By Jody Smith-Finch, Assistant Director of Global IP Awareness for OMB Watch, ThinkProgress
A news agency in Beijing confirms that an auxiliary Chinese submarine “was observed in international waters off Vietnam early Tuesday,” but Vietnamese sources told CNN that the submarine’s actions “were apparently an unannounced military training exercise.” While Russian and Western reports contend that the submarine was simply a training submarine, as U.S. Pacific Command reported, the Chinese vessel’s presence raises the worry that China has moved the central role of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet “into uncharted territory in the Pacific.”
(Art)icles have pointed out that the submarine is attributed to the China Nuclear Fleet, which is China’s first nuclear-powered attack submarine. This particular sub had not been declared “mobile” by the PLA because it would take “six months to train on the rudder and propeller controls on the nuclear propulsion system,” and then the submarine would have to be deployed in the Western Pacific and North Atlantic in order to be able to utilize these controls, according to the PLA Daily. It was then speculated that this might be what the submarine was meant to do.
Related Image Expand / Contract This undated photo of the Liaoning, the Russian aircraft carrier that’s on a circumnavigation of the world. (AP)
The sub itself has a name of the Liaoning, which is a Russian-built submarine that circumnavigated the globe in 2015. It was then donated to China to serve as the rotating Russian naval base at the South China Sea. There it would be sent to help patrol against “external forces,” and it “would be dispatched to retrieve foreign nationals and, when there are foreign nationals, then return them to their native land.”
Another concern for the United States is that this submarine has what appears to be large, camouflage paint on it that could indicate that it is a Type 95-class class sub, which is reportedly used for nuclear deterrence. This type of submarine is designed to break through undetected. Another concern is that this submarine was detected just miles from where a French nuclear submarine was detected, and just two miles away from a Japanese submarine deployed to the region as well.
One can’t rule out that China’s submarine could have been moved to keep tabs on the ExoMars lander that was launched by Russia this past Friday. This craft is to land on Mars in May of 2020 and send photos of the planet’s surface. The lander is also a nuclear-powered craft, and if China had a surveillance radar on board, it could have be “located and monitored by intelligence gathering craft.” This submarine also is located very close to the strategic Ulithi Islands, which are home to Russian, U.S., and French warships, air and underwater forces.