People's Liberation Army Navy
|Active||since September 1950|
|Country||People's Republic of China|
|Engagements||Chinese Civil War|
|Admiral Wu Shengli|
The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN or PLA Navy) (simplified Chinese: 中国人民解放军海军; traditional Chinese: 中國人民解放軍海軍; pinyin: Zhōngguó Rénmín Jiěfàngjūn Hǎijūn) is the naval branch of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the military of the People's Republic of China. Until the early 1990s, the navy performed a subordinate role to the People's Liberation Army Ground Forces. Since then, it has undergone rapid modernisation. The PLAN is the second largest naval service in the world behind the United States Navy. With a personnel strength of over 250,000, the PLAN also includes the 35,000 strong Coastal Defense Force and the 56,000 man People's Liberation Army Marine Corps/Naval Infantry/Marines, plus a 56,000 People's Liberation Army Naval Air Force/People's Liberation Army Aviation naval air arm operating several hundred land-based aircraft and ship-based helicopters. As part of its overall program of naval modernization, the PLAN is moving towards the development of a blue-water navy.
- Sea patrols of territorial waters
- Establish presence in disputed territorial waters and protect current interests
- Anti-piracy, anti-smuggling, search and rescue
- Maintain security of territorial waters
- Active logistical support role of combatants and island garrisons
- Maintain security of Sea Lines of Communications
- Littoral defense of local seas
- Blockade or protection of vital ship routes and choke points
- Tactical transport, support, and amphibious operations of ground forces
- Air defense
- Anti-submarine operations
- Engagement of enemy shipping
- Active logistical support role of combatants and island garrisons
See also: Naval history of China
The PLAN traces its lineage to units of the Republic of China Navy who defected to the People's Liberation Army towards the end of the Chinese Civil War. In 1949, Mao Zedong asserted that "to oppose imperialist aggression, we must build a powerful navy." During the Landing Operation on Hainan Island, the communists used wooden junks fitted with mountain guns as both transport and warships against the Republic of China Navy. The Dalian Naval Academy was set up at Dalian on 22 November 1949, mostly with Soviet instructors. The navy was established in September 1950 by consolidating regional naval forces under General Staff Department command in Jiangyan, now in Taizhou, Jiangsu province. It then consisted of a motley collection of ships and boats acquired from the Kuomintang forces. The People's Liberation Army Naval Air Force was added two years later. By 1954 an estimated 2,500 Soviet naval advisers were in China—possibly one adviser to every thirty Chinese naval personnel—and the Soviet Union began providing modern ships. With Soviet assistance, the navy reorganized in 1954 and 1955 into the North Sea Fleet, East Sea Fleet, and South Sea Fleet, and a corps of admirals and other naval officers was established from the ranks of the ground forces. In shipbuilding the Soviets first assisted the Chinese, then the Chinese copied Soviet designs without assistance, and finally the Chinese produced vessels of their own design. Eventually Soviet assistance progressed to the point that a joint Sino-Soviet Pacific Ocean fleet was under discussion.
1950s and 1960s
Through the upheavals of the late 1950s and 1960s the Navy remained relatively undisturbed. Under the leadership of Minister of National Defense Lin Biao, large investments were made in naval construction during the frugal years immediately after the Great Leap Forward. During the Cultural Revolution, a number of top naval commissars and commanders were purged, and naval forces were used to suppress a revolt in Wuhan in July 1967, but the service largely avoided the turmoil affecting the country. Although it paid lip service to Mao and assigned political commissars aboard ships, the Navy continued to train, build, and maintain the fleets.
1970s and 1980s
In the 1970s, when approximately 20 percent of the defense budget was allocated to naval forces, the Navy grew dramatically. The conventional submarine force increased from 35 to 100 boats, the number of missile-carrying ships grew from 20 to 200, and the production of larger surface ships, including support ships for oceangoing operations, increased. The Navy also began development of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN) and nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN).
In the 1980s, under the leadership of Chief Naval Commander Liu Huaqing, the navy developed into a regional naval power, though naval construction continued at a level somewhat below the 1970s rate. Liu Huaqing was an Army Officer who spent most of his career in administrative positions involving science and technology.
It was not until 1988 that the People's Liberation Army Navy was led by a Naval Officer. Liu was also very close to Deng Xiaoping as his modernization efforts were very much in keeping with Deng's national policies. While under his leadership Naval construction yards produced fewer ships than the 1970s, greater emphasis was placed on technology and qualitative improvement.
Modernization efforts also encompassed higher educational and technical standards for personnel; reformulation of the traditional coastal defense doctrine and force structure in favor of more green-water operations; and training in naval combined-arms operations involving submarine, surface, naval aviation, and coastal defense and fortification forces.
Examples of the expansion of China's capabilities were the 1980 recovery of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the Western Pacific by a twenty-ship fleet, extended naval operations in the South China Sea in 1984 and 1985, and the visit of two naval ships to three South Asian nations in 1985. In 1982 the navy conducted a successful test of an underwater-launched ballistic missile. The navy also had some success in developing a variety of surface-to-surface and air-to-surface missiles, improving basic capabilities.
The PLA Navy was ranked in 1987 as the third largest navy in the world, although naval personnel had comprised only 12 percent of PLA strength. In 1987 the Navy consisted (as it does now) of the naval headquarters in Beijing; three fleet commands – the North Sea Fleet, based at Qingdao, Shandong; the East Sea Fleet, based at Ningbo; and the South Sea Fleet, based at Zhanjiang, Guangdong – and about 2,000 ships. The 350,000-person Navy included Naval Air Force units of 34,000 men, the Coastal Defense Forces of 38,000, and the Marine Corps of 56,500. Navy Headquarters, which controlled the three fleet commands, was subordinate to the PLA General Staff Department. In 1987, China's 1,500 km coastline was protected by more than 100 diesel-powered Romeo class submarine and Whiskey class submarine submarines, which could remain at sea only a limited time. Inside this protective ring and within range of shore-based aircraft were destroyers and frigates mounting Styx anti-ship missiles, depth-charge projectors, and guns up to 130 mm. Any invader penetrating the destroyer and frigate protection would have been swarmed by almost 900 fast-attack craft. Stormy weather limited the range of these small boats, however, and curtailed air support. Behind the inner ring were Coastal Defense Force personnel operating naval shore batteries of Styx missiles and guns, backed by ground force units deployed in depth.
Into the 21st century
As the 21st century approached, the PLAN began to transition to an off-shore defensive strategy that entailed more out-of-area operations away from its traditional territorial waters. Between 1989 and 1993, the training ship Zhenghe paid ports visits to Hawaii, Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India. PLAN vessels visited Vladivostok in 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1996. PLAN task groups also paid visits to Indonesia in 1995; North Korea in 1997; New Zealand, Australia, and the Philippines in 1998; Malaysia, Tanzania, South Africa, the United States, and Canada in 2000; and India, Pakistan, France, Italy, Germany, Britain, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand in 2001.
In March 1997, the Type 052 destroyer/Luhu-class guided missile destroyer Harbin, the Type 051 destroyer/Luda-class guided missile destroyer Zhuhai, and the replenishment oiler Nancang began the PLA Navy's first circumnavigation of the Pacific Ocean, a 98-day voyage with port visits to Mexico, Peru, Chile, and the United States, including Pearl Harbor and San Diego. The flotilla was under the command of Vice Admiral Wang Yongguo, the commander-in-chief of the South Sea Fleet.
The Type 051 destroyer/Luhu-class guided missile destroyer Qingdao and the replenishment oiler Taicang completed the PLA Navy's first circumnavigation of the world (pictured), a 123-day voyage covering 32,000 nautical miles (59,000 km; 37,000 mi) between 15 May – 23 September 2002. Port visits included Changi, Singapore; Alexandria, Egypt; Aksis, Turkey; Sevastopol, ]]Ukraine]]; Piraeus, Greece; Lisbon, Portugal; Fortaleza, Brazil; Guayaquil, Ecuador; Callao, Peru; and Papeete in French Polynesia. The PLA naval vessels participated in naval exercises with the French frigates French frigate Nivôse (F-732) and French frigate Prairial (F-731), as well as exercises with the Peruvian Navy. The flotilla was under the command of Vice Admiral Ding Yiping, the commander-in-chief of the North Sea Fleet, and Captain Li Yujie was the commanding officer of the Qingdao.
Overall, between 1985 and 2006, PLAN naval vessels visited 18 Asian-Pacific nations, 4 South American nations, 8 European nations, 3 African nations, and 3 North American nations. In 2003, the PLAN conducted its first joint naval exercises during separate visits to Pakistan and India. Bi-lateral naval exercises were also carried out with exercises with the French, British, Australian, Canadian, Philippine, and United States navies.[[|]]
On 26 December 2008, the PLAN dispatched a task group consisting of the Type 052C destroyer guided missile destroyer Haikou (flagship), the Type 052B destroyer guided missile destroyer Wuhan, and the supply ship Weishanhu of the Qiandaohu class replenishment ship to the Gulf of Aden to participating in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. A team of 16 Chinese People's Liberation Army Operations Special Forces members from its Marine Corps armed with attack helicopters were on board. Since then, China has maintained a three-ship flotilla of two warships and one supply ship in the Gulf of Aden by assigning ships from the South Sea Fleet and/or East Sea Fleet to the Gulf of Aden on a three monthly basis.
PLAN operations has been marred by the 2001 Hainan Island incident, a major submarine accident in 2003, and naval incidents involving the U.S. Military Sealift Command-operated ocean surveillance ships USNS Victorious (T-AGOS-19) and USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS-23) during 2009.