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Monday, December 11, 2023

China’s Naval Bases: Upgrades for an Expanding Combat Fleet

Recent satellite imagery analysis reveals China’s extensive upgrades to its naval bases, undertaken to support its rapidly expanding combat fleet. With the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy set to introduce multiple surface combatants, including destroyers and frigates, the need for enhanced infrastructure becomes apparent.

Expanding Naval Power

Growing Naval Strength

China’s PLA Navy, the second-largest globally, is on track to introduce a minimum of 10 surface combatants by the end of the year. This includes Type 052D destroyers and Type 054B frigates, collectively weighing 72,000 tonnes. In addition, China’s existing fleet boasts two operational aircraft carriers, eight Type 055 cruisers, three Type 075 landing helicopter docks, and nine Type 071 amphibious transport docks.

Challenges of Expansion

As the active warship count is expected to exceed 600 this year, the construction of larger piers struggles to keep up with the rate of new ship launches. This has led to the utilization of innovative mooring methods and the enlistment of retired sailors to crew these vessels, prompting comparisons to “dumping dumplings into soup.”

Satellite Insights into Naval Bases

Yulin Naval Base, Sanya

Satellite imagery analysis from Google Earth highlights new construction and expansion projects at the Yulin naval base in Sanya. The initiation of work on large piers capable of accommodating four Type 075 landing helicopter docks has been observed.

Zhanjiang Base and Innovative Mooring

At the South Sea Fleet’s base in Zhanjiang, satellite imagery reveals up to three warships berthed side by side, parallel to a small pier. This innovative mooring technique allows for efficient replenishment tasks. However, experts emphasize that building more large piers remains a long-term solution.

Naval Bases and Strategic Importance

South China Sea Access

Yulin and Zhanjiang naval bases play a crucial role in providing strategic access to the South China Sea. These bases support logistical operations for flotillas engaged in anti-piracy escort missions off Somalia and the Gulf of Aden. Yulin serves as the home base for China’s domestically built aircraft carrier, the Shandong.

Construction Efforts and Overseas Base

Ongoing construction efforts at Huludao shipyard and Bohai submarine building plant, along with the establishment of an overseas base in Djibouti, further demonstrate China’s commitment to expanding its naval capabilities. The Djibouti base supports anti-piracy and peacekeeping missions, while Gwadar in Pakistan may serve as an offshore base in the future.

China’s naval bases have undergone significant upgrades to accommodate its expanding combat fleet. With satellite imagery providing valuable insights, China’s efforts to strengthen its naval power are evident. As the PLA Navy continues to grow, the development of infrastructure and strategic overseas bases remains a key focus for China’s maritime ambitions.

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