The navy is panicked: China wants a naval base on the Atlantic coast of Africa

Over the past three decades, China’s navy, or PLAN, has grown tremendously and is rapidly achieving so-called “blue water” status. Could Beijing soon aspire to build a new base that can access the Atlantic Ocean? What would this mean for US Navy energy project capabilities? The general in charge of US Africa Command testified recently that China was seeking to build a naval base on the Atlantic coast of Africa, endangering US national security.

According to General Stephen J. Townsend, China has been looking for opportunities to build a new military installation all along the west coast of Africa, as it would give the nation a much needed jumping off point for naval operations in the Atlantic. This could pose a distinct threat to the US East Coast, particularly from Chinese ballistic missile-launching nuclear submarines.

“The thing that worries me the most is this military base on the Atlantic coast, and where they have the most traction for that today is in Equatorial Guinea,” Townsend told House Armed Services. Committee.

China’s massive navy has grown significantly in recent years, and when combined with China’s militarized coast guard and maritime militia, both of which answer directly to Chinese military leaders, the nation now has a fleet to breathtaking over 700 tall ships in the Pacific. . Although many of these vessels are not fully armed warships, such as the large fishing vessels used to surround and besiege foreign oil rigs until they are handed over to Chinese authorities, the Chinese fleet The rapidly growing Type 055 destroyer is widely considered technologically comparable to America’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers.

However, despite China’s massive Pacific Fleet, the nation lacks the means to project its power beyond its regional waters. China’s growing fleet of aircraft carriers, which now number three in various stages of completion and operability, still rely on diesel power, preventing them from traveling far beyond friendly Chinese ports. China’s nuclear-powered submarines, by contrast, already have all the fuel they would need to operate in the Atlantic, but lack the logistics to maintain other supplies when operating far from Chinese ports.

You can read more about how nuclear submarines resupply at sea in our full discussion of it here, but suffice it to say that even airlift operations to supply submarines with food, equipment and other supplies must rely on nearby land facilities.

If China were to build a naval base on the east coast of Africa in a country like Equatorial Guinea, the facility could be a logistics hub that would not only support a Chinese surface fleet presence, but would most likely allow China’s most advanced nuclear submarines to navigate. in the eastern coastal waters of America.

Previous US intelligence reports suggest China may be considering the city of Bata, where the Chinese government has previously backed a commercial effort to build a deep-sea commercial port.

“The most significant threat” from China would be “a militarily useful naval installation on the Atlantic coast of Africa,” General Townsend told the Senate in April 2021.

A Chinese aircraft carrier on the high seas. Image Credit: Chinese Internet.

“By militarily useful, I mean something more than a place where they can stop over and get gas and groceries. I’m talking about a port where they can rearm with ammunition and repair warships.

China’s Type 094 submarine represents their navy’s dedicated nuclear weapons delivery platform. As of August last year, the Chinese Navy was operating at least six such submarines, four of the original design and at least two with iterative updates. The most recent of these ships was launched last April. Each of these ships is capable of carrying 12 Julang-2 (JL-2) submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), each of which is said to have a range of up to over 5,500 miles. This means that these weapons do not have the range of targets in the continental United States if fired from Chinese territorial waters. However, operating from the Atlantic would put targets like Washington DC, New York and others within easy reach.

These submarines are not as advanced as the latest American or even Russian ballistic missiles, or Boomers, as they are often called. Current assessments from the United States Office of Naval Intelligence indicate that China’s Type 094 submarines are at least two orders of magnitude Stronger than their missile-carrying peers, although the two newer versions of the submarine are supposed to have upgrades aimed at mitigating this problem. China is already hard at work developing its next class of ballistic missile submarines, known as the Type 096, which should further improve detectability limitation. Defense Ministry believes China will have a mixed fleet of at least eight Type 094s and Type 096s Boomers in service by 2030.

The first overseas Chinese navy facility was opened in 2017, also in Africa. Last year, Townsend also drew attention to the recent addition of facilities large enough to accommodate even the largest Chinese vessels.

“Their first overseas military base, their only one, is in Africa, and they’ve just expanded it by adding a major jetty that can even support their aircraft carriers in the future. Across the continent, they’re looking for other grassroots opportunities,” Townsend said.

Alex Hollings is a writer, father, and Navy veteran specializing in foreign policy and defense technology analysis. He holds a master’s degree in communications from Southern New Hampshire University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in corporate and organizational communications from Framingham State University. This first appeared in Sandboxx News.

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