The territorial disputes among asian countries, over Spratly Islands involving Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei; the Paracel Islands claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam, but occupied by China, and the Senkaku Islands (Senkaku-shoto/Diaoyu Tai) occupied by Japan and claimed by China and Taiwan are fuelling the race among nations to acquire advanced submarines.
As response to the U.S. strategic rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific region, China is engaging in rapid naval modernization effort for asserting China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea; displacing U.S. influence in the Western Pacific; and asserting China’s status as a leading regional power and major world power.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy now has about 70 submarines – very close to the US’ total – with 16 of them nuclear-powered, according to the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress last year on China’s military and security development. Fifteen of China’s non-nuclear submarines are stealthy, equipped with quiet Stirling air-independent propulsion (AIP) engines that also allow them to stay submerged for long durations.
Japan has announced the acceleration of a warship-building program, hoping to construct two additional frigates each year to better enforce their claim on the East China Sea. Japan has been embroiled in a land dispute with China and Taiwan over several islands in the East China Sea since the 1970s, as reported by Sputnik News. President Donald Trump declared US support for the Japanese claim on Tuesday, February 14. “I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent,” said Trump in a joint statement with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
China has responded by sailing naval vessels through the disputed waters, doing so now about thrice monthly. “No matter what anyone says or does, it cannot change the fact that the Diaoyu Islands belong to China, and cannot shake China’s resolve and determination to protect national sovereignty and territory,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement.
In April of this year it became known that the Philippines will purchase submarines in the next 11 years, and in may, Myanmar declared interest in buying two submarines.
China is the largest investor in Pakistan’s Gwadar Deep Sea Port, which is strategically located at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz. It is viewed warily by both America and India as a possible launchpad for the Chinese Navy, giving them the ability to launch submarines and warships in the Indian Ocean. China has recently pledged to invest nearly $43 billion US dollars. Last month, Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence Production confirmed a contract with China for the purchase of eight conventional diesel electric submarines, which will cost between $4 billion to $5 billion (Rs. 25,600 crore to Rs. 33,200 crore), China’s biggest defence export deal.
India and the United States, which already conduct joint naval exercises, both fly the new version of the P-8 aircraft, making information sharing easier on highly sensitive submarine tracking activities. The P-8 is Washington’s most advanced submarine hunting weapon, equipped with sensors that can track and identify submarines by sonar and other means. The two sides also said their navies will hold talks on anti submarine warfare (ASW), an area of sensitive military technology and closely held tactics that only allies share.
Over half of the world’s submarines will be in Asia by 2030, as Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Singapore, modernize their militaries and look to hedge against instability by building undersea fleets. Submarine production spending across Asia Pacific will increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.17 percent for the next 10 years to reach $52.5 billion in total by 2026, according to the latest figures released today by IHS Markit. Currently, there are 145 submarines owned and operated by 12 regional powers including Australia, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam, according to latest analysis from Jane’s Fighting Ships.
“The security architecture in Asia is affected by numerous factors, creating a complex network of bilateral and multilateral alliances,” said Paul Burton, Jane’s research and analysis director at IHS Markit. “One of the main trends is the evident appetite to develop a submarine capability. “One main driver is the obvious threat posed by China’s growing naval projection capabilities. However, the expansion of other major actors such as Japan, Australia, the US, Russia and India is forcing smaller countries to counter these efforts with procurement of platforms that could facilitate an asymmetrical strategy,” Burton said.
Submarines are one of deadliest weapons which are hardest to detect, literally a pile of submerged nuclear weapons ready to unleash widespread destruction with single command. In case of a nuclear war the stealthy submarines have a greater chance of surviving the first strike. Once on high alert the boats can leave their bases stay undetected for months and can carry and fire missiles that could sink even the sturdiest ship and flatten entire cities.
The main mission for this type of boats is to patrol undetected under the water. Once the country has been attacked these boats are designed to launch their ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. So current position of these submarines are kept in high secrecy. Modern submarines employ stealth techniques to detect, track and engage these boats before they can launch their deadly missiles. Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) involves the deployment of surface warships, aircraft, or other submarines to search, detect, find, track, damage or destroy enemy submarines; or deter operations by the enemy.
The US Navy operated 75 nuclear-powered submarines in 2014, with around 15 being the more modern Virginia or Seawolf-class designs, according to the World Nuclear Association. However, it deploys just four Los Angeles-class submarines in the Asia-Pacific region, operating out of its naval base in Guam.
US OHIO Class Ballistic Submarine
The Ohio class ballistic missile submarines were designed in the United States in the early 1970s. Each Ohio class boat carries 24 ballistic missiles. Each of the boat is fitted with Trident II Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs).
The Trident II alone are one of most capable ballistic missiles in the world. These missiles have a range of 7 800 km with full load and 12 000 km with reduced load. Each US Trident II missiles can carry up to 14 warheads with a 475 kT yield each. Each re-entry vehicle is targeted independently. Furthermore re-entry vehicles maneuver in order to avoid enemy air defenses. A single Ohio-class submarine of today can unleash more destructive power than has been used in all of the wars in the world’s history.
Because of their longer-range Trident missiles, the Ohio class boats have patrol areas in waters either close to the US or in the remoter parts of the world’s oceans, making virtually impossible effective anti-submarine measures. The USA controls most of the water area with its fleet. It makes these ICMBs extremely deadly. The more so as the boats, are acoustically very quiet.
Recently 4 Ohio class boats were converted to guided missile submarines. Their Trident missile tubes were modified to contain vertical launch systems for Tomahawk cruise missiles. So as of 2017 a total of 14 Ohio class ballistic missiles submarines remain in service
China’s naval modernization effort encompasses a broad array of weapon acquisition programs, including anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and submarines.
China’s newest nuclear attack sub, Type 094A, is based in an undersea submarine base at Yulin in Hainan, similar to that in Subic, complete with underground shelters. It has supreme stealth capability, just like the US Ohio-class SSBNs. The Type 094A is armed with a 12 JL-2A multiple-warhead nuclear missiles, with a range of 11,200 kilometers. JL-2, the ‘tsunami missile’, stands for the Mandarin word for ‘Big Wave’.
China is pursuing joint-design and production of four to six Russian advanced diesel-electric attack submarines containing Russia’s latest submarine 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 US efforts to track and counter the PLA submarines.”
China is commissioning three nuclear-powered Type-093G attack submarines which have the capability to fire supersonic anti-ship missiles. The Type-093G is engineered to reduce noise, improve speed and mobility and fire the latest YJ-18 supersonic anti-ship missile, capable of causing significant damage to aircraft carriers. China now operates a greater number of attack submarines than the US military and is rapidly expanding the scope of its undersea missions and patrols.
In June 2016, the PLAN’s South Sea Fleet also commissioned the Type 056A corvette Qujing, the tenth such vessel assigned to it, which reportedly has “good stealth performance” and has been upgraded with a towed array sonar for ASW. As of 2016, a total of twenty-six Type 056 corvettes are in service throughout the PLAN, and there might eventually be sixty or more, likely including quite a few of this ASW variant.
China is building World’s largest submarine factory capable for construction of four submarines simultaneously—out of sight from military enthusiasts and spy satellites alike
China has been establishing an underwater system of ocean floor acoustic arrays in the near seas, referred to as the “Underwater Great Wall Project” by the China State Shipbuilding Corporation responsible for its construction. CSSC says that, among other things, its objective is to provide customers with “a package solution in terms of underwater environment monitoring and collection, real-time location, tracing of surface and underwater targets, warning of seaquakes, tsunamis, and other disasters as well as marine scientific research”. Specific components of CSSC’s surveillance system include surface ships, sonar systems, underwater security equipment, marine oil and gas exploration equipment, underwater unmanned equipment, and marine instrument electronic equipment.
Vietnam’s navy has taken possession of three Russian-built Kilos and a fourth is in transit under a US$2.6 billion deal struck with Moscow in 2009, according to Vietnamese state press reports. A fifth is undergoing sea-trials off St Petersburg and a final sixth submarine is due for completion in 2016.
Vietnam is the first Southeast Asian nation to arm its submarine fleet with a land attack missile. SIPRI has logged the sale of 50 anti-ship and land attack Klubs to Vietnam as part of the deal, with 28 having been delivered already over the last two years.
While those would potentially target Chinese ships and submarines in the South China Sea, the land attack weapons are capable of precision strikes at a range of 300km, making China’s coastal cities potential targets in any conflict.
South Korea has received its most advanced submarine to counter North Korea’s underwater combat capabilities, the country’s defense procurement agency says. The new submarine is expected to improve South Korea’s underwater prowess against North, which is believed to have a fleet of at least 80 submarines.
North and South Korea are technically still at war, since the Korean war (1950-1953) ended with a ceasefire that was never replaced with a peace treaty. South Korea in 2030 wants to increase its submarine fleet to 27 units and reach a stable export their submarines.
Taiwan, which is finding it difficult to purchase weapons because of pressure from China on potential suppliers, has set its own ambitious target to create their own 8 submarines. On March 21 the navy signed a memorandum of understanding with two Taiwanese companies, in shipbuilding and ship design, to develop the island’s own submarines over the next four years, Taiwan’s defense ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi said.The first boat of Taiwan must stand in line in 2027.
Three anonymous sources with knowledge of Japan’s navy say that Tokyo’s Self Defense Forces will construct two 3,000-ton frigates as well as one 5,000-ton destroyer in the 2018 fiscal year. Japan intends to create a small but highly modern fleet of eight vessels that may also be used for minesweeping and submarine hunting.Naval shipyards are expected to bid for the contracts to build the eight frigates. Each ship will cost 40-50 billion yen ($353-$443 million) for a total outlay of over $3 billion.
Japan is expanding its submarine fleets in response to Chinese anti-access/area-denial threats. The 6th Soryu-class SSK, SS-506 Kokuryu, (meaning Black Dragon) was commissioned into service with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) at the Kawasaki Heavy Industries shipyard in Kobe on March 9th. The Soryu Class diesel-electric submarines are being built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF).
Ten Soryu Class submarines are planned for the JMSDF. The class is an improved version of the Oyashio Class submarine. Japan’s navy operates six Soryu attack subs and 11 older Oyashio-class vessels. It plans a total fleet of 22 submarines.
“Submarines are a critical element of our maritime strategy,” said VADM Ray Griggs, Chief of Australian Navy. Because of their potency, our submarines can have a powerful conventional deterrent effect. But there is also a much longer term deterrent impact. By having such capable submarines in the ADF order of battle, any potential adversary must be able to defeat our submarine capability. And, as many in navies and air forces around the world can testify, anti-submarine warfare is one of the more complex maritime warfare disciplines to be effective at. It takes a range of expensive high-end capabilities –surface, air and sub-surface units – which must be developed and maintained over many years.
In 2009, the Australian Government’s Defence White Paper announced that a class of twelve submarines would be built. However inn February 2015 the Abbott Government announced a “competitive evaluation process” between competing Japanese, French, and German designs, with a winning design to be announced before 2016.
Japan had been the front-runner in the planned sale of around 12 vessels, for as much as $40 billion, to replace Australia’s ageing Collins class submarines. Australia wants Japan involved in the process, because it is interested in Tokyo’s 4,000-ton Soryu-class sub and its lithium-ion battery propulsion system. The German and French makers offer 2,000-ton vessels.
Japanese Defense Ministry has agreed to it’s first disclosure of classified technical data to a foreign military other than that of ally the United States, because Australia needs it to make a decision on the submarine’s technical capability, the officials said. U.S. is also backing Japanese submarine packed with American surveillance, radar and weapons equipment, as it shall result in greater interoperability with U.S. weapons and combat control systems resulting in greater regional cooperation to counter Chinese’s growing military might.
Pakistan—China’s “all-weather friendship” has become even closer in the wake of America’s pullout from Afghanistan.
During the President Xi’s recent visit to Pakistan, China announced an aid package worth US$46 billion. The 80 percent of aid package shall be used in developing a China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor, which comprises energy pipelines, road networks and rail networks, extending from Pakistan’s southern port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea to Xinjiang province in China’s west. This shall allow Beijing to pipe the Iranian oil across the Iran-Pakistan border to the port at Gwadar and from there to Xinjiang., bypassing the Strait of Malacca.
Li Jie, a researcher at the PLA Navy’s Military Academy, said the submarine deal likely involved the Type 039-class, a diesel-electric vessel that first went into operation in the 1990s. “The Type 039-class submarine is equipped with an advanced air-independent propulsion system, which would allow the warship to stay and operate underwater much longer and make it more difficult to be detected by its enemies,” Li said.
“The Pakistan Navy will gain a competitive advantage in their underwater fighting capability. Pakistan operates five French submarines. The Pakistan Navy requires 12 submarines laid out in the Armed Forces Development Plan (AFDP) 2015 and a later revised plan.
The last decade has seen Beijing scale up its presence in the Indian Ocean, building a string of ports, power plants and highways across the small island nations at the cost of billions of dollars. They’ve now had three deployments in the Indian Oceans.
India has decided to ink MoU with Iran for expansion of Chabahar Port , as an answer to Pakistan’s Gwadar port with China. It would act as a gateway for the country to Afghanistan and Central Asia opening up major commercial and strategic opportunities.
“India is planning to boost its undersea capabilities by inducting 24 more submarines, including six nuclear-powered attack vessels, by 2030,” the navy chief Admiral Robin Dhowan said. At present, India operates 13 conventional vessels and a nuclear submarine, INS Chakra, leased from Russia, while the indigenous nuclear-powered INS Arihant is undergoing sea trials.
The 6 new French origin Scorpene submarines are under construction in Mumbai with the first one set to enter service next year. The Navy is also looking at nuclear power as an option for the next sea-borne aircraft carrier, which will be the follow-on to the INS Vikrant currently being built in Kochi. The Navy is also likely to lease a new nuclear attack submarine from Russia shortly.
The P-8I is the Indian variant of P-8A Poseidon operated by the U.S. Navy for long range maritime reconnaissance and ASW requirements. India contracted Boeing to build eight of these aircraft for the Indian Navy. It was deployed recently for surveillance in the exclusive economic zone of Seychelles and had been pressed into action to hunt for Chinese submarines probing near the strategically located Andaman and Nicobar islands. The P-8I boasts advanced sensor and communication suites and is armed with missiles, torpedoes, and depth charges.
China has also promised to deliver two Type 035G Ming-class diesel-electric submarines to Bangladesh Navy by 2019. Myanmar is using Chinese experts to train its submarine personnel. It also sent a contingent of navy personnel for submarine warfare training in Pakistan in mid-2013. Myanmar has announced plans to build its own fleet of submarines, and is expected to look towards Russia for supplies. Thailand with over $ 390 million is going to buy submarines from China and, perhaps, then two more.
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