Navy’s East China Sea fleet at the cutting edge with modern vessels, training and structure

By Guo Yuandan Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/18 19:38:39 Last Updated: 2016/9/18 19:43:40

Watch officers are on duty on missile frigate the Xuzhou. The Xuzhou was dispatched to escort ships evacuating Chinese nationals in Libya in February 2011, the first time that the Chinese navy went to a foreign country to help evacuate Chinese citizens. Photo: Wang Zhipeng

The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)'s East China Sea Fleet has drawn attention in recent years over its growing number of modern destroyers. The destroyer flotilla, as part of the frontline group guarding the East China Sea, conducts regular patrol missions and provides strategic support in political and diplomatic disputes in the area.  

Can they adapt to new developments brought by the strategic shifts facing the Chinese navy? The Global Times reporter visited the flotilla recently to hear its stories. 

"As a combat troop, the fundamental mission is our ability to win. There is no doubt about our fighting strength," Xu Haihua, the captain of the flotilla, told the Global Times.

Iron fist in the sea

The flotilla, established early this century, is a relatively young troop. Since its debut, it has guarded the East China Sea and has been dubbed the "iron fist in the sea."

The flotilla's equipment and crewmen have been the most elite the PLAN has to offer since its establishment. At that time, the flotilla was equipped with up-to-date destroyers including the Fuzhou and the Hangzhou. Those destroyers were at the cutting edge of PLAN technology in their overall size, firepower, seaworthiness, survivability, and especially in air defense and anti-ship capabilities.

Meanwhile, the founding crewmen were the cream of the crop, though even they faced challenges grasping all the needed operational skills in a short time.

Wang Hongmin, who was among the soldiers who collected the destroyers from Russia and is now the vice chief of staff of the flotilla, told the Global Times that everyone tried to seize each opportunity to communicate with their Russian coaches despite the language barrier and the sheer number of courses.

Xu said that introducing the vessels benefited the navy's development in many aspects. "First, it boosted our modernization and equipment development; second, we learned a whole new set of skills through operating the vessels; last, we cultivated lots of elite seamen," Xu said.

Meanwhile, the flotilla changed its commanding vessels from destroyers to frigates, as the new PLAN frigates are equipped with modern command and control information systems. The change reflects the trend that a modern navy should be more information-oriented than mechanization-oriented.

The destroyer Wenzhou fires shots into the air. Photo: Wang Zhipeng

Close combat

Eight Chinese characters that read "Drop illusions and be armed for battle" are on display in the flotilla's shore camp. New recruits are told that they should be ready for battle once they are enlisted.

Several years ago, the troop went to patrol the sea for the first time, and then this patrol became a regular event. The seamen started to think about how to correctly carry out their superiors' orders when facing formidable opponents, and how to improve their combat effectiveness during a close encounter, said Lü Dongfang, the flotilla's commissar.

Xu's answer was to use missions to boost his troops' transformation from being training-oriented to being mission-oriented. "First we should make clear what mission the troops are undertaking, and what environment and opponents the troops will face before they receive training on how to defend and attack," He said.

Not long ago, three destroyers guided by Xu including the newly commissioned Jingzhou conducted training far offshore, of which the main subject was to conduct a long-range attack while cooperating with naval air power. 

"We have been conducting regular strategic patrols in the East China Sea for years, which provided strategic support to deal with political and diplomatic frictions in the area," Xu said.

The support covers many aspects, including investigation and evidence-collecting. To cope with complicated situations in both sea and air, the destroyer Wenzhou amended its investigation and evidence-collecting rules and introduced evidence-collecting into its regular drills.

In a drill scenario involving the provocations of foreign vessels, soldiers on the Wenzhou collected evidence on the target, environment, operating process and paper material, and also recorded videos.

Sailing internationally

The PLAN has proposed a new development strategy of "building the navy with open eyes," which has led to deepened communication and cooperation with other navies.

Xu said that the PLAN acquired a lot of good experience by communicating with the Russian navy, and for the flotilla, "introducing the destroyers brought lots of progress, including training methods, combat conception and equipment upgrading."

Missile frigates the Zhoushan, the Xuzhou and the supply ship Qiandaohu went to the Gulf of Aden for an escort mission in July 2009, the first such mission carried out by the East China Sea Fleet.

The Chinese navy is playing a growing role in serving the nation. In February 2011, Wang Hongmin directed the frigate Xuzhou to escort ships evacuating Chinese nationals from war-torn Libya. This was the first time that the Chinese navy went abroad to help evacuate Chinese citizens.

The development of the Chinese navy has attracted the attention of some countries. Xia Zimin, the chief of staff of the flotilla, said that some soldiers were nervous when they first encountered foreign military vessels, but now soldiers know that there are no strong or weak parties. What is behind this change is the growth of comprehensive national and military strength.

Xu said using international rules highlights the soft power and prominence of the Chinese navy, and in the meantime, it also contributes to maritime peace and stability.

Newspaper headline: Mastering the waves

Posted in: Military

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