Foreign Bases for China's Nuclear Submarines May be Next

November 28, 2021 Topic: Chinese Submarines Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: ChinaPLA NavySubmarinesUS NavyASWUS-China WarNaval Warfare

Foreign Bases for China's Nuclear Submarines May be Next

A final illuminating point from this Chinese naval analysis concerns the future mix of conventional and nuclear submarines and their respective roles in far-seas operations.

In other words, there is a strong suggestion here that China will begin a reorientation of its submarine force toward prioritizing nuclear-submarine deployments to meet new far-seas mission requirements. Indeed, the penultimate sentence of the QSA analysis asserts emphatically that nuclear submarines will form “the ‘assassin’s mace’ force of our navy’s expansion into the deep oceans for defense combat.”

This Chinese naval analysis, undertaken by the Qingdao Submarine Academy, offers firm evidence of China’s evolving and increasingly global undersea ambitions. For American strategists, there certainly are troubling implications—for example, the likelihood that a military conflict that ignited in the Western Pacific could spread rapidly into the Atlantic sea area, a theme I explored in more detail recently using an additional, credible Chinese evidentiary source. More obvious still are the dangers inherent in the increased intensity of cat-and-mouse games, which are set to become ever more common across the world’s oceans. Such dangerous interactions could cause tragic accidents, and also fuel crises and rivalry in unpredictable and costly directions.

There is substantial evidence in this piece that the PLA Navy has an acute sense of threat perception. The authors matter-of-factly state: “We are facing the United States’ nuclear blackmail, nuclear menace, and conventional threats [面临着美国的核讹诈、核威胁及常规威胁].” To state the obvious, exaggerating the threat or challenge posed by China’s submarine force could well intensify rivalry, and thus make the problem even worse. It is worth emphasizing that all points of doctrine advocated in this piece are ones routinely practiced by Western navies, including obviously the U.S. Navy. China is hardly alone in coming to the conclusion that formidable and wide-ranging undersea power can be an effective tool to “influence the judgements, decisions, and actions of target state authorities [影响目标国家当局的判断, 决策和行动].”

Deterrence, defense of widespread and legitimate economic interests, as well as cooperative maritime security endeavors, are all also major themes of this important doctrinal statement for the future Chinese submarine force. Thus, American strategists should take this revelation regarding Chinese undersea ambitions in stride, maintaining an open mind with respect to a greater Chinese naval presence on and indeed under the world’s oceans, even as the United States itself must energetically seeks to maintain robust undersea warfare capabilities into the future.

Lyle J. Goldstein is an associate professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. The opinions expressed in this analysis are his own and do not represent the official assessments of the U.S. Navy or any other agency of the U.S. government.

This first appeared in June 2017 and is being reprinted for reader interest.

Image: Reuters