People's Liberation Army Navy : News & DIscussions

RISING SUN

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China Builds Surveillance Network In South China Sea
China has been building a series of surveillance platforms spanning parts of the South China Sea (SCS). Many of these are in Chinese waters, but several are floating in international waters.

Chinese floating surveillance platform used in South China Sea (SCS)


Details of the Chinese floating surveillance platforms deployed in South China Sea (SCS)

This is controversial, not least the dual-use military context of the network. While ostensibly civilian, these can be viewed as part of the Chinese Navy’s (PLAN) efforts to control the SCS. It is unrealistic to assume that their sensor data cannot be accessed by the PLAN for military purposes. And they may be part of a much larger sensor network, most of which is unseen beneath the waves. This reinforces China’s strategic advantage over other countries in the region, and can be used to monitor U.S. Navy movements.

According to research by CSIS’ Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative, the surveillance platforms are part of what China calls the “Blue Ocean Information Network” (蓝海信息网络). Some information about them was revealed at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition in 2019.

The platforms carry a range of sensors and communications. These include electro-optical / infrared sensor turrets, high frequency radio and cellular masts. Most also have a large radar dome on them, which may be the primary sensor. The platforms are unoccupied, and rarely need maintenance.

With these platforms China has greatly increased its radar coverage of the South China Sea. They now have an uninterrupted chain between Hainan and its bases in the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Many of these islands already have radar sites. And one unoccupied atoll, Bombay Reef, now has one of the platforms on its shoreline. For context, Woody Island in the Paracels is where China recently deployed Flanker fighter jets during the U.S. Navy carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76)’s exercises in the area.

The unseen element below the waves is often called the Underwater Great Wall. This will be a network of sonar arrays laid on the sea floor. In some respects it is similar to the famous SOSUS system deployed by the U.S. Navy during the Cold War. But the technology involved will be much newer and fit the local environment. That China is planning this seabed sensor network is not hidden, but naturally the technology, location and status is a military secret. And unlike the sensor platforms it cannot be seen from a passing ship.

The South China Sea is hotly contested with competing territorial claims from Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. China claims almost the entire area including many islands and reefs which are, defacto, parts of other countries. The exact boundaries of the Chinese claims are ambiguous and generally referred to as the nine-dash line. But the spirit of their claim is clear: in Beijing’s eyes the SCS belongs to China.

In recent years China has been building air bases and radar stations on the reefs which it has physical control over. This island building has attracted world wide attention. The surveillance platforms have not.

The area where the platforms are is a particular hot spot. According to Indo-Pacific News, which tracks the disputes, this is where many of the incidents between China and Vietnam occur. Many go unreported. China recently rewrote its shipping regulations to designate the area as ‘coastal waters’. Indo-Pacific News suggests that “China has struggled to exercise its control of these waterways. So changing the status from offshore to coastal may be another step to validate its sovereignty claims over Vietnam.” Whether the surveillance platforms directly figure into the decision or not, they are symbolic in these seas where presence matters.

Dr Collin Koh, a Research Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, believes that it is not just political symbolism however. "This zone fully encompass sensitive areas" Koh points out. "Hainan is a crucial base for the PLA Navy not just a hub of naval forces but the country’s sea-based nuclear deterrent". He believes that it reflects China's growing ability to keep the waters under closer tabs. And if necessary, respond quickly to security scenarios.

These new surveillance platforms are built, fittingly, on an artificial island off the east coast of Hainan. Combined with the artificial islands and Underwater Great Wall, they provide China with the infrastructure to control the area, even in international waters. And so China may be going from mere presence, to omnipresence.
 
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RISING SUN

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Isn't this a Russian destroyer?
China had imported these destroyers when their own built ships were not up to standards and most important before use of VLS in Chinese front-line surface ships. These were well built multi-role ships in those times. And if my memory is correct, these were tracked by Indian navy, couple of Russian built SSKs as well at some time being transported on a specialized cargo carrier, in Indian ocean.
 
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RISING SUN

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Image Shows Chinese Submarine Entering Mysterious Cave Facility At South China Sea Base
China's massive Yulin Naval Base on Hainan Island is one of the greatest strategic interests in the region. It is home to China's nuclear ballistic missile submarine fleet—the backbone of its second-strike deterrent—as well as other submarines. It sits at the northern edge of the highly contentious South China Sea. To its east is the gateway to the open Pacific and Taiwan. The most intriguing feature of this facility is the mysterious submarine cave built into the side of a mountain that dominates the southern end of the installation. Although I have seen satellite images of the roadway barges removed from the opening, we have never seen one with a submarine actually using it, until now.
You can read all about Yulin Naval Base, its submarine cave, and the very high level of strategic interest the U.S. and allied regional players put on it in this past article of ours.

The image was taken by Planet Labs, but first appeared on Radio Free Asia's social media channels. We were alerted to it via a post from @DRM_Long. Interestingly enough, not one other submarine is visible in the satellite image. The docks are completely empty. This also seems exceedingly rare based on our monitoring experience.


PHOTO © 2020 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION
The docks that usually host a number of submarines are completely empty.

It isn't clear exactly what type of submarine is seen in the image, but our best guess would be a Shang class/Type 093
nuclear attack submarine. The type seen is really beside the point, what's important is that we finally get to see this James Bond-esque feature in action.

As for where all the other submarines are, we have no clue. Tensions are exceedingly high in the region and the U.S. has massively upped its presence there. Meanwhile, Taiwan has gone on elevated alert as China executes war games nearby. While some of those drills could and likely do involve submarines based at Yalin, it's also possible that others have moved inside the mountain, as well. Why exactly remains unclear.
 

RISING SUN

Senior member
Dec 3, 2017
6,217
3,521
Image Shows Chinese Submarine Entering Mysterious Cave Facility At South China Sea Base
China's massive Yulin Naval Base on Hainan Island is one of the greatest strategic interests in the region. It is home to China's nuclear ballistic missile submarine fleet—the backbone of its second-strike deterrent—as well as other submarines. It sits at the northern edge of the highly contentious South China Sea. To its east is the gateway to the open Pacific and Taiwan. The most intriguing feature of this facility is the mysterious submarine cave built into the side of a mountain that dominates the southern end of the installation. Although I have seen satellite images of the roadway barges removed from the opening, we have never seen one with a submarine actually using it, until now.
You can read all about Yulin Naval Base, its submarine cave, and the very high level of strategic interest the U.S. and allied regional players put on it in this past article of ours.

The image was taken by Planet Labs, but first appeared on Radio Free Asia's social media channels. We were alerted to it via a post from @DRM_Long. Interestingly enough, not one other submarine is visible in the satellite image. The docks are completely empty. This also seems exceedingly rare based on our monitoring experience.


PHOTO © 2020 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION
The docks that usually host a number of submarines are completely empty.

It isn't clear exactly what type of submarine is seen in the image, but our best guess would be a Shang class/Type 093
nuclear attack submarine. The type seen is really beside the point, what's important is that we finally get to see this James Bond-esque feature in action.

As for where all the other submarines are, we have no clue. Tensions are exceedingly high in the region and the U.S. has massively upped its presence there. Meanwhile, Taiwan has gone on elevated alert as China executes war games nearby. While some of those drills could and likely do involve submarines based at Yalin, it's also possible that others have moved inside the mountain, as well. Why exactly remains unclear.
Rare Glimpse of Chinese Sub Outside Concealed Bunker Near South China Sea


Satellite imagery from Aug. 18 shows a Type 093 nuclear-powered attack submarine getting towed out, stern first, from a secret underground bunker at China’s Yulin Naval Base.

Satellite imagery from Aug. 18 shows a Type 093 nuclear-powered attack submarine getting towed out, stern first, from a secret underground bunker at China’s Yulin Naval Base.

A rare sighting by Radio Free Asia of a Chinese nuclear-powered attack submarine, captured in a satellite image at the entrance of an underground base, hints at how China can marshal considerable undersea power on the doorstep of the disputed South China Sea.

Satellite imagery from Aug. 18 shows what appears to be a Type 093, or Shang-class, submarine in service with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) outside an underground bunker at Yulin Naval Base, on the southern Chinese island province of Hainan. The bunker, accessed from the sea, is known for harboring submarine construction and repair facilities.

It offers an intriguing snapshot of what is a key home port for many ships and submarines in China’s South Sea Fleet, which is predominately focused on the South China Sea – a venue of growing rivalry between China and the United States. China has shown an increasing determination to assert its sweeping sovereignty claims in those strategic waters, and the U.S. has been flexing its own military muscle in response.

Two tugboats are also visible in an Aug. 18 photo. In an Aug. 19 image, they appear to be pushing what looks to be the same submarine towards a pier.

Capt. Christopher Carlson, a retired officer of the United States Navy Reserve, who examined the image, said the Type 093 would have exited backward out of the tunnel entrance of the bunker, aided by the tugboats – a typical maneuver.
“Given the narrow aperture of the tunnel, you are just asking for trouble for a submarine to leave the tunnel under its own power,” he said, pointing out the tight fit would also make it unlikely the submarine could safely use its nuclear reactor.

"Most people don't realize submarines maneuver like pigs on the surface. With about half your rudder out of the water, wagging about in the air, this doesn't leave a lot of control surface to effect steering,” said Carlson, who now works with a wargame publisher, the Admiralty Trilogy Group.

An image from Aug. 19 shows the Type 093 sub getting pushed towards one of Yulin’s piers. China has built-up its submarine force in recent years and greatly outclasses other claimants in the South China Sea, but still remains at a disadvantage to the United States.

An image from Aug. 19 shows the Type 093 sub getting pushed towards one of Yulin’s piers. China has built-up its submarine force in recent years and greatly outclasses other claimants in the South China Sea, but still remains at a disadvantage to the United States. Credit: Planet Labs Inc.

The Type 093 is one of China’s more advanced submarines, although it is currently developing bigger, stealthier subs to replace it, including an improved version called the Type 093B. Experts say there are only known to be six Type 093 submarines in service with China’s navy. The vessel is primarily meant to attack other ships and submarines, depending on which variant is deployed.

As part of China’s military build-up over the past two decades, it has rapidly improved its submarine force, and now has about 70 submarines, dwarfing the fleet of any other country that abuts the South China Sea, according to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency’s annual China Military Power Report.

But Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, believes that the U.S. still enjoys an edge over China in undersea warfare.

“Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) is one of the last remaining U.S. strengths against China,” she said in an interview, citing U.S. aircraft and other systems in the region that can locate submarines as they leave port.

“Chinese submarines, as they become more advanced, are still noisier than U.S. submarines. But it’s not really a question of their submarines versus our submarines. It’s their submarines versus our ASW, and our submarines versus their ASW. When you’re trying to kill a submarine, being able to find them and track them is the most important thing,” she said.

Both China and the United States have stepped up military maneuvers in the South China Sea this year, amid increasing rivalry between the two powers, as well as Washington’s growing opposition to what it calls China’s “bullying” of Southeast Asian nations that have competing claims there.

As part of these maneuvers, the U.S. Navy has flown a number of maritime surveillance missions over the South China Sea in recent weeks. A U.S. Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, which can be used to detect suspected submarines lurking beneath the surface, flew over the disputed waters just last week according to a report by CNN.

Mastro said part of the reason why the U.S. stays active in the South China Sea is that it is constantly gathering information about the undersea environment, enabling it track submarines.

A diagram of a variant of the Type 093 submarine from the Chinese state-affiliated magazine “Shipborne Weapons (舰载武器)”

A diagram of a variant of the Type 093 submarine from the Chinese state-affiliated magazine “Shipborne Weapons (舰载武器)” Credit: Shipborne Weapons

Meanwhile, China has been conducting military exercises near and around Taiwan, which were reported by Chinese state media late last week. China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, which is self-governed as the Republic of China, and regularly threatens to unify it with the Chinese mainland by force.

"Submarines are probably primarily important for surface warfare or blockade operations. Usually we talk about [blockades around Taiwan] because blockades don't seem to be a huge part of China's playbook in the South China Sea," Mastro pointed out, although she didn’t rule out the possibility of China using submarines to ‘starve out’ other countries’ outposts in the South China Sea.

While China strives to conceal the activities of its submarine fleet, cracks occasionally show. Its subs have been periodically spotted in the East and South China Seas.

Japan’s Self Defense Force said it spotted a Chinese nuclear-powered attack submarine within 24 nautical miles of the Senkaku Islands in mid-June. The Senkaku Islands are administered and owned by Japan, yet claimed by China, and a frequent point of tension in the East China Sea. And an advanced Chinese Type 094 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine accidentally surfaced near a Vietnamese fishing vessel in September 2019, according to Forbes, which covered photos and videos of the incident circulating on social media.

Mastro said that while the U.S. may be able to track Chinese submarines, other countries in Southeast Asia cannot do so on their own.

There are indications that China is taking other steps to enhance the ability of its submarines to operate with stealth in the South China Sea. In June, China laid down undersea cables between its occupied features in the Paracel Islands, a string of rocks and atolls in the northern half of the South China Sea, likely as part of an undersea monitoring network that would detect any other vessels tailing their submarines.

Some of China’s research and survey vessels, particularly those associated with the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute for Acoustics, are suspected of mapping the topography of the ocean floor to find safe routes for Chinese subs as they travel to nearby areas like the Western Pacific or the Indian Ocean. This concern was part of the reason India expelled a Chinese survey ship, the Shi Yan-1, from its waters in December 2019.

China’s hydrographic surveys continue unabated – just last week the Dong Fang Hong 3 survey vessel was operating south of the Paracels, and passed through Vietnamese waters on Aug. 15. China’s government operates the largest fleet of survey and research vessels out of any other country in the world.
 
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Ashwin

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PLAN could overtake USN in UAV usage from ships this decade itself. Type-75/76 with light EMALS could be a substantial innovation from their part.