In the last year the Chinese Coast Guard has received over a dozen new patrol ships. These are vessels of from 1,000-3,000 tons displacement with relatively small crews but lots of storage space and not many weapons. Coast guard ships are not usually heavily armed but the Chinese ships are increasingly being seen equipped with water cannon, extra searchlights and equipment for grappling with other ships. These tools are used to interfere with foreign fishing ships and transports that go to parts of the South China Sea that China has declared Chinese territory (even though other nations have a stronger legal claim). Using water cannon, bright searchlights (to blind the crews of other ships) and aggressive maneuvering (to include grappling with smaller foreign ships and forcibly moving them) the foreign ships can be “persuaded” to back off. The Chinese coast guard vessels will also use these tactics against foreign warships and if the foreigners shoot back the Chinese can declare themselves the victims of an unprovoked attack and call in more fire power.
Speaking of firepower, Chinese Army WZ-10 helicopter gunships have been seen practicing operating from LST type amphibious ships, which have a landing pad similar in size to that found on larger Coast Guard patrol ships. The seven ton Z-10 is smaller than the 10 ton American AH-64 and also has a crew of two. The Z-10 is armed with 30mm autocannon and can carry up to a ton of rockets or missiles. This gives China backup if the Coast Guard harassment tactics fail and additional firepower is needed in a hurry. Then again, a helicopter gunship coming off the back of a Coast Guard cutter can be pretty scary if you aren’t expecting it.