One Sunday morning last December, China’s defense ministry summoned military attachés from several embassies to its monolithic Beijing headquarters. To the foreigners’surprise, the Chinese said this 1 of their nuclear-powered submarines would soon move across the Strait of Malacca, a verse between Malaysia and Indonesia that carries a lot of world trade, say people were briefed on the meeting.
Two days later, a Chinese attack sub—a so-called hunter-killer, built to search for and destroy enemy vessels—slipped through the strait above water and disappeared. It resurfaced near Sri Lanka and then in the Persian Gulf, say people familiar with its movements, before returning through the strait in February—the 1st known voyage of a Chinese sub to the Indian Ocean.
The message was clear: China had fulfilled its four-decade quest to become listed on the elite club of countries with nuclear subs that could ply the high seas. The defense ministry summoned attachés again to disclose another Chinese deployment to the Indian Ocean in September—now a diesel-powered sub, which stopped off in Sri Lanka.
China’s increasingly potent and active sub force represents the rising power’s most critical military challenge yet for the region. Its expanding undersea fleet not merely bolsters China’s nuclear arsenal but in addition enhances the country’s capacity to enforce its territorial claims and thwart U.S. intervention.
China is likely to pass another milestone this year when it sets an alternative kind of sub to sea—a “boomer,” carrying fully armed nuclear missiles for the first time—says the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, or ONI.
China is hardly hiding its new boomers. Tourists could clearly see three of these at a platform opposite a resort in China’s Hainan province. On the beach, rented Jet Skis were followed closely by guides to be sure riders didn’t stray too close.
Recently, Public interest has concentrated on China’s growing military system, including their first airplane carrier and stealth fighter. But subs are far more logically strong tools: Just one you can project power not even close to China and destroy different nations by just its presence.
China’s nuclear assault subs, specifically, are integrated from what Washington considers being an emerging technique to stop the U.S. from intervening in a struggle around Taiwan, or with China and the Philippines—equally U.S. companions closed in territorial disputes with Beijing.
And actually several useful Chinese-Asian boomers compel the U.S. to policy for a theoretical Asian nuclear-missile attack from the sea. China’s boomer patrols is likely to make it among three countries—along with the U.S. and Russia—that can launch nuclear killer weapons from ocean, air and land.
“I think they’ve watched the U.S. submarine force and its ability to operate globally for many, many years—and the potential influence that can have in various places around the globe,” says Adm. Thomas, “and they’ve decided to go after that model.”
China’s nuclear-sub deployments, some naval experts say, may end up being the opening gambits of an undersea contest in Asia that echoes the cat-and-mouse game between U.S. and Soviet subs through the Cold War—a history popularized by Tom Clancy’s 1984 novel “The huny for Red October.”
In the past, each side sent boomers to lurk at sea, prepared to fire missiles at the other’s territory. Each dispatched nuclear hunter-killers to track the other’s boomers and prepare to destroy them.
The collapse of the Soviet Union ended that tournament. But today, as China increases its undersea firepower, the U.S. and its allies are boosting their submarine and anti-sub forces in Asia to counter it.
Neither China nor the U.S. wants a Cold War rerun. Their economies are too interdependent, and today’s market-minded China doesn’t seek global revolution or military parity with the U.S.
Chinese officials say their subs don’t threaten other countries and are element of an application to guard China’s territory and expanding global interests. Chinese defense officials told foreign attachés that the subs entering the Indian Ocean would assist antipiracy patrols off Somalia, say people briefed on the meetings.
Asked about those meetings, China’s defense ministry said its navy’s activities in the Indian and Pacific Oceans “conform to international law and practice, and we maintain good communication with all relevant parties.”
Submarines help Beijing fulfill international duties without changing its defense policy, says China’s navy spokesman, Sr. Capt. Liang Yang. “If a gift originally features a handgun, and you give him an assault rifle, you’ve increased his firepower, but his responsibilities haven’t changed.” He declines to discuss boomer patrols.
Still, the U.S. has moved subs to the forefront of its so-calledrebalancing, a technique of focusing more military and diplomatic resources on Asia. Sixty percent of the U.S. undersea force is in the Pacific, U.S. naval commanders say, in contrast to half the U.S. surface fleet. The U.S. Navy plans to station a fourth nuclear attack sub in Guam next season, they say.
Since December, the U.S. has positioned six new P-8 anti-submarine aircraft in Okinawa, Japan. The U.S. in addition has revitalized an undersea microphone system built to track Soviet subs and is testing new technologies such as for instance underwater drones to look for Chinese subs.
Several nearby countries, including Australia, have said they intend to expand or upgrade their submarine and anti-sub forces. Vietnam, that is embroiled in a territorial dispute with China, has since December received at the least two of the six Russian-made attack subs it’s ordered.
Australia’s navy chief, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that the 12 subs his country is buying to restore its six-strong current fleet will have to operate far afield, potentially in contested aspects of the South China Sea.
“There are other nations in the area that are building their submarine forces as well,” he said. “The issue for us is to be able to consider that we may need to counter those things.”
Rear Adm. Phillip Sawyer, the leader of U.S. submarine forces in the Pacific, claims that additional submarines are actually working in the reigion than during the Cool War.
“One of my biggest concerns truthfully is submarine safety,” he says on a recent dive aboard the USS Houston, a nuclear-attack sub based in Hawaii.
“The more submarines you put in the same body of water, the higher the probability that they might collide.”
China today has among the world’s greatest attack-sub fleets, with five nuclear designs and at least 50 diesel models. It’s four boomers, the ONI claims. Beijing’s pursuit of a nuclear-sub fleet dates to the 1960s, claim Chinese historians. Mao Zedong once reported,
“We will build a nuclear submarine even if it takes us 10,000 years!”
China has used diesel subs considering the 1950s, but they’ve demonstrated easy to find since they should always surface every several hours. Nuclear subs are faster and may be submerged for months. China released their first nuclear subscription on Mao’s birthday in 1970 and test-fired their first missile from marine in 1988, though their first boomer never patrolled carrying armed nuclear missiles, U.S. naval officers say.
Adm. Liu Huaqing, the founder of China’s contemporary navy, defined the position of nuclear assault subs in his overall technique in the 1980s, Asian historians say. He found China as confined by U.S. allows arranged in equally a “First Area Chain” extending from southern China to the Philippines and a “2nd Area Chain” from upper China via Guam to Indonesia. He argued that China must create naval dominance within the 1st chain by 2010, within the next chain by 2020 and become a worldwide naval power by 2050.
China technically unveiled their nuclear undersea forces in Oct.2013 in an unprecedented start time for domestic press at a nuclear-sub base.
. “We’re not that stupid,” says retired Maj. Gen. Xu Guangyu, a former vice president of the People’s Liberation Army Defense Institute.
“But we need enough nuclear submarines to be a credible force—to have some bargaining chips,” he says. “They must go out to the Pacific Ocean and the rest of the world.”
China’s hunter-killers pose the immediate challenge to the U.S. and its partners. Adm. Sawyer has tracked them for more than a decade, first as a commander of U.S. subs in Japan and Guam and now from his headquarters in Pearl Harbor.
On his desk is a glass-encased naval chart with white labels marking China’s submarine bases. Drawn on the map are two lines marking
“First Island Chain” and “Second Island Chain.”
In the past years, Asian strike subs have damaged beyond the first chain to operate often in the Philippine Beach and have began patrolling year-round, Adm. Sawyer says. Penetrating the next chain is the next sensible stage, he adds:
“They are not just building more units and more assets, but they’re actually working to get proficient with them and understand how they’d operate in a far-away-from-home environment.”