- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 16, 2005

Much has been written about China’s arms buildup. Perhaps most ominous is the major ugrading of Beijing’s submarine fleet. The world’s third-largest submarine force is training to blockade Taiwan and attack U.S. aircraft carriers.

China has long had a fleet of 70 or more submarines, but most were Chinese-built versions of Russian Romeo-class diesel vessels. Eighty-four Chinese Romeos were produced and about 35 are still operable. Those still in service have been equipped with French sonar and, while considered obsolete, could be effective against commercial vessels and for laying mines. China has replaced 20 Romeos with more modern Chinese-built Ming-class submarines.

A newer domestic-built submarine is the Song. The first prototype failed and had to be redesigned, but the bugs seem to have been worked out. Song-class submarines reportedly are equipped with Air Independent Propulsion, enabling them to be very quiet and remain underwater for weeks. And they carry modern anti-ship cruise missiles. Song-class submarines are in production, with seven currently in service.

Last year, The Washington Times reported the appearance of yet another new non-nuclear Chinese submarine, the Yuan-class, which appears to be a completely new design combining elements of China’s Song and Russia’s Kilo submarines. Two Yuan-class boats have been launched to date. Over the last three years, China has launched 13 new submarines from three different shipyards.

But most notable was Beijing’s purchase from Russia of four Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines, two of which are Project 636 type. These are excellent submarines, quieter than most, and have modern sensors and torpedoes. China has ordered eight more advanced Kilos, described by the Russians as “state-of-the-art Russian submarines.” They will carry modern long-range anti-ship missiles, and are to be delivered by 2007.

Beijing also is improving its nuclear-powered submarines. For years China had six nuclear-powered subs, five Han-class attack submarines and one Xia-class ballistic missile submarine, which were very noisy and leaked radiation, among other problems. But the nuclear reactors have been rebuilt and French electronics and sonar equipment added. They now carry submarine-launched cruise missiles.

The first of China’s newest nuclear attack submarine, Type 093, is nearing completion and the second is under construction, with two more planned. Built with Russian help, Type 093 is a major technological advance over the Han-class and will carry China’s new HN-3 land-attack cruise missile.

Based largely on Russian technology, China last year launched a new Type 094 nuclear-powered missile submarine that will carry 16 JL-2 underwater-launched missiles, versions of China’s DF-31 intercontinental ballistic missile. China plans to extend the JL-2’s range beyond 8,000 miles and is expected to equip it with multiple warheads and penetration aids. This missile will be able to reach the U.S. mainland from China’s coastal waters.

But the main goal of China’s naval buildup is the ability to blockade or invade Taiwan, and prevent the U.S. Pacific Fleet from intervening. The Chinese describe that goal in detail in reports and publications. Their armed forces conduct annual exercises to invade across the Taiwan Strait and fight an aircraft carrier task force.

The United States is alert to the danger and has joined with allies such as Japan, Australia and Singapore to confront Beijing’s aggressive posture. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Walter Doran said diesel submarines carry very good weapons and provide “the capability for access denial.” To combat that threat, the Navy has increased its presence in the Pacific, based attack submarines at Guam, and established an anti-submarine warfare command in San Diego.

The recent incursion of a Chinese Kilo submarine into Japanese waters energized Tokyo to improve its anti-submarine operations in cooperation with the U.S., and to say it will not be neutral if China attacks Taiwan. The Taiwan government also is strengthening its defenses, announcing on April 11 plans to mass-produce a new supersonic anti-ship cruise missile.

But Taiwan must do more. The government is trying, twice proposing an appropriation to buy from the U.S. six Patriot PAC-3 missile defense batteries, 12 anti-submarine patrol planes, and eight diesel submarines, but the opposition alliance that has a narrow majority in the legislature has twice said no.

A submarine is perhaps the best anti-submarine weapon, but Taiwan has only four obsolete submarines to face the mainland’s modern vessels. Submarines also could deter China by threatening to interfere with its shipping, especially oil imports through the Strait of Malacca, crucial to sustained economic development.

Opposition parties of Taiwan, a genuine democracy, can disagree with the government. But it is ironic the Kuomintang, which Chiang Kai-shek led against the communists, has joined those who seem eager to appease a mainland regime that last month passed a law authorizing use of force against Taiwan.

Taiwan’s opposition politicians should stop opposing an arms purchase needed to defend their country against the growing threat of blockade or invasion.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in San Diego.

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