Chinese Navy Visited Key Indian Ocean Base As U.S. Navy Talks of Re-forming 1st Fleet
On November 17 U.S. Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite called for the Navy to re-form the 1st fleet covering the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. The same day a Chinese Navy (PLAN) warship was calling at Djibouti. It is a timely reminder of the Chinese Navy's persistent deployments in the region.
China's strategic base at Djibouti on the Horn Of Africa is pivotal in their growing presence in the Indian Ocean.
The ship, identified as the Type-903 replenishment ship Dongpinghu ( 东平湖), picked up supplies. Due to COVID-19 the port call was brief, and special measures were taken to decontaminate the supplies. Two standard truck containers were lifted onto the helideck by crane before being unloaded by the crew, who wore full protective gear.
The base is strategicly located at the mouth of the Red Sea and allows easy access to the Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. Currently many vessels involved in anti-piracy and tanker protection missions stop at the civilian port there. It is ideally sited to allow the PLAN to have a permanent deployment in the Indian Ocean.
Interestingly, Dongpinghu docked at the civilian port rather than the PLAN's dedicated base. The base has a new pier, large enough for Aircraft Carriers, but has yet to see a warship.
The quay where Dongpinghu called has been used by the PLAN before. Here a Type-071 amphibious warfare ship (LPD, Landing platform Dock) is seen resupplying in 2018. Note the containers on the helipad, the same as with Dongpinghu.
The base at Djibouti was opened in 2017. It is the PLAN's first overseas base although more are expected in Cambodia, Pakistan and possibly Iran. The base is substantial with a fortified outer perimeter which resembles something medieval. If China was hoping not to appear imperialist they may have chosen the wrong architects. Behind the fences, 'Hesco' barriers, walls and guard towers are a full range of buildings. There are barracks, training complexes, an armored vehicle depot and helipads.
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Dongpinghu is part of the 36th Escort Formation which took over from the preceding 35th on September 23. The unit also consists of the Type-052D Luyang-III-class destroyer Guiyang (119) and the Type-054A Jiangkai-II frigate Zaozhuang (542). Both ships are relatively new. They were commissioned in February 2019 and achieved combat readiness in April 2020.
The ship did not stay long, minimizing contact with locals. By evening the ship was pushing off.
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