Push and Shove in the South China Sea

If you missed it last month, there was a little dustup (splashup?) between our guided missile cruiser, USS Cowpens and an unidentified Chinese Navy vessel. Here’s a quick refresher:


The United States said the Cowpens was operating in international waters when it was forced to take evasive action to avoid hitting the Chinese ship, which was traveling with China’s new (and only) aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. The Liaoning is a refurbished Ukrainian naval vessel.

Nothing too uncommon. Our ships keep tabs on their ships, their ships keep tabs on our ships — then s*** happens. We used to play these games with the Soviets all the time. But over at Next Navy, they think the whole thing might have been staged by the Chinese:

Let’s examine the ship that approached the Cowpens–and while nobody on the US side has identified the vessel (which is, frankly, odd, since both the Cowpens and China know precisely what ship approached the cruiser), Chinese reports (and subsequent task group photos) suggest the ship sent to ward off the Cowpens was a big, modern Type 071 amphibious transport dock, or LPD.

Now, LPDs are not often included in Western Carrier strike groups. Despite some folks scoffing at the strike group’s composition, the inclusion of a modern 071 amphibious LPD in a carrier strike group may have been a bit of geopolitical genius (and, well, aside from that, it is also an opportunity for the semi-functional carrier and the LPD to tinker with helo-centric amphibious assault scenarios, ASW contingencies and, um, maybe disabled carrier recovery, too.).

But, politically, using a 20,000-ton 071 to challenge a Tico is a fascinating choice–the Chinese LPD is fast enough to engage the U.S. cruiser and big enough to intimidate the 6,900 ton cruiser…yet..an 071 does not carry sufficient indigenous armament to truly frighten the cruiser into over-reaction or a fear-driven miscalculation. But it certainly was big enough to put the cruiser immediately on the defensive.


A nice little morale booster for China’s up-and-coming Navy, yes?


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