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Report: Russian Arms Sales Give China a Better Chance in Competing with U.S. Ships

Type 022 Fast Attack Missile Craft Houbei Class of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) test fires C-803 antiship missile. PLAN Photo via Global Military Review

Type 022 Fast Attack Missile Craft Houbei Class of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) test fires C-803 antiship missile. PLAN Photo via Global Military Review

“Improved maritime strike capability has given Chinese warships a much greater chance of competing against their U.S. counterparts” and improved naval air defenses allow its warships “the ability to operate at increasingly great distances from shore”—major advances in large part speeded by arms, vessels and technology sales from Russia since the end of the Cold War.

Those were two observations contained in a new report from the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, released Tuesday. Paul Schwartz, the author of Russia’s Contribution to China’s Surface Warfare Capabilities: Feeding the Dragon, said in discussing the report, “collectively [those factors] represent a great leap forward” and “these systems [from new surface warships to sea- and air-launched anti-ship missiles, etc.] are making a real difference.”

He expects sales of technology and arms from Russia to China to continue into the future, especially in radar systems. Already the improved Chinese naval air defenses capabilities “complicate the task of U.S. pilots,” reminiscent of the difficulties the Americans faced in the Vietnam War.

For Russia, the sales amounted to $32.1 billion for 1999–2014 and helped keep it afloat as the Soviet Union collapsed. For the Chinese, they provided an opening to military technology that had been shut off following the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The transfers are not simply going from Russia to China. Schwartz added China has tried to interest the Russians in buying its latest frigate because of Russia’s shipbuilding problems. Beijing also has advanced drones, better information technology and command and control systems that could be of interest to Moscow.

Jeffery Mankoff, director of the CSIS’s Russia and Eurasia program, noted that Russia has also been selling modernized naval and air systems to Vietnam and India, neighboring rivals of China.

In the discussion that followed Schwartz’s presentation, Thomas Karako, a senior fellow at CSIS said, in anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) “China is using mass to challenge us”—allowing it to target fleet, allies and bases. “The U.S. is going to have to invest more in standoff weapons and penetration weapons,” as well as maritime missile defense against new conventional threats.

While directed energy and rail guns offer promise for the future, Karako quoted Adm. Bill Gortney, Northern Command commander, as saying for the immediate future it will still be missiles shooting down other missiles.

The unanswered question is whether the relationship between China and Russia is really a long-term one, or a marriage of convenience, said Zach Cooper, a fellow at the CSIS.

“Both counties are dissatisfied with the status quo”—Russia in Eastern Europe and China in the islands off its coast. Both “are using a similar technique of hybrid warfare” to get their way, stopping short of provoking a wider conflict that would draw in the United States. He cited the Chinese sending its coast guard vessels, rather than warships, into disputed waters as an example of this.

But the two nations do not always see eye-to-eye on Russia’s role in the Far East, Chinese hard-bargaining on energy sales from Russia, or Beijing’s reverse-engineering of technology sold to it rather than buying more. The report said of the reverse engineering, “Insult was added to injury when China began to sell some of those systems on the arms export markets, thereby undercutting Russian exports of the original system.”

For now, because of economic sanctions against Russia for its actions in annexing Crimea and backing separatists in eastern Ukraine, Moscow is further and further removed from interacting with the West.

Schwartz said, “China is still very integrated with the West,” economically.

Even with all China’s investment in maritime capabilities, Cooper and Schwartz predicted, it would take a decade or two to field a capable force to counter the United States at sea. China is only now fielding an aircraft carrier, which will be primarily used for training, although it plans on building three in the future. It also does not have a recent maritime history comparable to the United States and Japan so that means developing an officer corps knowledgeable about blue-water operations, a professional noncommissioned officer corps and ending its reliance on the draft to meet manpower needs.

Right now, “Russia is selling China the rope to hang the U.S. Navy,” Karako said.

Other important future large sales could include Russia’s S-400 air defense system, Su-35 aircraft and LADA-class diesel-electric submarines.

The report concluded: “Prospects for increased arms sales from Russia to China seem greater now than they have been in many years, and not solely in the maritime domain.”

  • Even with all the so-called SU-35, S-400, Lada subs, China PLAN would not last and will be decimate in face off the might U.S 7th Fleet! PLAN cannot even handle the Japan Self Defense Navy in a face off and never mind about U.S 7th Fleet!

    • Oleg Turilov

      You too optimistic) You have no idea what a bear my after I had satiated his bucket of vodka and played his balalyka …. especially if it has go down into the basement of my house and recharge from a nuclear reactor: -)> then it becomes waterfowl like Godzilla) and 7th fleet can suck a smacking) Ruskies

      • muzzleloader

        Either your translation work needs improvement, or you have had too much Stolychnya. Lol

  • Navyjag907

    I don’t like China’s strategic situation unless their policy is to make as many enemies as possible. Just off the top I wouldn’t want the Japanese, Vietnamese, and Indians structuring their defense budgets and forces to meet the Chinese threat–those three have serious military records and armed forces and I would not want to have to fight them. Then our South Korean allies with very large armed forces and a defense budget to match. The Chinese have made a lot of enemies as a result of their maritime claims and actions to back them up. I realize the resources in the claimed areas are substantial but I wonder if they wouldn’t get as large a share through negotiations rather than threats.

  • John B. Morgen

    Although Russia is transferring weapon systems by selling them to China, however, it is really the United States’s fault by fueling the Chinese military build-up with “capital funding.” The Chinese government is using their profits that were gained from trading with us—we’re hanging ourselves with our own rope (money). Therefore, to slow down the Chinese military build-up, we must reduce our trade with China. We must dam up the money flow that is fueling the Chinese military.

  • publius_maximus_III

    I liked things better when the Bear and Dragon were fighting with each other along their common border.

  • olesaly

    “Know your capabilities & better Know who your Enemies are and their capabilities. 100 battles 100 Victories” I have adapted the original Chinese War Philosophy of General Sun Tzu (500 BC). Timely for the US Armed Forces especially the USN & the USAF to be prepared NOW & not trim its defence budget. Also wise to firm up formal alliances with Japan & friendly allies in East Asia and in Europe. China’s rise is overpowering as shown in its display of military might in today’s parade in Beijing (3rd September, 2015) commemorating the 70th Anniversary End of WW II. There are missiles the Chinese claim their capabilities of sinking USN Carriers; and China has nuclear ICBMs able to reach US. This is like WW II all over again but with different “players”: US & their allies including Japan VS Assertive Communist China & Aggressive Russia. IF common sense does not prevail there will be a disastrous war. Who will blinked? We hope NOT the US, the leader of the Free World.

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  • RobM1981

    I’d certainly hope that our leaders know this without having to read it in Proceedings. China has money – much of it from the USA. Russia has technology, largely a legacy from the Cold War where key industries have been kept alive. Russia, however, could use more money.

    And both Russia and China would love nothing more than to twist our tail.

    This is the fundamental issue with Obama’s Iran deal. When you hand Iran money, they will turn to Russia and/or China and buy military technology that will allow them to improve their ICBM’s *and* defend them from air attack.

    This is obvious, and it’s why serious students of realpolitik realize just how bad a deal the Iran deal is.

    Unfortunately the onus is upon the USN to keep a step ahead. US Submarines must retain both a technical and training edge. This might mean bringing modern, quiet diesel boats back into the fleet, for littoral defense work. That kind of creativity will become ever-more critical as China’s money and Russia’s technology continue pressuring the USN, and it goes way beyond submarines.

    Perhaps someone can help us quickly and affordably float a new FFG? There seems to be a real demand for one…

    We have always quietly turned to the UK for symbiotic improvements. Hopefully we can do the same with Japan (they make a good diesel boat, for example) and other allies.

    Just don’t ask France for help building a CVN, OK??? :-O