What are China's naval goals? The West can't wait to find out

Posted Thursday, 16 May 2019 ‐ CNN

Carl Schuster is a retired US Navy captain, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command's Joint Intelligence Center, a current Hawaii Pacific University instructor and a part-time defense consultant. he opinions expressed in this commentary are solely his own.Newport, Rhode Island (CNN)It's no secret that China's navy has experienced unprecedented growth, rapid modernization and an expanded range of operations over the past 15 years -- and this has raised concerns about the country's ultimate intentions. At a conference earlier this month, more than 200 naval experts gathered at the United States Naval War College to discuss these concerns and the broader challenges posed by China's expanded naval power.One expert, the US Pacific Fleet's former intelligence chief, retired Navy Capt. James Fanell noted that China's People's Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN for short, has commissioned nearly four times as many ships as the US Navy over the last decade.Another participant mentioned that the ratio of naval power in the Western Pacific has shifted in China's favor with the PLAN possessing 106 naval missile platforms in the Western Pacific versus the US Navy's 22.Perhaps more significantly, the panels noted China claims it has made rapid progress in developing laser, hypersonic and electromagnetic pulse weapons programs and unmanned systems.But despite its resources, China and the PLAN face challenges and shortfalls that preclude it from being the threat these advances might suggest. One big problem: China's military branches still don't work that well together, despite a strong push by President Xi Jinping that they do so and recent reforms establishing joint theater commands.The PLA has yet to demonstrate full service integration in its exercises, suggesting much work remains to be done. Joint exercises continue to be small-scale, and the services' roles in them remain separated either physically or chronologically.This means gaps remain in multi-service operations, particularly in operations beyond the First Island Chain or "Far Seas."China enjoys surveillance superiority over the waters near its coast (the Near Seas) but not in the Far Seas. Its lack of sea-based air power and overseas bases to provide land-based air support limits the PLAN's capacity to project power ashore by other than land-attack cruise missiles or unmanned systems.While the PLAN has significantly increased its overseas operations since it started anti-piracy operations 11 years ago, it has yet to demonstrate the capability to protect its sea lines of communications through the Indian Ocean, through which 70% of China's energy requirements and over 80% of its trade must pass.It has a naval support base in Djibouti and access agreements in the region, but the PLAN's logistics train lacks the capacity to support the deployed forces required to counter a major opponent. Nonetheless, China's maritime challenge is very real.It has initiated a massive oceanographic research and survey effort across virtually all the world's oceans. And the PLAN does operate globally, conducting exercises with more than 30 nations and operating in all the world's oceans and four of the seven seas.And China's marine strategy, authored by its Maritime Commerce Ministry, brings numbers to bear that no country can match, by closely integrating China's civic, commercial, diplomatic and naval operations.For example, Chinese companies and merchant shipping constituted the first responders to Mozambique following recent typhoon devastation. The PLAN has a supporting role in that strategy, advancing China's economic and political interests. While regional goals, including dominance of the "near seas" -- Taiwan and the South China Sea -- remain the PLAN's main focus, China's leaders are addressing the PLAN's worldwide ambitions and plan to achieve those goals before 2050.The West's experts and intelligence community must monitor its progress closely, shedding past assumptions when assessing new information to provide decision makers the insights required to anticipate and forestall any aggressive designs that China may harbor. Deterring conflict requires adequate force levels and clear understanding of all the parties' actions and intentions.To this point, the West has done a poor job figuring this out and is now playing catch-up.Capt. Fanell described it as the "US intelligence community and academia miscalculation of the scope, scale and timing of the PLAN's modernization and its impact on US national security."China presently maintains a near global presence on the world's oceans, its fleet is growing rapidly and its intentions seem more assertive than Beijing's official statements profess. If dominating any portion of the "Far Seas" is China's goal, waiting for Beijing to achieve it before responding is not an option that assures peace.China is employing an integrated multi-agency approach to expanding its influence in every continent. It has established economic links with countries across the world, and its Belt and Road Initiate (BRI) has both continental and maritime dimensions. Its media outlets, commercial companies, diplomats and military all have roles in Beijing's national strategy. Countering China's strategy will require a similar comprehensive diplomatic, economic and military response.

Other articles published by CNN

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

Washington (CNN)Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been a near-ghost in Washington, adhering almost too well to the first rule of working for President Donald Trump — never overshadow the boss. Perry generates so few headlines that it's easy to forget the ...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)It's one of the biggest indie rock songs of all time -- and for 20 years British band The Verve didn't make a cent off "Bitter Sweet Symphony."But lead singer Richard Ashcroft will finally get royalties for the track after a long-running copyright...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)A 102-year-old woman is under suspicion of the murder of her 92-year-old neighbor in a residential care home in Chézy-sur-Marne, northern France.A carer found the "lifeless" 92-year-old woman in her room shortly after midnight Saturday morning and...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

London (CNN)After months of speculation, attempts to oust her and parliamentary defeats, the fate of Theresa May is finally sealed. But although there is clarity about her political career -- now she has announced she will resign on June 7 and set the...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

Washington (CNN)An attorney for Navy SEAL chief Edward "Eddie" Gallagher also represents the Trump Organization, CNN has learned, just days after reports surfaced indicating the President is considering pardoning Gallagher of charges that could...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)A wildfire has shut down a portion of Interstate 95 in northern Florida, snarling traffic on a major US highway as the busy Memorial Day weekend begins. The Yellow Bluff Fire has scorched 450 acres and is 30% contained, the Florida Forest Service's...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)He won the World Cup as a player, but could Gianluigi Buffon be ready to take on the challenge of winning football's biggest prize as a manager?The 41-year-old Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper is yet to make a call over whether he will continue...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)Hundreds of thousands of school students around the world walked out of class on Friday to urge their governments to take greater action in slashing greenhouse gas emissions. Climate protests are planned in more than 1600 towns in over 125 countries ...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

CNN national security analyst John Kirby, a retired rear admiral in the US Navy, was a spokesman for both the State and Defense Departments in the Obama administration. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)There's a major shake-up this morning on the world stage. Let's get right to that and what else you need to know to Get Up to Speed and Out the Door. (You can also get "5 Things You Need to Know Today" delivered to your inbox daily. ...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

Luke McGee is a senior producer at CNN based in London.London (CNN)Brexit has destroyed another British Prime Minister.Three years after voters in the UK mandated their government to take Britain out of the European Union, Theresa May's failure to do so...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)While "Medicare for all" quickly became one of the top policy issues of the 2020 race for the Democratic presidential nomination, polling doesn't show a clear preference for a government-run health care program over the current system.Many Americans ...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)"One man's food is another man's poison." - Lucretius (99-55 B.C.)Most people have this basic understanding of genetics: You inherit genes from your parents, and their DNA combines to create your unique genetic makeup. This can include more obvious ...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)England's rugby sevens players have a secret weapon, but to find it they have to dig deep.It lies at the end of a grueling fitness regime which involves recreating the state of utter exhaustion the body experiences in the "death zone," a term used...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)Among the heavily trafficked streets of Atlanta, a massive urban food forest is growing to provide fresh produce for the public. But what exactly is a food forest?In the fight against food deserts -- low income areas that lack access to fresh, whole ...