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China gets closer to its dream of a blue-water navy with rapid expansion of African base

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From laser-dazzling US pilots to the construction of a new navy pier, the country has done a lot at its Djibouti base in Africa over the last year.

New Delhi: China’s footprint in Africa is expanding.

Just last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke to leaders of African nations, welcoming them on his “development express”. This strategy has seen China’s exports to Africa increase by 55 per cent in the last five years. Beijing is also increasingly exporting weapons systems to African countries.

A key element of China’s geostrategic investment in Africa is its military base in Djibouti, the country in the Horn of Africa. This is China’s only overseas base in Africa and its details were first reported by ThePrint last year.

New satellite imagery analysed by ThePrint shows that this base is expanding at a rapid pace, taking China closer to its dream of a blue-water navy.

China’s strategic importance in Africa is reflected in its visible military might in Djibouti, even though the country also hosts French and US bases. India has access to Djibouti through the French base.

Also read: China is set to get a new, supersonic unmanned aircraft that can spy on India

Laser activity

The US Federal Aviation Administration had issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM) regarding laser dazzling of its pilots from this Chinese overseas base. The NOTAM was issued in mid-April and was valid up to mid-June.

During the cold war, similar incidents were reported by the US Air Force from Russian naval vessels and bases abroad.

Satellite imagery from the April-June period showed an interesting vehicle parked inside the Chinese base.

Satellite image of the vehicle parked inside the Chinese base in April-June | Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd) /

The vehicle featured an unknown instrument, and was purposely kept outside, in the vicinity of other support vehicles and a dish antenna.

This vehicle possibly carried the laser dazzling equipment, and the Chinese PLA was trying out its efficacy on different aircraft flying over it.

It was a possible warning from China to US aircraft not to fly overhead or take aerial pictures of its base.

Supply of military equipment

China has been steadily supplying military equipment for this overseas base. The equipment has generally been supplied by newly-commissioned Type 71 LPDs (Landing Platform Docks) like Jinggangshan hull No. 999.

Newly-commissioned Type 71 Landing Platform Docks (LPD) | Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd) /

The LPDs, also called amphibious transport docks, are naval ships that are capable of embarking, transporting and landing expeditionary forces along with requisite equipment.

The Type 71 LPDs provide China’s PLAN (People’s Liberation Army-Navy) with a blue-water capability to land forces away from its borders.

The docks have been observed supplying military equipment to the Chinese base in Djibouti numerous times. Earlier ground photos indicated troposcatter communications equipment being lifted from the ship. The same equipment was seen on display during a Victory Day parade in Beijing in 2015.

Recently, on 27 July 2018, another Type 71 LPD was seen docked at the pier very close to the base. It was unloading vehicles. The accurate identification of military vehicles is difficult because of the low resolution of satellite images, but it can be assessed that some armoured/mechanised vehicles and some fire support systems have been disembarked at the port.

Ammunition point

The ammunition point saw activity in May 2017.

Then, after 27 July 2018, a number of large containers were observed in front of hardened shelters. These were possibly delivered by the Type 71 LPD docked at the port on that date.

Type 71 LPD unloading equipment in China Djibouti base | Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd) /

The ammunition point would be able to hold more than 2,500 tons.

Naval pier

The construction of a new jetty-like structure was first reported by this writer on 20 May 2018.

The length of the pier has extended to more than 600m |  Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd) /

Work had started on 2 May, and within the first 20 days, the structure was jutting 500m into the sea.

This probably is the beginning of the new naval pier, which may link up with an existing facility to its east. There is hectic activity at the site. The length has increased to more than 600m, and its tip continues to expand eastward.

Also read: China builds Gulag-like prisons for Muslims, calls them ‘political re-education centres’

This naval pier would be able to support major repairs, replenishment and resupply of PLAN ships moving in and out of the base.

By strengthening its foothold in Djibouti through this base in the last one year, Xi Jinping’s country is inching closer to the ‘China dream’ of a blue-water navy.

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