China: Underground Tunnels, Nuclear Submarines & the South China Sea

China: Underground Tunnels, Nuclear Submarines & the South China Sea

May 10, 2020 – China has been expanding its base of Nuclear Powered Missile Submarines, recently adding another Type 094A Jin-Class, bringing the total Jin-Class number to six.

China has long been planning to surpass the United States as the world’s supreme naval power. Their aspirations for domination are made clear in Mao’s Hundred Year Plan, the concept of unrestricted warfare, and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The “new silk road” or BRI project takes aim at multi-domain, 4th-dimensional warfare – centralizing air, land, and sea power. One land trading route (Road), and one sea trading route (Belt), both to be shared by the countries that have signed onto the project.

Mao Zedong famously said China would build nuclear submarines even if it took ten thousand years. It has required several decades, but new vitality is evident in this critical program for Beijing’s blue water aspirations.  ~~ The National Interest

The reason it has taken China only a few decades to catch up to the United States is mainly due to the theft of intellectual property. China forces technology transfers on anyone seeking to do business inside its borders. What it isn’t able to obtain from these forced transfers, it engages in espionage and outright theft.

In recent years, the People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, has been commanding respect with its more serious endeavors. The “Long March” appears to finally be yielding fruit.

For those unfamiliar, the “Long March” has a very specific connotation in China. There wasn’t just one long march, but a series of them; this began the rise to power of Mao Zedong. The CCP was founded in 1921, and initially had support from Soviet Russia. The CCP collaborated with another party, the Chinese Nationalist Party, under the leadership of Sun Yat-Sen. However, after his death in 1925, a power struggle ensued and power was consolidated under Chiang Kai-shek, who was opposed to continued collaboration with the CCP. This eventually led to the Chinese Civil War, of which the CCP was the victor. Author Sun Shuyun claimed generations of Chinese are indoctrinated with a “glorious account” of the “Long March” to justify Mao’s Revolution:

‘think of the Long March; if you feel tired, think of our revolutionary forebears. The message has been drilled into us so that we can accomplish any goal set before us by the party because nothing compares in difficulty with what they did. Decades after the historical one, we have been spurred on to ever more Long Marches – to industrialize China, to feed the largest population in the world, to catch up with the West, to reform the socialist economy, to send men into space, to engage with the 21st century.’ – ‘Long March to Mythology’, Asia Times 

The legend of the Long March has been drilled into generations of Chinese youngsters. Remember the long march, 86k began that retreat in ’34 and by the end of ’35 only 8k were still alive. Employed as a rallying cry, the “Long March” is routinely evoked to spur the masses to achieve these massive CCP goals.

Amid claims that China was responsible for the Coronavirus, or at the very least engaged in a cover-up that put millions of lives at risk, China has taken advantage of the chaos and weakened military and naval powers to assert more control of the disputed South China Sea:

For those who are not aware of the territorial claims and disputes regarding the South China Sea, I have included a map of the contested areas.

South China Sea Claims as of 2012

These were the territorial claims as of 2012, but you can see that over the years China has aggressively expanded its presence and hostility in the South China Sea.

Maritime Claims in the South China Sea

As you can see from this simplified version of the map, there are several countries that have asserted dominion over certain routes and land in the area.

The Spratly Islands have been subject to increasing Chinese Naval aggression in recent years. Add the confusion and chaos of the Coronavirus crisis, and they understandably feel they are being isolated gradually from the rest of the region.

2015 Department of State Map of Spratly Islands in the South China Sea

There are more reports about China’s behavior during this Coronavirus crisis that paint a picture of a belligerent, hostile, pugnacious, and arrogant nation pushing the aggression envelope with the rest of the world. 

In fact, CNN reported back on February 28, 2020, that:

‘The US Navy said Thursday that a Chinese military warship fired a military grade laser at US Navy P-8 surveillance aircraft last week while it was flying over the Pacific Ocean, an action that the US Navy called ‘unsafe and unprofessional.’Ryan Browne, CNN

This is a highly dangerous action. Weapons-grade laser systems can cause major harm to mariners and aircrew, and can even temporarily blind people. Not only that, but this incident also violated the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, according to the U.S. Navy. It was also inconsistent with a “memorandum of understanding” that was signed allegedly between the U.S. Department of Defense and China’s Ministry of National Defense.

According to Peter Suciu from the National Interest, “China Now Has Six Type 094A Jin-Class Nuclear Powered Missile Submarines,”  explaining this new addition to the Chinese Naval Fleet:

During the celebrations for the 71st anniversary of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), two upgraded Type 094A nuclear-powered submarines have joined the fleet, bringing the total of these boats to six. The Type 094, or Jin-class, have been described as tools for promoting national prestige rather than for true nuclear deterrence so it is fitting that their arrival comes as China continues to present its great power status.

The new vessels are revamped/upgraded versions of the Chinese Navy’s second-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) and will bolster the PLAN’s underwater combat strength. The submarines feature a number of technological upgrades and enhancements including improved radar, sonar and torpedoes.

China had originally announced plans to build a total of six of the Jin-class submarines, and four were shown during last April’s 70th anniversary demonstrations in Qingdao, Shandong province. With the arrival of these additional two, the number has reached the planned half a dozen. A total of eight hulls are also believed to exist, and the class may ultimately grow to a full dozen.

The Type 094 submarines are approximately 137 meters in length and equipped with 12 missile tubes, each capable of firing the JL-2 SLBM (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile), which can carry up to three nuclear warheads to a target up to 7,200 kilometers away. The JL-2 had replaced the JL-1 SLBM that had been deployed on the Type 092 submarine. 

The new Type 094A is a variant with modified and improved sails, and could be equipped with a total of 16 launch tubes, along with the new Julang-2A (JL-2A) ballistic missile, which has a far greater range than the JL-2, and could potentially reach the entire United States from the Yulin Naval Base on Hainan Island. – The National Interest

Clearly, this is something the United States should be monitoring. China is making its move, along with the Belt and Road Initiative, to unseat the United States as the leading world superpower.

One of the things that gives them an advantage in the South China Sea is the fact that they, like the Nazis did in their Antarctic base Neuschwabenland, have created a system of underground tunnels to help hide and protect their submarines.

Chinese Navy Underground Tunnels, credit: Forbes Magazine

As you can see from the above image, the Tunnel system is right by the South China Sea, were these incursions are happening between China and other countries like India and the United States. H. I. Sutton of Forbes, in a report titled “Chinese Navy Submarines are Protected by Underground Tunnels,” explains how they are using these:

China is a maritime nation with over 9,000 miles of coastline, dotted with ports. Compared to most other countries, it has a large number of naval bases. By dispersing its forces across many bases the Chinese Navy, formally known as the PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy), is protecting them against surprise attack. But some of it bases go further, offering underground tunnels to protect key warships and submarines.

In the age of precision strike cruise missiles and bunker buster bombs, tunnels may seem an outdated idea. But they still provide cover against some air attack and, perhaps more importantly, prying eyes. And they can also protect against nuclear attack, provided it is not a direct hit.

China’s tend to be built directly into rocky outcrops which may provide many feet of overhead protection. The entrance is usually facing inland (but with water access) so that it is harder to hit from offshore. …

…Some other PLAN bases also have tunnels which are less well known. The submarine base on Xiachuan Dao has a small tunnel just inside the harbor wall (21°35’45.08″N, 112°33’5.14″E). And a shipyard where large warships and submarines are repaired, near the submarine base at Xiangshan, also has a tunnel (29°31’41.09″N, 121°41’16.98″E) …

There are other tunnels which are physically removed from any naval bases. These may provide more dispersed protection, although it is also possible that some are not Navy related. For example there is quite a large tunnel in a mountain on an island south of Shipuzhen (29°11’2.75″N, 121°56’35.68″E). There is a missile boat squadron nearby, but the tunnel appears separate from any PLAN naval base. Other less obvious tunnels include some near Daishan (30°15’40.61″N, 122°19’1.43″E), and along the coast from of Yalin (18°15’42.67″N, 109°43’41.13″E).

China’s tunnels are an interesting difference from U.S. Navy doctrine. They may provide some degree of protection against an unexpected attack. And they likely increase the survival of PLAN submarines in longer wars.

The PLAN is not alone in valuing the defensive strength of rock. The Swedish Navy recently announced that it would reopen its Cold War super-base at Muskö outside Stockholm. That site can house several submarines or warships and has maintenance facilities. Other countries which appear to have submarine tunnels include Taiwan, North Korea and Iran. – Forbes Magazine

What this article describes is China’s strategic advantage in the South China Sea, as well as their “home turf” advantage. Tunnels are able to hide essential warships and subs from surprise attacks, as well as to provide cover from reconnaissance.  Built directly into mountains or rocky outcrops, and some well-hidden, the tunnels are able to protect the ships from cruise missiles. The article notes that some of these tunnels are not even connected to naval bases, which makes one wonder if they could be used for things like human, weapons, and drug smuggling.

Adam Ni of Real Clear Defense gives an account of the future of underwater and maritime warfare, in an exposé The Future of China’s Nuclear-Powered Ballistic Missile Submarine Force, something that potentially we could witness in our lifetime.

China finally achieved an operational underwater nuclear capability in recent years, almost six decades after it first launched its nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) program in the late 1950s. The deployment of the Jin-class (Type 094) SSBNs armed with JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) marks a new stage in the evolution of China’s sea-based nuclear force. According to the Pentagon’s 2018 annual report to Congress on China’s military capabilities, this recent development constitutes ‘China’s first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent’ …

… Driven by Beijing’s perceived nuclear insecurity, and enabled by the availability of resources to the People’s Liberation Army, China’s SSBN fleet, SLBM program, and supporting capabilities and systems have developed quickly since the early 2000s. Chinese military experts believe that developing an effective sea-based nuclear force is critical for ensuring the credibility of China’s overall nuclear deterrent.

The steady growth in the size and sophistication of China’s SSBN fleet will continue. Indeed, by all indications, a larger and more survivable SSBN force is high on the PLA Navy’s list of priorities.

China had at least four operational Jin-class SSBNs in 2018, and two more have reportedly just joined the fleet. The PLA Navy will likely build a total of six to eight Jin-class SSBNs before shifting production towards its next (third) generation SSBN, the Type 096, from the early 2020s. From the mid- to late 2020s onwards, it will likely operate an SSBN fleet consisting of both the Type 094 and Type 096.

The future of China’s SSBN force depends largely on China’s threat perception. At one end of the spectrum, Beijing may believe that a small SSBN fleet that complements its land-based nuclear force is enough to maintain the credibility of its nuclear deterrent. On the other end, China may seek to address perceived vulnerabilities in its land-based force with a significant build-up of its SSBN force with supporting infrastructure and systems.

Another important determinant is whether China intends to pursue a CASD capability with one or more SSBNs on patrol at all times. China is unlikely to adopt such a posture in the near term due to operational constraints. Even if the PLA Navy was operationally capable, there are serious doubts as to whether Beijing is ready to make such a major shift in its nuclear posture. – Adam Ni, Real Clear Defense 

Unfortunately, this is something prior American administrations did not take seriously. Since the beginning of U.S.-China relations, U.S. presidential administrations have allowed Wall Street to build up China. They have allowed China to steal intellectual property with military applications and gain a foothold into our critical supply chain. This policy of appeasement has left us vulnerable at a time of international crisis due to the “China virus.”

The article continues:

First and foremost, China’s SSBN force has become more important to its nuclear strategy and posture than at any time in the past. With the diversification away from an exclusive reliance on land-based nuclear missiles, SLBMs have grown to constitute about half of China’s total number of ballistic missiles that could target the continental U.S. 

… The growth of China’s SSBN fleet, as part of its broader nuclear modernisation effort, has a number of implications for China’s nuclear strategy and strategic stability in Asia. First and foremost, China’s SSBN force has become more important to its nuclear strategy and posture than at any time in the past. With the diversification away from an exclusive reliance on land-based nuclear missiles, SLBMs have grown to constitute about half of China’s total number of ballistic missiles that could target the continental U.S.

This relative importance is likely to grow along with the size and survivability of China’s SSBN fleet as China progresses along the path towards building an effective nuclear triad. Currently, China possesses a well-established, albeit relatively small, land-based nuclear force, a nascent sea-based nuclear force, and a program to develop a new strategic bomber, the H-20.

Given the growing importance of China’s SSBNs, decisions about how they’re deployed may have far-reaching strategic implications. For instance, if Beijing decided to adopt CASD, that would constitute an important shift in China’s nuclear posture. Currently, nuclear authority is highly centralised under the Central Military Commission, with nuclear warheads stored separately from missile launchers. In addition, China’s land-based nuclear force doesn’t maintain a high alert status under normal peacetime conditions.

With CASD, patrolling Chinese SSBNs would carry nuclear weapons to sea, and Beijing would need to work out crucial command and control questions, such as how much authority to delegate to submarine commanders. Such a shift in posture might be interpreted by other states as evidence that Beijing was moving away from its policy to refrain from the first use of nuclear weapons. – Real Clear Defense 

I believe one of the things we should be asking is: where did China get such devastating technology? Are some of our “allies” engaging in technology transfers and sales that could, in the future, put our military in danger? When you tie all this in with what we know about the Belt and Road Initiative and China’s colonization of places like Africa, it represents an incredible threat not just to U.S. National Security, but to the delicate balance of world power.

Recently we have reported that China has taken control of over a dozen ports in Europe, as well as in Australia and Canada. This growing Nuclear Naval fleet with first strike capabilities in the grasp of an increasingly hostile and aggressive nation presents a very dangerous situation on our hands, ripe for catastrophic consequences.

The Gatestone Institute for International Policy Council has identified this threat and has reported on how China has been using Italy to get a foothold in Europe:

The Gatestone Institute

They are concerned that China is now trying to use Europe as a buffer zone in a potential war with the United States. The article states that Chinese leaders believe there is a short “window of strategic opportunity” for China to shift the international world order in their favor and strengthen their iron grip on power.

Recall that back in April of 2018, Sputnik reported that China Planning to Deploy Large Unmanned A.I. Submarines by 2020s, describing an imprudent plan to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to use “unmanned” submarines.

The South China Post reported Sunday that Beijing expects to deploy artificially intelligent unmanned submarines in the early 2020s. The seacraft could be used to survey waters, place munitions or even be used in suicide attacks against enemies, scientists involved in the program told the outlet. Lin Yang, marine technology equipment director at the Shenyang Institute of Automation, Chinese Academy of Sciences, confirmed the program, and said it was a response to work in the US to develop similar watercraft.

One of the main advantages of the AI subs, however, is their relatively low cost, as all of the investment that goes into making the vehicles survivable environments for humans can be stripped away. Without those frills, the ships can operate fearlessly, using artificial intelligence systems to learn from what is happening around them without having to be concerned with protecting human cargo. They could be a major issue for enemy commanders to deal with, Luo Yuesheng, professor at the College of Automation in Harbin Engineering University, where Chinese subs are developed, told SCMP.

Of course, without humans on board, the unmanned subs will have to be especially resilient, as human diagnostics and repairs while at sea won’t be possible.

China has been increasingly investing in its navy, opening its first overseas naval base in 2017 and ramping up production of its growing fleet of aircraft carriers. Beijing announced earlier this year that it would be increasing its military budget by nearly 10 percent, the biggest jump in a recent upward trend that has seen military spending grow from $132 billion to $175 billion. (The US defense budget for 2018, by contrast, was just shy of $700 billion.)…

…Xu Guangyu, a retired general and senior consultant with the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association in Beijing, told Sputnik in February that while China intends to keep up with the US in terms of expertise and technology, that doesn’t mean China is looking to achieve parity with the US’ massive war machine. – Sputnik News

China’s leaders recently warned the Chinese military that they needed to be “prepared for armed conflict” with the United States, according to an internal memo that was circulated.

This may be why China has been continuing to build up their Naval fleet, and are so focused on the “strategic window of opportunity” that they see as their chance to change the world, to herald in the “Chinese Century,” their long-planned for goal.

A recent incursion between Chinese and Indian forces in the South China Sea underscores the implications and ambitions of China’s military presence in the region.

We expect these kinds of incidents to increase as China becomes more aggressive during the Coronavirus outbreak.

It is starting to look like the Belt and Road Initiative was always about colonization under Chinese control. I am very concerned about the implication of this map’s details. If this virus IS a bio-weapon, it could be seen as an act of war.

For more information on China’s current Naval Fleet, please see here.

Extended Reading

For more information on our China coverage and the Belt and Road Project, see our recent articles:

  1. Tanzania Rejects China Offer to Complete BRI Projects
  2. China’s Belt and Road Initiative: A Trojan Horse for Global Domination
  3. China to Help Venezuela Fight COVID-19? 
  4. China – South Africa, Another “New Silk Road” Extension 
  5. China-Russia Economic Infrastructure Pact 

*This story is still developing, please check back for updates. 

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Mr. Mach
Mr. Mach
2 months ago

Outstanding information, as you had mentioned, China makes long term plans. Their patients is their power.

2 months ago