The world’s largest coast guard vessel, the 12,000-ton China Coast Guard (CCG) cutter 3901, has successfully completed its first patrol in the South China Sea this month, according to Chinese government reports.
The South China Sea division of China’s State Oceanic Administration (SOA) reports that the ship, with a crew of 17 law enforcement personnel and two unnamed aerial vehicles (UAVs), has spent 19 days patrolling the waters around 12 Chinese-held islands and visiting 15 of the islands to “protect China’s maritime rights.”
The crew of the coast guard cutter also deployed UAVs to surveil islands.
The SOA stated that that the objectives of the patrol were to guarantee “the timely detection and investigation of illegal activities” on China’s South China Sea holdings in addition to ensuring the islands’ ecological protection.
The CCG 3901 is the sister ship of the CCG 2901 cutter, which has been operating in the East China Sea since 2015. Built at Shanghai’s Jiangnan Shipyard, the CCG 3901 has been dubbed “the monster” by analysts given its large displacement tonnage of around 12,000 tons. As I explained elsewhere:
[T]he 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.
The CCG 3901 can reach a maximum speed of up to 25 knots. It is equipped with 76 millimeter rapid fire guns, two auxiliary guns, and two anti-aircraft machine guns. “It also has a helicopter platform and hangar in the stern large enough to accommodate larger rotary wing aircraft,” I reported in 2016.
The rather heavy armament sets the CCF 3901 apart from other coast guard cutters — other CCG ships either feature a lighter weapons load or are just armed with water cannons. However, it is not just the armament that makes the ship exceptional.
“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,” I noted.
Given the ship’s size, it is clear that China will be deploying its new “monster” cutter to maintain the upper hand in such encounters. The CCG has commissioned over a hundred vessels since 2012 and currently consists of 220-230 vessels of all types.