The PLA's Type 094 Jin-class nuclear submarine. (Internet photo)
With the commissioning of the Liaoning, China's first aircraft carrier, military analysts from the United States are re-evaulating the combat capability of the Chinese navy in the future, reports our sister newspaper Want Daily.
In an article titled "Five 'Flattops' for China" in the Diplomat, a current affairs magazine covering the Asia-Pacific based in Japan, James R Holmes, an associate professor from the United States Naval War College, described the strategic thinking outlined by PLA Major General Wang Haiyun for China to establish five carrier battle groups in the future. Holmes said Wang believes five carrier battle groups will be needed for the PLA Navy to police the three million square kilometers of maritime territory to which China lays claim. A force like this can also help China to break out of US-led containment in the Asia-Pacific region and "avoid being subject to the blackmail of certain countries," according to Wang.
Holmes pointed out several problems for the PLA Navy to overcome before achieving this goal. For example, he stated that China does not need aircraft carrier to chase fishermen out of its territorial waters. "Exercising control of the sea...is something best left to lower-end platforms like corvettes, frigates, and the non-naval ships operated by China Marine Surveillance and other coast-guard-like services," said Holmes.
Even though Holmes admitted that it is conceivable for the Chinese navy to make two to three carrier task forces available to its leadership when handling the issues of East and South China Seas simultaneously, the cost of developing, constructing and maintaining a five-carrier fleet will be extremely high. Holmes criticized the strategic rationale of Wang for being a bit of a muddle.
Most American analysts consider that the PLA's nuclear submarine fleet poses a greater threat than its aircraft carrier. "Once fully operational, the [PLA Navy's] SSBN fleet will enhance Beijing's strategic strike capabilities and strengthen Beijing's overall deterrence posture by providing enhanced range, mobility, stealth, survivability, penetration, and lethality," said Thomas M Skypek from the Center for Strategic Studies. "Such developments would threaten Washington's interests in the region and have significant implications for US national security," Skypek said.
Describing the history of China's nuclear submarine development as a failure, Skypek said that the new Type 094 Jin-class sumbarine with its JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles provides China with its "first credible second-strike capability." In a piece entitled "China's Sea-Based Nuclear Deterrent in 2020: Four Alternative Futures for China's SSBN Fleet," Skypek said the future of China's sea-based nuclear deterrent lies with the Type 096 Tang-class submarine rather than the Type 094. "Perhaps the Type 094 is yet another (albeit costly) test bed and the PLAN is looking at the nascent Type 096 platform to form the backbone of Beijing's sea-based nuclear deterrent," he said.
Vijay Sakhuja, the director of research at the Indian Council of World Affairs, said the Type 096 may have the capability to launch missiles from under the Arctic ice cap. Quoting from a Chinese blogger with contacts in the Chinese navy, Skypek said that the new Type 096 platform will include "noise reduction devices" making it quieter than the Type 094 Jin-class.