The South China Sea could serve as a strategic underwater hideaway for China’s growing fleet of nuclear submarines that can launch ballistic missiles. Chinese submarines could operate undetected undersea once stationed at the contested region. Having this in mind, all future ballistic missile that will be develop by China will have the tactical range to reach the United States from the South China Sea, war experts are saying.
China’s deep-water submarine sanctuary
South China Sea’s sea floor is thousands of meters deep with underwater canyons that it makes for a perfect military “bastion,” or a location where submarines could operate without being detected, Stuart Leavenworth of McClatchy DC reported. Chinese submarine ballistic missiles may lack the capacity to reach the U.S. from the South China Sea at present but the Chinese are working on developments that will make this a possibility, Leavenworth wrote.
Leavenworth’s analysis is echoed by Carl Thayer, a U.S.-born security specialist and Bernard Cole, a professor at the National War College and a retired U.S. Navy captain.
The region “would be a good place to hide Chinese submarines,” according to Thayer. The disputed land also encloses China’s submarines that are based in Sanya, Hainan island, Thayer said. The Chinese navy has constructed underwater tunnels and had discreetly stationed its submarines that carry ballistic missiles on the said island, Thayer said.
“My own conclusion, right now, is that China will adopt a bastion strategy in the South China Sea,” Cole said. He added that China’s bastion strategy “will bank on fairly rapid development of ballistic missiles with the range to reach” the U.S.
China’s most advanced supersonic anti-ship missiles
In April of 2015, the Chinese Navy made public satellite pictures of its three submarines stationed at an unidentified station. A Chinese official said the submarines are the country’s most advanced attack submarines. The submarines were designed to reduce noise, improve speed and mobility and to fire supersonic anti-ship missile.
In Feb of 2016, the U.S. Navy said China has come to a point where it is operating more attack submarines than the U.S.
“Their submarine force has grown over a tremendous rate. They now have more diesel and nuclear attack submarines than we have so they’ve passed us in total quantity — but in quality they are still not there,” said Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of Naval operations.
The Chinese has increased its undersea missions and patrols, Mulloy said at the time. “They are producing some fairly amazing submarines. They’ve now had three deployments in the Indian Ocean. They are expanding where their submarines go. We know they are out experimenting and working and operating and certainly want to be in the world of advanced submarines,” he said.
China and Russia military developmental cooperation
U.S. Navy officials have also noted at the time that China is pursuing joint-design and production of four to six Russian advanced diesel-electric attack submarines armed with Russia’s most advanced sonar, propulsion and quieting technology.
“The deal would improve the PLA Navy’s capabilities and assist China’s development of quiet submarines, thus complicating future U.S. efforts to track and counter PLA submarines,” the Navy leaders said.
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