From Counter-Piracy to Piracy: The Strategic Direction of the Chinese Navy


2016-12-18 By Ed Timperlake and Robbin Laird

The Chinese Navy has come out into the big world as a counter-piracy force.

For example, the PLAN has been part of the anti-piracy operations off of the waters of Somalia.

And in 2014, the PLAN did an exercise with the US Navy with regard to counter-piracy.

In a rare bilateral exercise, the U.S. and China conducted anti-piracy training off the pirate-prone Gulf of Aden, the Navy said in a Thursday statement.

The Chinese Navy has a dual capable force -- it can do counter piracy or piracy dependent on the requirement.
The Chinese Navy has a dual capable force — it can do counter piracy or piracy dependent on the requirement.

The guided missile destroyer USS Sterett (DDG-104) joined at least two of People’s Liberation Army Navy ships for the exercises that included visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) exercises, communication exchanges and “various other aspects of naval operations,” read the statement from U.S. 5th Fleet.

“Approximately 700 personnel from the U.S. and China navies will participate in the exercise, and it gives Sterett sailors the opportunity to engage in a shared mission with other surface platforms,” read the statement.

A Pentagon spokesman said the exercises included live fire drills, according to a report in Stars and Stripes.

“The exercise allows us to address our common regional and global interest,” said Capt. Doug Stuffle, commander, U.S. Navy Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 1.

“It helps both nations pursue a healthy, stable, reliable and continuous bilateral relationship.”

Last year, the U.S. Navy and the PLAN conducted a first round of anti-piracy exercises between USS Mason (DDG-87) and the Luhu-class destroyer Harbin and oiler Weishanhu.

Those exercises included VBSS training, live fire drills and a rare helicopter landings.

In September, China’s anti piracy force has also conducted similar drills with the Iranian Navy.

Even the US Army has joined in the counter-terrorism effort with the PRC.

Closing ceremonies for the 10th Disaster Management Exchange, or DME, were held in Haikou on Hainan Island, China, Jan. 18.

The 2015 DME is a U.S.-China humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exchange, which included an expert academic discussion, or EAD, a tabletop exchange, or TTE and a practical field exchange, or PFE. The DME is among the most substantive of U.S. military engagement activities with China.

“This long established exchange underscores the commitment of the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China to a comprehensive and strong military-to-military relationship in order to address security cooperation and humanitarian and disaster relief challenges across the region,” said Maj. Gen. Edward Dorman, commanding general of 8th Theater Sustainment Command.

Sponsored by U.S. Army Pacific and hosted by China’s People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, the DME 2015 included participants from the Hawaii Army National Guard, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Air Force and the State Department.

Apparently, the skills learned in this “strengthened military-to military relations” are really paying off.

Among other things, the PLAN, has honed their skills in becoming pirates on their own.

Pentagon press operations director Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters that a Chinese Navy Dalang-III class submarine rescue vessel launched a small boat and retrieved the UUV as the oceanographic survey ship USNS Bowditch was attempting to retrieve it and a second UUV in the South China Sea.

The incident occurred in international waters about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay Naval Air Station in the Philippines, Davis told reporters.

Calling for International Law Compliance

“The UUV is a sovereign immune vessel of the United States. We call upon China to return our UUV immediately and to comply with all of its obligations under international law,” Cook said.

Bridge-to-bridge communications took place between the Bowditch and Chinese ships, but demands to have the UUV returned were ignored, Davis said.

“The USNS Bowditch and the UUV — an unclassified ‘ocean glider’ system used around the world to gather military oceanographic data such as salinity, water temperature, and sound speed — were conducting routine operations in accordance with international law,” Cook said.

This UUV was onboard a Military Sealift Command ship which is manned by civil mariners.

This a clear act of piracy and needs to be dealt with as such, and the Chinese thrown out of any future counter-piracy operations until they stop conducting piracy.

Hopefully, this will lead to a U.S. rethink about how to man MSC ships and to deal with any pirates or adversaries who think they have a free ride to simply stop by and take what they want from MSC ships.

But this is not simply an act of piracy, but an act embedded in the overall strategy of the PRC leadership – engage in and defeat the United States in Information War.

Simply getting the drone back is not really the issue –- nailing the PLAN is and identifying it for what it is – a force engaged in operations across the Range of Military Operations or ROMO including acts of piracy.

The low end of the ROMO spectrum for the USN-USMC team is humanitarian assistance; for the PLAN it is piracy.

Giving the PRC a path to in their terms “a smooth resolution” already cedes to the PRC an IW victory.

The PLAN needs to be called out for what it is, a Navy learning from their kindred spirits the Barbary and now Somali pirates,

They deserve little professional respect from any navy operating from the civilized world.

We may have to go back in history to learn from our ancestors on how to deal with pirates.