Here's a change of pace. I'd like to describe some non-lethal ways that the Navy can counter Chinese land reclamation efforts. Rather than dryly list various methods and equipment I've opted to describe them in the form of a short story. So, settle back and enjoy.
Remember, this is intended to illustrate various systems and tactics. It is not intended to be a balanced or "fair" simulation of an encounter so don't read it as such.
Island Showdown© (2016)
As far as the Captain could tell, it was just another reef with occasional bits of coral and rock protruding above the water. Of course, it was exactly these kinds of navigational hazards that the Chinese had turned into several air and naval bases already, here in the
South China Sea, he reminded himself. Until the recent election and change in
administration, the had been content to acquiesce to the Chinese in a
policy of unofficial appeasement. As a
result, artificial island bases had begun springing up all over the US South China Sea. Now,
however, a new President was demanding an end to this kind of illegal
construction and territorial grab and the USS
Steadfast had been sent to stop this latest island building effort before
it could really get going.
Nice to have a new ship, the Captain mused as he observed the rocks. Steadfast was the first of her class – a new kind of patrol ship developed for a new kind of patrol philosophy. Appeasement was over. The Captain’s orders had been clear. Confrontational patrol was to be the new norm and Steadfast was eminently equipped for that role – in theory. That theory was about to be put to the test.
Turning away from his observation, the Captain decided that now was as good a time as any to begin. A Chinese ship, probably a dredging vessel was standing about 200 m off the principle rock while a small boat occasionally shuttled back and forth unloading and setting up gear. The land reclamation project had just recently begun so there wasn’t much set up yet but the Chinese had already demonstrated an amazing ability to build an artificial island in a very brief period.
“All right,” the Captain said, “let’s facewash that rock. Give me a powersquat pass at 50 m.”
Steadfast was built for power rather than speed and specially modified to create enormous wakes. The ship’s stern contained ballast tanks and those now flooded to drop the stern deeper into the water as the ship’s engines and three propellers came up to full power. As the ship began to build up speed, the wake grew larger and larger. At 25 kts, the ship passed by the target rock at a distance of 50 m.
The Captain leaned out over the bridge wing, looking back to observe the effect of their passage. It was everything he could have hoped for. The immense wake broke over the rock, obscuring everything on it. When the wall of water passed, there was nothing left but the rock and a few pieces of equipment that had been anchored into the rock. Everything else was gone – washed away in a mini-tidal wave.
Turning back to look at the Chinese ship, now also rocking violently, the Captain could only imagine the angry reactions Steadfast’s passage had caused.
“Transmit the message,” the Captain ordered. A pre-recorded message was transmitted to the Chinese ship telling them that they were to leave the area immediately and that they had 10 minutes to acknowledge and begin complying. The Captain harbored no illusions that the Chinese would obey.
“While they waste 10 minutes, let’s get set up for smoke herding”, he said.
Steadfast turned and began to maneuver to a position upwind of the Chinese vessel. As they did, the Chinese ship began transmitting furious protests and threats which the Captain ignored other than to smile slightly. This wasn’t combat, he thought, but, still, it did have an element of adrenaline-pumped excitement.
More ominously, the Chinese vessel also began transmitting what the Captain assumed was calls for help. There was a Chinese “Coast Guard” vessel in the area, about 20 nm away. Help was undoubtedly already on the way. We’ll deal with that shortly, the Captain thought. For the moment, though, there was an uncooperative Chinese vessel to move out of the area.
By this time, 10 minutes had passed and Steadfast was in position, upwind of the Chinese vessel, and with her bow pointed in the same direction as the Chinese ship. At the Captain’s order, the Steadfast moved in on the Chinese ship which was now beginning to move to evade. Smoke began to pour from exhaust vents situated along the side of the
smoke was a tear gas derivative designed to be thick and cloying. Steadfast began to herd the Chinese ship, matching
its maneuvers while maintaining a 20 m offset and staying upwind. It wasn’t too difficult as the Chinese ship
wasn’t built for speed or maneuverability.
This had the effect of keeping the Chinese ship continuously covered in
a blanket of tear gas smoke. US
The Chinese ship continued to broadcast angry messages and dire threats but to no avail. After several minutes, the Chinese ship turned directly away from the rocks, bent on their best speed, and began to retire from the area. Steadfast broke off from the herding exercise and began to circle away. As the Chinese ship pulled away, the crew could be seen leaning over the rails, vomiting into the ocean.
That had gone well enough, the Captain reflected, but he knew that the main event would come when the Chinese Coast Guard vessel arrived. About 45 minutes later, the Chinese vessel appeared on the horizon and began broadcasting demands for the American ship to leave the area.
Steadfast’s Captain immediately replied with another prepared message instructing the Chinese ship to leave the area immediately and stating that there would be no follow up message. This would be the first and only warning.
Knowing that the warning would be ignored, the Captain put Steadfast on an intercept course. As the two ships neared each other, the Chinese vessel suddenly veered sharply into the path of the oncoming American, forcing it to abruptly turn away. That was predictable, the Captain thought and, indeed, he had anticipated it and been prepared to sheer away.
Steadfast, after turning away, used its exceptional maneuverability to come around to a course parallel with the Chinese ship and offset by about 100 m. Both ships held a steady course for several minutes but, after continued threats from the Chinese which the Captain ignored, the Chinese ship began edging closer – unsafely closer.
“He’s going to bump us,” the Captain announced. “Sound the collision alarm.”
As the Chinese ship edged even closer and its bow began to swing towards Steadfast, the Captain smiled and muttered to himself, “He’s got a surprise coming.”
The Chinese ship angled towards the
ship, committed now to a bump maneuver.
“Deploy the starboard spikes!”, the Captain ordered. Along Steadfast’s side, six giant, solid metal rods, 2 m long and 15 cm thick, and capped with a pointed end, snapped out from their inboard resting cylinders to present a line of sharpened spikes. Already committed to the bump, the Chinese ship was unable to avoid them. As the ship’s hulls came together, the spikes, in rapid succession, punctured the Chinese ship’s hull and, because the two ship’s speeds were not identical, the spikes began tearing a horizontal line along the hull as the Chinese ship slipped slightly astern.
The Chinese ship veered off, pulling free of the spikes and sporting several deep gouges in its side. They wouldn’t be fatal, by any means, but they weren’t intended to be.
Furious threats came across the airwaves at Steadfast but the Captain simply laughed. The encounter was developing nicely and he was quite satisfied.
“He’s mad now,” the Captain called. “Let’s be alert. He’s going to take his best shot at us, now.”
The Chinese ship, now well clear, began to accelerate to move out in front of Steadfast.
“Let’s let him take the lead, if that’s what he wants, and see what he’s got in mind,” the Captain said.
The Chinese ship passed Steadfast, pulled about 60 m directly ahead and then, with no warning, went from full ahead to full astern. Steadfast would have to react very quickly to avoid a collision.
“All engines ahead full,” the Captain calmly ordered. “Hold course.”
Instead of veering off, Steadfast accelerated straight for the Chinese ship’s stern. In moments, Steadfast’s specially armored and reinforced bow sliced into the stern of the Chinese ship, cutting a deep “V” into it and riding up on the vessel’s fantail.
As Steadfast came to a halt several meters into the Chinese ship’s stern, the Captain ordered full astern and the two ships grindingly and grudgingly separated to the sound of screeching metal.
Steadfast backed away and began to circle around the stricken Chinese vessel, while the Captain ordered the next message which was a very insincere apology for not being able to stop in time in response to the unsafe ship handling of the Chinese. The message also politely asked if the Chinese needed assistance.
The airwaves rapidly filled with threats from the Chinese which Steadfast’s Captain took to mean that they did not require assistance.
“I think we’ve accomplished our mission, here, for the moment,” the Captain said. “Let’s head back to our patrol area.”
As Steadfast began to pull away from the Chinese ship, the Chinese bow gun pivoted towards the American ship and a shot fired, missing Steadfast’s bow by no more than 20 m. Steadfast’s Captain held his breath, waiting to see if the Chinese were going to initiate combat, which he was fully prepared for, or whether the shot was just a petulant parting shot across the bow. After several seconds without a second shot, the Captain had his answer. Apparently, the Chinese were simply trying to establish dominance and were not concerned with safety margins in their warning shot across the bow.
“I guess we’re not quite done,” said the Captain. “Give me a full volley of Bats.”
A small, 20 cell box launcher erupted with 20 flashes of fire, each two seconds apart. The projectiles, called Bats, cleared the launcher and small wings deployed converting the objects into miniature UAVs. The UAV swarm quickly formed and then, as a coordinated group sped towards the Chinese ship at their maximum speed of about 50 kts. As the UAVs neared the ship, they dove sharply down and, just before impacting the ship, a small warhead burst open, releasing a fist sized glob of thick, extremely sticky gel that, along with the now inert UAVs, impacted across the Chinese ship. Aside from multiple dented equipment and one unlucky sailor who happened to be in the path of one of the UAVs and suffered a broken arm as he tried to fend off the mini-aircraft, the only other damage was the deposition of 20 globs of gel that were not going to come off without some extraordinary effort.
That, apparently, was enough for the Chinese vessel as it began to limp away at a few knots.
Satisfied, now, that they really had accomplished their mission, the Captain knew that there would be many more encounters to come. The
had been passive far too long for the Chinese to be
thwarted by a single encounter. Still,
it was a start. US