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2/7/2015

Chinas Ghost Fleet in the Indian Ocean | The Diplomat

Chinas Ghost Fleet in the Indian Ocean


Are the stories surrounding Chinas Indian Ocean fleet just
wishful thinking?
By Franz-Stefan Gady
February 07, 2015

Today, Defense News ran a very interesting piece attacking the often
repeated assertion that China will soon be adding one additional fleet
to the three existing ones (the North Sea, East Sea, and South Sea
Fleets) it currently operates. This new fleet will allegedly be
headquartered in Sanya on Hainan Island and project Chinese naval
Image Credit: U.S. Navy
power into the Indian Ocean. One expert noted in 2014: There have
been reports that China is already creating a fourth fleet that would
eventually consist of two Carrier Battle Groups based at Hainan Island. This fleet might be placed directly under the Central
Military Commission, the highest military decision-making body, making it a powerful instrument of geopolitical signaling.
Yet, Defense News quotes a Ching Chang, former Taiwan naval officer who now is a fellow at Taiwans ROC Society for
Strategic Studies, in saying that such reports are overstated speculation and not credible. Without any diplomatically
credible, militarily reliable, and logistically functional forward base in the Indian Ocean area, it is impossible for the [Chinese
Navy] to establish any long-lasting military organization there, though certain ad hoc arrangements such as dispatch forces,
task forces and exercise maneuvering units may appear in the Indian Ocean from time to time, Chang emphasizes.
He also pointed out that the alleged home port of the new fourth fleet, Hainan Island, is part of the Guangzhou Military Region,
which already has the South Sea Fleet as its naval arm, making an additional fleet redundant. Neither the actual practices of
the present military organization may have any space to accommodate such an organization of the fourth fleet. Please
remember that all three existing fleets are named by the territorial seas. This is a basic rule hardly to be changed in near
term, Chang says. He concludes: [M]any commentaries [that] appeared in the overseas Chinese electronic medias might
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2/7/2015

Chinas Ghost Fleet in the Indian Ocean | The Diplomat

only reflect some aspirations of the military fans in China or overseas Chinese community.
The Defense News article also quotes long-time The Diplomat contributor, James Holmes. Holmes points out that:
From a geographical standpoint, establishing such a fleet would concentrate even more attention on the
chokepoints where shipping accesses the Indian Ocean from East Asia. If Beijing bases a fleet on Hainan and
doesnt forward deploy it, the fleets ships could be cut off and stranded in South Asia by some access-denier
operating in the vicinity of the Strait of Malacca or the Lombok or Sunda straits. The crucial issue is the number
of naval platforms. Once China produces these after the three fleets are fully equipped we could possibly
see the fourth fleet.
Holmes furthermore notes that Chinas PLAN could just create the shell organization of a new fleet, which would resemble
the U.S. Navys 6th Fleet, which has only a command ship and shore facilities. Ships chop to 6th Fleet temporarily, meaning
they put themselves under tactical control of the fleet commander. China may be thinking about a similar arrangement for
now, and perhaps permanently. Navies exist to give commanders and political leaders options. This may fall into that
category.

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