A Gotland class submarine moves through San Diego Harbor during Fleet Week 2005. (Photo courtesy of US Navy)
An article entitled "It's Quiet Out There, Too Quiet" from US military website Strategy Page on Dec. 19 says that diesel-electric submarines may be the weapon of choice in a regional war between China and the United States.
The article discussed whether the United States should consider purchasing more non-nuclear submarines since a fleet of 40 to 50 nuclear submarines would be too costly to maintain. It also suggested that a modern diesel-electric submarine is much harder to locate than a nuclear submarine because of its quietness. "With modern passive sensors, a submerged diesel-electric sub is often the best weapon for finding and destroying other diesel-electric boats," said the article.
In a regional war in the East or South China seas, nuclear subs may not be a good option, the article continued, "The nuclear sub is the most effective high seas vessel, especially if you have worldwide responsibilities and these nukes would have to quickly move long distances to get to the troubled waters."
While pointing out that about 73 diesel-electric boats deployed by China, North Korea and Iran are potential enemies of the US Navy in a regional war, the article stated that only 36 of those vessels present a clear threat because about half of these submarines are elderly, obsolete and noisy. Nonetheless, "that's a lot of subs, and they make the East Asian coast and the Persian Gulf dangerous places for American warships," stressed the article.
To prepare the US Navy for a future anti-submarine warfare against the PLA Navy, the Gotland class submarine was introduced to the Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center at San Diego from Sweden. Operated by a crew of just 25, the submarine proved a nightmare for the US Navy during the exercise. Equipped with its Air-Independent Propulsion system, the Gotland class is able to stay submerged silently for several weeks at a time. Even though China, North Korea and Iran do not have AIP boats yet, diesel-electric submarines operated by skilled crews can still prove to be similarly deadly.
As China tries its best to prevent the US from stalking the training of Chinese diesel-electric submarines in its exclusive economic zone, the United States has already lost the full use of its most effective underwater anti-submarine training area around Southern California, as conservationists have convinced judges that the use of active sonar in the area is harmful to certain species of aquatic animals.
The article also said the PLA Navy is creating world-class nuclear and diesel-electric submarines in parallel.