China’s ‘Sneaky’ Navy Aims to Overpower South China Sea

China’s ‘Sneaky’ Navy Aims to Overpower South China Sea, by Kristina Wong.

China’s regular navy already has more ships than the U.S. — a little more than 300 to the U.S.’s 277. But Andrew Erickson, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute, warns that it is China’s informal sea forces that need close watching.

At an event hosted by the Jamestown Foundation, Erickson described the three elements of China’s maritime forces: the navy, coast guard, and a maritime militia – or, as he said a friend’s five-year-old son acutely described it: “a regular navy, the police navy, and the sneaky navy.”

The “sneaky navy” refers to the maritime militia, which China passes off as civilian fishing boats but consists of thousands of vessels and personnel, who are fishermen by day but are organized and trained as a militia that can be called up as needed. …

Erickson said the maritime militia has a small elite subcomponent at the top, entrusted with participation in sea encounters and incidents with other nations.

Now, he said, China is developing an even more elite force, which consists of 84 vessels that are each nearly 200 feet long and up to 750 tons, have powerful water cannons, strong external rails useful for ramming other boats, and engage in exercises like loading light weapons.

“These folks don’t fish,” he said. …

“They are hiding in plain sight,” he said. “I hope people pay more attention to it.”

South China Sea

He said China’s coast guard is also the largest in the world, with 225 ships that are over 500 tons and another 1,050-plus ships confined to closer waters — a total of about 1,275 ships.

On how well this was working, Erickson responded, “They’re good enough to keep winning in the gray zone, which is where China wants to play.”

The gray zone refers to a space between peace and war where there is conflict below the threshold of conventional warfare — which complicates a U.S. response to that conflict.

hat-tip Stephen Neil