Sunday, June 26, 2005

China soon will receive a new Kilo submarine from Russia, part of a naval buildup of modern warships and submarines that has triggered new fears for U.S. military planners.

The Kilo is on its way to China aboard a freighter from a shipyard in St. Petersburg and is expected to arrive next month, according to defense officials.

It is the first of eight advanced Kilos that China is acquiring, and intelligence officials say the submarine will be outfitted with advanced SS-N-27 cruise missiles, which are capable of attacking U.S. warships.

The new submarine will augment four older, less-capable Kilos in the Chinese navy.

The Chinese navy also has been rapidly building submarines, key weapons that would be useful in both a conflict with Taiwan and for power projection globally, according to intelligence officials.

Since 2002, China has built 14 submarines, including a new Yuan submarine that was unknown to U.S. intelligence until photos of it appeared on the Internet last year. Other submarines in development include the Type 094 ballistic-missile submarine, known as the Jin class.

At least two Type O93 attack submarines are under construction, as well as additional Jin, Song, Yuan and Shang submarines, the officials said. Other new submarines include one Ming submarine, 10 Song submarines and one Shang class.

“The Chinese have made it clear that they understand the importance of the submarine in any kind of offensive or defensive strategy to deal with a military conflict,” the intelligence official said.

China’s surface-to-surface missile forces also are increasing, including new short- and long-range missiles, along with a new warhead that can maneuver to avoid missile defenses.

“If you take a step back and look at the entire array of Chinese weapons, the Kilos, the Songs, the Yuans, the ballistic missiles, this [maneuverable warhead] capability, more surface ships with anti-ship cruise missiles, these are all things that are going to give you capability to deal with any kind of naval force that comes toward you,” the intelligence official said.

Beyond warships armed with missiles, the building and deployment of amphibious lift ships is one of the clearest signs of what U.S. defense officials say are Beijing’s intentions to attack Taiwan, located about 100 miles from the Chinese mainland.

In the past three years, China has more than doubled its fleet of amphibious landing and troop-carrying ships, a key indicator of such an assault, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

For example, intelligence officials told The Washington Times that since 2002, China has deployed at least eight tank-carrying Yuting II LST transport ships, at least 10 Yunshu LSM ships and at least five Yubei LSU ships.

“These are all of fairly decent capability,” a defense intelligence official said.

The rapid deployment contrasts sharply with past Chinese weapons-development efforts, which produced small numbers of ships years apart, the officials said.

China has two Russian-made Sovremenny-class guided-missile destroyers, and two others are being built in Russia. The ships will carry large numbers of SSN-22 supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles that are designed to sink U.S. aircraft carriers and warships.

It also is building three new classes of destroyers. Two Luzhou guided-missile destroyers are under construction, along with two Luyang II missile destroyers that are undergoing sea trials. Two other Luyang I destroyers are operational or undergoing sea trials.

“The fact that you have three destroyer classes being built in China at the same time also implies a higher degree of sophistication in shipbuilding capability and overall project management,” the intelligence official said.

The Luyang II is being described by the defense officials as China’s answer to the U.S. Aegis-equipped destroyers, which form the backbone of the U.S. Navy warship fleet. The Luyang II also has advanced air-defense missiles.

In addition to destroyers, China has built two new Jiangkai frigates and two Jiangwei frigates since 2002. The new Jiangweis are in addition to the eight Jiangweis built before 2002.

It also has built at least three fast-attack patrol boats with a radical catamaran design that allows for high speeds. The wave-piercing design is aimed at making the ships less vulnerable to enemy radar and targeting.

To service its new warships, China is building numerous support ships, including a minesweeper, two Fuchi surveillance ships, and at least 15 tankers, logistics and service ships, the officials said.

As for naval training, intelligence and policy officials said one troubling development is China’s use of commercial freighters in military exercises, which they view as a sign that it plans to move large amounts of troops and equipment across the Taiwan Strait in a future war.

China’s naval forces are not yet able to stand up to the U.S. Navy, but the trend is worrisome, especially because the number of U.S. warships is declining.

“The trend in the capability development in this country and the numbers of platforms is one that we need to address with some diligence,” the intelligence official said.

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