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China Index

Although naval personnel comprised only 12 percent of PLA strength, the PLA Navy ranked in 1987 as the third largest navy in the world. In 1987 the Navy consisted of the naval headquarters in Beijing; three fleet commands--the North Sea Fleet, based at Qingdao, Shandong Province; the East Sea Fleet, based at Shanghai; and the South Sea Fleet, based at Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province-- and about 2,000 ships. The 350,000-person Navy included Naval Air Force units of 34,000 men, the Coastal Defense Forces of 38,000, and the Marine Corps of 56,500. Navy Headquarters, which controlled the three fleet commands, was subordinate to the PLA General Staff Department.

China's 1,500-kilometer coastline was protected by more than 100 diesel-powered Romeo- and Whiskey-class submarines, which could remain at sea only a limited time. Inside this protective ring and within range of shore-based aircraft were destroyers and frigates mounting Styx antiship missiles, depth-charge projectors, and guns up to 130mm. Any invader penetrating the destroyer and frigate protection would be swarmed by almost 900 fast-attack craft. Stormy weather could limit the range of these small boats, however, and curtail air support. Behind the inner ring were Coastal Defense Force personnel operating naval shore batteries of Styx missiles and guns, backed by ground force units deployed in depth.

In 1949 Mao asserted that "to oppose imperialist aggression, we must build a powerful navy." The Naval Academy was set up at Dalian in March 1950, mostly with Soviet instructors. The Navy was established in September 1950 by consolidating regional naval forces under General Staff Department command. It then consisted of a motley collection of ships and boats acquired from the Guomindang forces. The Naval Air Force was added two years later. By 1954 an estimated 2,500 Soviet naval advisers were in China--possibly one adviser to every thirty Chinese naval personnel--and the Soviet Union began providing modern ships. With Soviet assistance, the navy reorganized in 1954 and 1955 into the North Sea Fleet, East Sea Fleet, and South Sea Fleet, and a corps of admirals and other naval officers was established from the ranks of the ground forces. In shipbuilding the Soviets first assisted the Chinese, then the Chinese copied Soviet designs without assistance, and finally the Chinese produced vessels of their own design. Eventually Soviet assistance progressed to the point that a joint Sino-Soviet Pacific Ocean fleet was under discussion.

Through the upheavals of the late 1950s and 1960s the Navy remained relatively undisturbed. Under the leadership of Minister of National Defense Lin Biao, large investments were made in naval construction during the frugal years immediately after the Great Leap Forward. During the Cultural Revolution, a number of top naval commissars and commanders were purged, and naval forces were used to suppress a revolt in Wuhan in July 1967, but the service largely avoided the turmoil. Although it paid lip service to Mao and assigned political commissars aboard ships, the Navy continued to train, build, and maintain the fleets.

In the 1970s, when approximately 20 percent of the defense budget allocated to naval forces, the Navy grew dramatically. The conventional submarine force increased from 35 to 100 boats, the number of missile-carrying ships grew from 20 to 200, and the production of larger surface ships, including support ships for oceangoing operations, increased. The Navy also began development of nuclearpowered attack submarines (SSN) and nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN).

In the 1980s the Navy was developing into a regional naval power with some blue-water capabilities. Naval construction continued at a level somewhat below the 1970s rate. Modernization efforts encompassed higher educational and technical standards for personnel; reformulation of the traditional coastal defense doctrine and force structure in favor of more blue-water operations; and training in naval combined-arms operations involving submarine, surface, naval aviation, and coastal defense forces. Examples of the expansion of China's blue-water naval capabilities were the 1980 recovery of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the Western Pacific by a twenty-ship fleet, extended naval operations in the South China Sea in 1984 and 1985, and the visit of two naval ships to three South Asian nations in 1985. In 1982 the Navy conducted a successful test of an underwater-launched ballistic missile; in 1986 the Navy's order of battle included two Xia-class SSBNs armed with twelve CSS-NX-4 missiles and three Han-class SSNs armed with six SY-2 cruise missiles. The Navy also had some success in developing a variety of ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore, shore-to-ship, and air-to-ship missiles. In the late 1980s, major deficiencies reportedly remained in antisubmarine warfare, mine warfare, naval electronics (including electronic countermeasures equipment), and naval aviation capabilities.

Data as of July 1987

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