Navy officials confirmed yesterday that an aircraft carrier battle group failed to detect a Chinese submarine that surfaced within weapons range of the USS Kitty Hawk. Anti-submarine defenses for the carrier battle group will be reviewed as a result, they said.
“It was not detected,” said one Navy official of the encounter with a Chinese diesel-powered attack submarine. “And we’re concerned about that, obviously.”
The Chinese Song-class attack submarine surfaced near the carrier in deep waters off Okinawa on Oct. 26. It was armed with wake-homing torpedos and anti-ship cruise missiles.
The officials said it was unusual for the submarine to be operating in deep ocean waters, but the incident was not like the April 2001 collision of a U.S. EP-3 surveillance aircraft and Chinese F-8 jet that ruptured military ties.
“We were operating in international waters, and they were operating in international waters,” the official said. “From that standpoint, nobody was endangering anybody. Nobody felt threatened.”
However, other defense officials said the submarine surfacing was a provocative action by the Chinese military, which has placed a high priority on practicing anti-aircraft-carrier operations against U.S. carriers and warships in preparation for a possible future conflict over Taiwan.
The carrier was not engaged in anti-submarine warfare exercises at the time and thus did not have active patrols for submarines, the Navy official said. As a result, submarine defenses for the carrier and its accompanying warships will be reviewed, he said.
The submarine was spotted by carrier-based aircraft conducting routine surveillance.
The submarine encounter also took U.S. intelligence agencies by surprise because of years of analyses that continue to portray a benign China, said a defense official.
“Our China analysts appeared to be stunned that China would shadow a U.S. carrier as far away as Okinawa,” the defense official said.
The Japan-based Kitty Hawk and associated warships are the only Asia-based battle group and would be the first to respond to a crisis concerning Taiwan, which China has threatened with force in the past.
The encounter also was unusual because Chinese submarines normally do not operate in deep waters, both officials said.
“From our standpoint, … it shows that they continue to develop blue-water capabilities,” the Navy official said.
Pentagon and military officials initially declined to discuss anything about the submarine incident, claiming details were classified. Some details were then disclosed after The Washington Times reported the encounter in yesterday’s editions.
Disclosure of the submarine encounter comes as the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, Adm. Gary Roughead, is visiting China for meetings with Chinese military officials.