race to the top both militarily and economically, those two are India and China, and it China I intend to focus on.

Lets take a look Economically

Currently at top of the tree is the United States that remains undisputed, according to the world bank (2018 figures) the current GDP is sitting at $20.50tr, but the USA is heavily in debt to the tune of 106% of its GDP.
Also forecast by the world bank is a slow down in GDP growth of the USA from 2.9% in 2018, to 2.5% in 2019, its forecast to decline further to 1.7% in 2020 and 1.6% in 2021 (Source World Bank & Congressional budget office CBO)

Chinas Growth on the other hand has recently slowed down but still remains forecast above 6% for FY 2019, (Source IMF and World Bank) but remains strong in some areas but remains in growth, it has become a large consumer market as well and its current GDP standing is 2nd behind the USA at $14.1tr. (Source world bank 2018 figures)
In terms of debt levels the Chinese are in some what of a better condition having a debt to GDP ration of 46.6%, another major note is that the China currently rank 1st place in the Purchasing Power Parity, the USA has slipped to 2nd (Source IMF)

So what is China doing ?

Right now China is exercising the soft power approach specifically to under developed countries, and also to some developed countries too.
Currently some agreements have been reached with foreign nations in order to assist them economically in return for certain favourable terms.
Two such countries that have recently benefited from this soft power are the Seychelles and Djibouti, both of these countries have had direct investments made by Chinese companies to develop port facilities, and in return China does use these ports for its Navy in order to re supply and re fuel specifically when operating in the Gulf of Aden.

This I believe is allowing China to build up a base of nations friendly to China, dotted around the world in order to allow a creation of a true global Chinese force.
I also believe they are well on their way to doing this, recently we have seen moves into Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
I also believe they are trying to gain foot holds in South America as well, this would certainly be advantageous to them in order to counter the American dominance in the America’s, a good candidate for such a place would naturally be in my opinion Venezuela.


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The Chinese forces right now

China currently has the largest army on earth, it also has the largest Navy on earth (in terms of hull numbers, USN ranks 1st in tonnage) it also possesses the 3rd largest air force (slightly behind Russia & USA ranks 1st).

For this I will mainly focus on the naval aspect, but right now China has 93 large surface combatants designated Frigate or larger & over 2,000tons displacement that are capable of ocean-going deployments with a further 25 ships of all major variants currently in build or planned.

China also maintains a large fleet of sea going corvettes (Limited in deep ocean-going capability) with assisted replenishment ships, currently the Chinese operate some 42 corvettes with a total of 60 planned (type 053A) and around 220 missile craft for coastal operations.
Backing up this Coastal / Regional fleet is a force of 29 small oilers, the largest of which displaces 5,000tons.
Many of these date to the late 1960’s and early 1970’s their immediate sea going capability is somewhat questionable, as would be the state of repair, not to mention they have limited endurance and speed capabilities so these ships would only be operation in and around the EEZ of China.

China also possesses a large submarine force the bulk of which is made up of conventional submarines of various types, here are some numbers of submarines:
1 Type 092 SSBN (Xia class)
4 Type 093 SSBN (Jin class) 2 more are completed a further 2 are in build for a total of 8 units
Planned construction to start in 2020 of 6 Type 096 SSBN
6 Type 093 SSN (Shang class)
3 Type 091 SSN (Han class)
Planned construction to start 2020 of 5 Type 095 SSNs

14 Type 035 SSK (Ming class)
13 Type 039 SSK (Song class)
17 Type 039A SSK (Yuan class) 3 more currently being built
12 Project 877 (2) and 636 (10) Kilo class SSK
1 Type 032 SSA (Qing class) Technology Test unit

(Sources: Federation of American scientists, Janes defence group and US DOD Annual report to congress 2019)

The Logistics capability

With a large fleet of Ocean going warships one must assume that there is a large auxiliary force behind it ready to deploy with a task group to provide stores and fuel during deployments.
What I have seen recently with the numbers and using open sources, China lags behind in some way in this specific area.
when we look at numbers of ships to me it is some what astonishing that such a large fleet does not possess more auxiliary vessels (Specifically stand alone dry stores), currently this is how the numbers stand:

2 Type 901 Fast Supply ship Multi role for Fuel, and Solid stores 45,000ton DWT
8 Type 903 / 903A Fast supply ship multi role for fuel and solid stores 20,500ton DWT (903) 23,000ton DWT (903A) there is also 2 more building.
5 Type 904 A and B General stores ships (these cannot under take Replenishment at sea / Under way replenishment)(11,000DWT for type 904 & 904A with 15,000DWT for 904B)
2 Type 908 Multi product fleet oiler 37,000DWT
29 small Oilers under 5,000DWT dating back to 1960’s / 70’s due for replacement and only operate in coastal waters
(Sources: Janes defence group and US DOD Annual report to congress 2019)

Right now as it stands a large fleet deployment (CVBG size) for an extended period of time beyond the Indian ocean and immediate Pacific region is totally possible in peace time with the current logistics fleet.
However should the duration of that deployment be much longer than 4 months with the usage of 2 or 3 multi role auxiliaries, the current supply situation would require a rotation or a trip to a friendly port to replace the now near exhausted supply of predominantly fuel oils, Lubrication oils and aviation fuels, this would be much quicker should the escort vessels and carrier be conducting heavy operations and flight ops. (my own figures based on a large CVBG: 1 CV 5 DDG 5 FFG 1 SSN)
(CVBG set up (mission dependant) usually includes 1 or 2 CG’s, 4 to 8 DDG’s 1 to 3 SSN’s 1 CVN (also may include 2 or more allied FFG’s or DDGs))

This usage would magnify should the deployment be larger and also further afield, as this would require a larger Auxiliary force.
While China appears to have the numbers what it doesn’t currently have is the sustainability to keep this force deployed well beyond its borders (such as a deployment into the Atlantic ocean) for indefinite periods of time.

This is partly due to transit times to and From China, an example would be a deployment to the Caribbean, this would require a long trans Pacific (around 2 weeks total time) to the Panama canal, then the transit and inspections at the canal (new vessels using the canal for the first time must have an inspection) the transit to find the fleet.
For one CVBG this would require the rotation of no fewer than 6 to 8 replenishment vessels to maintain on station deployment in that region.

Of course we know that in the real world China will have some friends in that region but one thing is almost certain Its highly likely that the USA would refuse entry to their ships (as China has done to the USN in the past), but Cuba and Venezuela would likely be willing hosts and thus in that region it would negate the need for rotations, however at some point the single carrier and her escort must return home mainly for refitting and maintenance but also crew rotations, this would require more escorts to be available to take its place in theatre.

Currently as it stands China has access to ports in the Indian ocean (Seychelles), and the Gulf of Aden Djibouti), I am sure it is working on access to ports in the Persian gulf (re Iran) the Mediterranean (Syria and Egypt) and also the Caribbean region (Venezuela along side Russia and Cuba).
While these ports in peace time will allow the stores to be replenished it is unknown how these countries would react in time of war.

Taiwan and Amphibious capability

“Publicly available Chinese writings describe different operational concepts for an amphibious invasion of Taiwan. The most prominent of these, the Joint Island Landing Campaign, envisions a complex operation relying on coordinated, interlocking campaigns for logistics, air, and naval support, and electronic warfare. The objective would be to break through or circumvent shore defenses, establish and build a beachhead, transport personnel and materiel to designated landing sites in the north or south of Taiwan’s western coastline, and launch attacks to seize and occupy key targets or the entire island. Large-scale amphibious invasion is one of the most complicated and difficult military operations.
Success depends upon air and maritime superiority, the rapid buildup and sustainment of supplies onshore, and uninterrupted support. An attempt to invade Taiwan would likely strain China’s armed forces and invite international intervention. These stresses, combined with China’s combat force attrition and the complexity of urban warfare and counterinsurgency, even assuming a successful landing and breakout, make an amphibious invasion of Taiwan a significant political and military risk.
The PLA is capable of accomplishing various amphibious operations short of a full-scale invasion of Taiwan. With few overt military preparations beyond routine training, China could launch an invasion of small Taiwan-held islands in the South China Sea such as Pratas or Itu Aba.
A PLA invasion of a medium-sized, better-defended island such as Matsu or Jinmen is within China’s capabilities. Such an invasion would demonstrate military capability and political resolve while achieving tangible territorial gain and simultaneously showing some measure of restraint.
However, this kind of operation involves significant, and possibly prohibitive, political risk because it could galvanize pro-independence sentiment on Taiwan and generate international opposition.”
Quote: US DOD report to congress 2019

With the above in mind the logistics supply would need to come by Air and Sea, China has a large air force capable of lifting large quantities of cargo, however as noted above the landings would be some what complex, and would definitely instigate international condemnation.

Currently the situation in terms of amphibious capabilities is sizeable but some what limited, currently it is estimated 140 small landing craft of 1950’s vintage remain in storage, while there is an estimated 50 Landing craft air cushion (LCAC) of various sizes in active service.
We couple this with the type 071 LPD which is a large 25,000ton landing platform dock (LPD) there are known to currently have 5 in service with a further 3 building, we also have 1 40,000ton type 075 Landing platform helicopter (LPH) with a further 2 being built.

these ships and the close nature of Taiwan to the mainland could ensure a sustainable logistics supply to an invasion force, however beyond that region it could only operate as an expeditionary force (much like the UK does) assigned to work with a carrier group.

My own conclusion is right now is China could invade and hold Taiwan for a long period to indefinite period of time, however how the international community would react is another matter.


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In conclusion

With China rapidly expanding it is clear there is still some way to go for China in terms of Logistics and supply capability, I haven’t even touched on a limited war beyond its borders but the recent summary of Chinas logistical capability without using its merchant fleet gives it a some what limited capability beyond the Asia Pacific and Indian ocean regions.
Currently using the rotation method China has been ongoing with the CTF task groups in the Gulf of Aden, however it has been reliant on foreign auxiliaries to provide fuel (this is not uncommon for any nation in this theatre) and also has been using two ports one in the Seychelles and one in Djibouti to provide basic maintenance and stores.

Right now I don’t think China could sustain a large scale operation (Such as Iraqi freedom or Afghanistan) beyond its borders for a long period of time, the nature of the operation would have to be more limited in scope (Falklands, 91 Gulf war), that’s not to say China is not and does not have the capability to conduct limited operations it currently does.

With the current build rate and the future plans of China I can foresee that should this trend continue by 2035 China certainly will be a tier one blue water navy quite possibly almost en par with the United States, with similar capabilities.


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Sorry should have put them in the following sources were used:

US DOD Report to congress China military power 2019
US DIA Assessment of China's military power
USNI article regarding BFM written by Commander Keith Patton