China has finished construction on a second 10,000-ton China Coast Guard (CCG) cutter destined for patrols in the South China Sea, Chinese state media reports. The ship, designated CCG 3901, “has been completed recently and is ready to start protecting China’s maritime rights,” The Global Times announced. A sister ship, the CCG2901, already deployed to the East China Sea in 2015.
The CCG 3901, constructed at Shanghai’s Jiangnan Shipyard, has been dubbed the ‘monster’ by the media due to its unusual large size for a coast guard vessel. According to some sources, the vessel could have a displacement 12,000 to 15,000 metric tons once all systems have been installed aboard. In comparison, the China Coast Guard ship outsizes a the U.S. Navy’s Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser by about 50 percent, and is also bigger than an Arleigh-Burke-class guided missile destroyer (e.g., the USS Lassen), which displaces around 9,700 tons. In addition, it also outclasses Japan’s 6,500-ton Shikishima-class coast guard cutters.
According to Chinese state media, the coast guard vessel can reach a top speed of up to 25 knots and is equipped with 76 millimeter rapid fire guns, two secondary guns and two anti-aircraft guns. It also has a helicopter platform and hangar in the stern large enough to accommodate larger rotary wing aircraft. With the exception of the CCG 3901s sister ship, all other China Coast Guard vessels have so far been only lightly armed or are equipped with water cannons.
Unlike actual surface naval combat, in hostile encounters between coast guards the size of the ship plays a large role, particularly in the South China Sea, which has seen numerous instances of ‘ramming contests’ with two vessels often engaging in games of chicken trying to scare the other vessel off. The CCG 3901 appears to be first and foremost a coercive instrument for such encounters and will help to advance China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The Pentagon’s Office of Naval Intelligence summarized in an unclassified assessment of China’s maritime forces the ongoing expansion of Beijing’s white-hull patrol cutter fleet:
The current phase of the construction program, which began in 2012, will add over 30 large patrol ships and over 20 patrol combatants to the force by 2015. This will increase by 25 percent the overall CCG force level in a fleet that is also improving rapidly in quality. Most MLE ships are either unarmed or armed only with light deck weapons (12.7mm, 14.5mm, and 30mm guns) and generally use commercial radars and communications equipment. Several of the largest ships are equipped with helicopter landing and hangar facilities as well.
The report also notes that “China prefers using its Coast Guard as the primary enforcer of its maritime claims.” All in all, the China Coast Guard currently consists of 205 vessels of all types.