China’s New Airstrip to Heighten Underwater Rivalry

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Chinese dredging vessels purportedly seen in waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands (Reuters photo)

 

Hong Kong:  China’s apparent construction of a third airstrip on its man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea could fill a gap in Beijing’s anti-submarine defences, complicating operations for the US Navy and its allies, Chinese and Western experts said.

While most attention has been on the power projection China would get from its new islands in the Spratly archipelago, China could also use them to hunt rival submarines in and beyond the strategic waterway, they said.

Possessing three airstrips more than 1,400 km (870 miles) from the Chinese mainland would enable Beijing to extend the reach of Y-9 surveillance planes and Ka-28 helicopters that are being re-equipped to track submarines, the experts added.

A Pentagon report in May noted China lacked a robust anti-submarine warfare capability off its coastline and in deep water.

Strengthened anti-submarine capabilities could also help China protect the movements of its Jin-class submarines, capable of carrying nuclear-armed ballistic missiles and which are at the core of China’s nuclear deterrence strategy, said Zhang Baohui, a mainland security specialist at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University.

“That would provide greater security for China’s nuclear submarines to survive … and if necessary to execute their orders in wartime,” Zhang told Reuters.

“They would be safer than in open oceans where China cannot provide adequate support.”

NUCLEAR DETERRENCE

Zhang has previously said ballistic missile submarines are more important for China’s nuclear deterrent than other powers given Beijing’s policy, dating back to the 1960s, of only using nuclear weapons if attacked with them first.

This means China’s land-based weapons would be vulnerable to a first strike if Beijing stuck to its “no first use” policy in a conflict.

Chinese media and international military blogs this year have shown photographs of Jin-class submarines operating from a naval base on Hainan Island off southern China.

It’s unclear if they have been armed with long-range JL-2 nuclear ballistic missiles.

“China will likely conduct its first (submarine) nuclear deterrence patrol sometime in 2015,” the report said.

Full article: China’s New Airstrip to Heighten Underwater Rivalry (NDTV)

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