Faced with the rise of the Chinese naval threat: mobilization on a European scale

Avatar photo

The growing power of the Chinese fleet

Chinese shipyards are in turmoil, and the statistics are unequivocal. Every year, nearly a dozen destroyers and frigates, fitted with the latest generation armaments, emerge from their holds. These units are complemented by many other craft, including amphibious assault ships and aircraft carriers that are among the most modern and imposing on the planet. These behemoths are intended to reinforce the ranks of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). China, by displaying such a naval production capacity, demonstrates an undeniable desire to expand its maritime power.

The US Navy and its allies in a delicate posture

The US Navy can still rely on the numerical superiority and efficiency of its fleet, which remains the most powerful in the world. The American naval force can also count on the support of its regional allies, including Australia, Japan and South Korea, whose resources have been renewed in recent years. However, the rapid rise of the PLA is a thorn in Washington’s side. Despite the increase in American naval production, the concentration of resources in the Pacific is a necessity to face the Chinese threat. This strategic posture forces the United States to reduce its presence in other theaters of operations, no less exposed to security issues.

A call for the mobilization of European navies

Faced with this geopolitical shift, Admiral Pierre Vandier, Chief of Staff of the French Navy, launched an appeal to the European Navies. During the First Sea Lord’s Seapower Conference 2023, held at Lancaster House on May 16 and 17, he urged the latter to organize themselves to fill the spaces vacated by the US Navy. According to him, it is essential that the European Navies strengthen their presence not only in the Mediterranean and in the North Atlantic, their traditional theaters of operation, but also in the Persian Gulf and in the northern Indian Ocean. It is a question of allowing a disengagement of the US Navy while ensuring a dissuasive presence in these critical zones for European supplies, in particular in hydrocarbons.

The imperative of interoperability and cooperation between European navies

But the implementation of such cooperation is a major challenge. The European navies are above all designed as national fleets, responding to protection requirements which also take into account the needs of NATO, but without an overall European vision. They have many submarines, frigates and destroyers, but are sorely lacking in large logistics ships. Logistics capabilities are essential to sustain a fleet at sea for an extended period, ensuring the supply of ammunition, fuel and spare parts. Likewise, the interoperability of ships from different nations remains low. Each country uses specific weapon systems, electronic detection procedures, ammunition and spare parts specific to each fleet. This situation is also exacerbated by differences in air fleets, with helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft of various models, not all of which can be accommodated on all ships. Finally, the absence of a unified command to organize missions and allocate resources is a major obstacle to achieving a unified European naval force, capable of responding effectively to the growing threat posed by the growing power of the Chinese. For this, a real European political will and a common vision are essential.

John Walker Avatar