Monday, November 26, 2007

Singing Telegram

A Chinese Song class submarines surfaced near the Kitty Hawk during an exercise (Tip to NRO's the Tank). Until that moment, the sub had not been detected:

The lone Chinese vessel slipped past at least a dozen other American warships which were supposed to protect the carrier from hostile aircraft or submarines.

And the rest of the costly defensive screen, which usually includes at least two U.S. submarines, was also apparently unable to detect it.

According to the Nato source, the encounter has forced a serious re-think of American and Nato naval strategy as commanders reconsider the level of threat from potentially hostile Chinese submarines.

It also led to tense diplomatic exchanges, with shaken American diplomats demanding to know why the submarine was "shadowing" the U.S. fleet while Beijing pleaded ignorance and dismissed the affair as coincidence.

Analysts believe Beijing was sending a message to America and the West demonstrating its rapidly-growing military capability to threaten foreign powers which try to interfere in its "backyard".

The People's Liberation Army Navy's submarine fleet includes at least two nuclear-missile launching vessels.

Its 13 Song Class submarines are extremely quiet and difficult to detect when running on electric motors.

Let's review this incident.

One, I think we can assume the Chinese government ordered this stunt.

Two, I don't think this represents a general Chinese capability. Sneaking up on one of our carrier task forces requires both a good boat and a skilled crew. I suspect this Song was hand picked for the mission.

Third, we don't know how the boat got to the location to surface. We seem to be assuming the boat penetrated our defenses. What if the boat sailed to the location before we reached it and sat silently waiting for our carrier to approach it? If the Chinese knew the general location of the exercise, perhaps several boats were out there sitting quietly, and this one boat was the one that got lucky. Maybe the Chinese have been trying to do this for months now.

Fourth, in war, the defensive bubble around the carrier is only the final layer of defense. Starting with offensive missions to hit subs in port with aircraft to attack submarines staking out Chinese ports and patroling aircraft, we would reduce the number of Chinese subs even at sea. And we would sail with more caution in general, to avoid dangerous areas.

Finally, this is the second incident of this type in recent months, if I'm not mistaken.

The Chinese are sending a message to us. But is this really a general message of their growing power?

Are the Chinese sending a very specific message to make us more cautious about rushing carriers in like the cavalry to rescue the Taiwanese should the Chinese attack? Is Peking buying time to conquer Taiwan?

Remember, China wants to defeat China--not America. All China has to do if they wish to invade Taiwan is delay us until it is too late and not defeat us.

Maybe this will bolster the Navy's argument in court that we really do need to train in ASW tactics.

UPDATE: So what are the Chinese up to? They also denied Kitty Hawk and her escorts access to Hong Kong for a planned visit. Perhaps with the publicity of the submarine incident, the visit would have undercut Peking's message of power to their own people by having that massive demonstration of U.S. naval power sitting in one of their ports towering over the docks.

UPDATE: The Chinese now say that the denial was based on arms sales to Taiwan and the Dalai Lama's visit to the US. They first said it was just a mistake.

But then a press conference led to an interesting angle I hadn't seen. A reporter asked, "was the Kitty Hawk or any of its ships involved in monitoring the Chinese naval exercises that took place off the coast of Taiwan? " So I went looking.

Yes indeed, there was a big Chinese exercise:

Well, according to the Chinese Media, the PLAN was conducting a major exercise in the region that included nearly 20 ships and several dozen aircraft. As Feng has noted, most of the article itself is propaganda, nonetheless it raises the question whether the US Navy was perhaps observing a bit too close for China's tastes.

So was the port visit denial just a part two of the PLAN message that our carriers shouldn't come close to Taiwan in case of war between China and Taiwan? Did Peking think their singing telegram about not getting close to China was too subtle and they had to go for the obvious?