Friday, October 24, 2014

China's Nuclear Subs Alter the Global Strategic Balance

The question is when do we really start worrying about China's challenge to American strategic preeminence? Back in the late-1990s, lots of policy and scholarly work pumped up the China challenge, but it's only now that Beijing's truly giving the U.S. a run for its money. Recall, just a week or so ago folks were getting all fired up about China's GDP numbers surpassing America's, although some might have been over-stating the case (by using purchasing power parity).

Still, China is growing and competing against America for global military and economic leadership. The day of reckoning won't be anytime soon, and fortunes can change, but it pays to look at more micro-economic foundations of power, particularly in the military realm.

With that, here's the Wall Street Journal, "Deep Threat: China’s Submarines Add Nuclear-Strike Capability, Altering Strategic Balance":
One Sunday morning last December, China’s defense ministry summoned military attach├ęs from several embassies to its monolithic Beijing headquarters.

To the foreigners’ surprise, the Chinese said that one of their nuclear-powered submarines would soon pass through the Strait of Malacca, a passage between Malaysia and Indonesia that carries much of world trade, say people briefed on the meeting.

Two days later, a Chinese attack sub—a so-called hunter-killer, designed to seek out 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 first known voyage of a Chinese sub to the Indian Ocean.

The message was clear: China had fulfilled its four-decade quest to join the elite club of countries with nuclear subs that can ply the high seas. The defense ministry summoned attach├ęs again to disclose another Chinese deployment to the Indian Ocean in September—this time a diesel-powered sub, which stopped off in Sri Lanka.

China’s increasingly potent and active sub force represents the rising power’s most significant military challenge yet for the region. Its expanding undersea fleet not only bolsters China’s nuclear arsenal but also enhances the country’s capacity to enforce its territorial claims and thwart U.S. intervention.

China is expected to pass another milestone this year when it sets a different type 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 them at a base opposite a resort recently in China’s Hainan province. On the beach, rented Jet Skis were accompanied by guides to make sure riders didn’t stray too close.

These boomers’ missiles have the range to hit Hawaii and Alaska from East Asia and the continental U.S. from the mid-Pacific, the ONI says.

“This is a trump card that makes our motherland proud and our adversaries terrified,” China’s navy chief, Adm. Wu Shengli, wrote of the country’s missile-sub fleet in a Communist Party magazine in December. “It is a strategic force symbolizing great-power status and supporting national security.”
Continue reading.

Chinese subs can't run silent, run deep, so we won't be seeing a replay of the "Hunt for Red October" anytime soon. The U.S. is far ahead on silent, underwater sonography technology.