CAVASSHIPS Podcast [Nov 19, ’22] Episode 74…Talking China w/ Tom Shugart


Welcome to the CavasShips Podcast with Christopher P. Cavas and Chris Servello…a weekly podcast looking at naval and maritime events and issues of the day – in the US, across the seas and around the world. This week…what’s the latest on the Chinese Navy – what are they up to, what are they producing? We hear from a great China analyst to fill us in on new developments, Tom Shugart. 

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This Week’s Naval Round Up:

The carrier USS GERALD R FORD carried out a 4-day visit to Portsmouth, England between November 14 and 18. The visit attracted widespread interest throughout the region FORD was one of five NATO carriers underway in European waters during the week — the USS GEORGE H W BUSH is in the Mediterranean Sea, where the French CHARLES DE GAULLE and Italian CAVOUR are also operating, and the British carrier QUEEN ELIZABETH was in the North Sea.

The US Central Command and Israeli officials are blaming Iran for an aerial drone attack November 15 on the oil tanker PACIFIC ZIRCON in the Gulf of Oman. The drone, apparently one of the Shahed series, hit the ship’s hull but caused only minor damage. The Shahed is similar to UAVs being sold to Russia by Iran. The attack seems to be one of a series of similar attacks against Eastern Pacific Shipping, a company owned by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer.

The Russian Pacific Fleet’s lone cruiser VARYAG and destroyer ADMIRAL TRIBUTS returned to Vladivostok about November 17 nearly 11 months after leaving for a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea, where VARYAG was one of three cruisers positioned in February for the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. MOSKVA was sunk in the Black Sea, while the other cruiser, MARSHAL USTINOV, returned to its Northern Fleet base around early September. Russian naval activities in the Mediterranean and Black Seas continue at a relatively low rate.

The Chinese Navy hospital ship DAISHANDAO, or PEACE ARK, arrived in Indonesia November 14 on a goodwill mission. Similarly, the US Navy’s hospital ship COMFORT is on a Continuing Promise cruise in Central America and the Caribbean – she arrived in Colombia on November 12.

Britain made two major naval construction announcements during the week. A 4.2-billion-pound order for five more Type 26 frigates was awarded November 15 to BAE Systems Maritime, completing orders for a planned eight ships of the new City class frigate. And on November 16 the Ministry of Defence chose one of four competing teams to build the Royal Navy’s new Fleet Support Ships. The consortium of BMT, Harland & Wolff and Navantia UK won a £1.6 billion-pound contract to build the three of the new supply ships. Final assembly will be at H&W Belfast, the famous shipyard which more than a century ago built the passenger liner TITANIC and her sisterships.

And on November 16 the US Coast Guard heavy icebreaker POLAR STAR left Seattle, Washington to begin its annual Operation Deep Freeze deployment to Antarctica, where the ship will cut a navigable channel to resupply the US research facility at McMurdo Station.

Cavas Squawk:

Eighty years ago this month, in mid-November 1942, the Japanese and American navies met in battle on three consecutive nights in what became known as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. From the evening of November 12 through the morning of November 15, warships engaged in a nightly slugfest during which so many ships were sunk that the waters off Guadalcanal became known as Ironbottom Sound, a name that persists today in charts and maps of the Solomon Islands. When it was over two Japanese battleships, a heavy cruiser, three destroyers and a number of troop transports had been sunk. The US Navy lost two light cruisers and seven destroyers. A large number of ships on both sides survived but with heavy damage. More than 1,900 Japanese sailors died along with several thousand troops killed when their transports were sunk. More than 1,700 American sailors died, including the famous Sullivan Brothers.

The battle for Guadalcanal itself would continue for another three months, but the issue was essentially over. A more superior Japanese force that had numerous advantages was defeated – at great cost – by Americans on land, sea and in the air, largely through tenacity and grit.

The Chinese have studied the Guadalcanal campaign quite intensively. In several articles, they have taken note that while both the Japanese and Americans took extensive losses, the Japanese were never able to replace the ships, planes and personnel lost in the campaign, while American losses were quickly replenished by new forces already in the pipeline. The American arsenal continued to grow. The Japanese losses – which began in June 1942 at the Battle of Midway, simply piled up.

That’s a greatly simplified summation of the campaign, but it’s lessons like that that are giving the Chinese confidence that whatever their losses, they will be able to continue fighting, while the US, which ironically is now the combatant unable to quickly find replacements, will lose in any kind of protracted battle. In many ways, Chinese see themselves as the Americans in World War II – and today’s American military arguably looks like the Japanese of that conflict.

Those who have paid attention to these lessons of history know them quite well. But today, in America, too many people have forgotten the lessons or never studied them in the first place.

The Past is Prologue, so wrote Shakespeare in about 1610 in his play, The Tempest. The Chinese are studying our past intently. Let’s hope more people here in the U.S. do the same.

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