The China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) has proposed the construction of a network of ship and subsurface sensors that could significantly erode the undersea warfare advantage held by US and Russian submarines and contribute greatly to future Chinese ability to control the South China Sea (SCS). […]
While some elements of this network have been known for some time, CSSC is now in effect proposing an improved Chinese version of the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) that for a time gave the US a significant advantage in countering Soviet submarines during the Cold War. The system proposed by CSSC is likely being obtained by China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) but may also be offered for export.
This isn’t the first we’ve heard of China’s efforts to improve subsurface capabilities. But the proposed network of sensors is a bigger deal than anything previously discussed, and it would help Beijing fulfill its recent promise to cordon off claims in the South China Sea regardless of what the international court in the Hague rules later this month.
Submarines have become increasingly important in recent years. Last fall, the U.S. Navy rang alarm bells about the vulnerability of critical Western underwater cables to Russian submarines looking to tap or cut them. However, Washington’s response to warnings about underwater threats has been disappointing. Amidst growing doubts about whether the United States can and will defend freedom of the seas in Asia, many regional powers have been investing heavily in advanced systems of their own, making for a crowded and more volatile environment in the world’s most commercially-important waters. While close calls in the air and confrontations on the surface have grabbed headlines, the competition underwater has been gradually building momentum. This new “Underwater Great Wall” is set to add more fuel to the fire.