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Underwater Warfare
China’s New Anti-Sub Warship

China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy has commissioned a new class of its Jingdao-class corvette specifically outfitted for anti-submarine warfare (ASW). The Diplomat reports:

The Type 056 corvettes entered service in the PLAN in 2012 and are stealth missile corvettes. They primarily specialize in anti-surface ship warfare. Although rumors of an ASW-focused Type 056-variant have been around for at least a year, Jane‘s cites a ” PLA-linked media report on 11 November” as noting that a vessel named the Zhuzhou has been inducted into the PLAN’s South Sea fleet as the 18th Jingdao-class corvette, and is the first with ASW capabilities.

Despite a bid modernize its navy and develop expeditionary capabilities, anti-submarine warfare has long been the Achilles heel of the PLAN. In fact, the PLAN’s dearth of ASW capabilities has been so notable that rival regional navies, including Vietnam and Japan, have made investments in either acquiring or developing submarines to counter China. Notably, Vietnam, which was locked in a conflict with Beijing over the positioning of a Chinese oil rig in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), is adding six advanced Kilo-class Russian submarines to better police its waters and deter Chinese aggression. Instead of making ASW a priority, the PLAN has directed the bulk of its modernization effort toward anti-ship and anti-air warfare platforms.

The Diplomat goes on to highlight the changes that the new ship signals for China’s capacity to thwart submarines in regional conflict, but these new capabilities could have significant strategic implications for the U.S. too.

This class of ship could begin to fill the largest gap in China’s longterm Anti-Access/Area Denial military strategy. The purpose of that strategy is to outfit China’s military with the equipment it needs to keep enemy ships and planes so far away from Chinese territory that both America’s superior numbers in aircraft carriers and its more powerful fighter jets become irrelevant in the event of a conflict. One of the keys to this strategy has been the much-discussed DF-21 “Carrier Killer” missile, which could force the U.S. surface fleet to stay so far away from the China that its F-35s and other jets couldn’t reach the coast.

With these new ASW-capable ships, China would be better equipped to hold off America’s missile-armed subs as well as its air and surface power. This will have repercussions for the U.S.-China military power balance, and should serve as another warning against complacency about our lead on our military opponents.

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