The submarine race heats up the seas of Asia

The AUKUS agreement between Australia, the UK and the US, and China’s submarine development efforts, could complicate the race in the Asian seabed.

Australia, the US and the UK on September 15 announced the establishment of a security partnership in the Indo-Pacific region, and announced the AUKUS agreement to help Canberra build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines. core. This agreement is seen by observers as a clear move aimed at China’s growing influence in the region.

Meanwhile, Beijing is expected to continue to invest heavily, increase efforts to build a submarine fleet and anti-submarine capabilities, to serve its ambition to become a “blue sea” navy in the middle of the year. century.

According to a Pentagon report last year, the Chinese navy has four Type 094A nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) and six Type 093 and six nuclear attack submarines (SSNs) of the Type 093 and SSN. 50 diesel-powered attack submarines.

Type 095 SSNs and Type 096 SSBNs are also being developed by China. In April, the country added another Type 094A to service during a ceremony in the presence of President Xi Jinping.

After Australia, Britain and the United States reached the AUKUS agreement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the move “not only has a far-reaching impact on the international nuclear non-proliferation system, but also pose real threats to regional peace and stability.

Hu Bo, director of China’s South China Sea Strategic Investigations Initiative at Peking University, said that while AUKUS won’t help Australia quickly acquire nuclear submarines in the near future, “they are still would trigger an arms race” in the seabed.

The nuclear submarine USS Tennessee on its way back to Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia, USA, in February 2013.  Photo: Reuters.

The nuclear submarine USS Tennessee on its way back to Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia, USA, in February 2013. Photo: Reuters.

Australia operates six Collins class diesel-electric attack submarines. New nuclear submarines under the AUKUS agreement are not expected to come into operation until 2030, even until the 2040s. However, senior Australian ministers have mentioned the possibility of chartering some ships. covert attacks from the US or UK to use or train as a temporary solution.

Meanwhile, the US Navy possesses the strongest underwater force in the world, with 14 Ohio-class SSBNs and 52 SSNs of three classes Virginia, Seawolf and Los Angeles.

All US submarines are nuclear-powered and about 24 are deployed in the Indo-Pacific at any given time. In addition, if the US Navy achieves its goal of deploying 60% of warships in this area, the number of submarines deployed will increase to more than 31.

Despite its geographical distance from the Indo-Pacific region, Britain still has a permanent military presence in the region. The country has four Vanguard-class SSBNs, four Astute-class SSNs and four Trafalgar-class SSNs in service. Three Astute-class ships and one Dreadnought-class SSBN are also under construction. The Astute and Virginia class ships are among the candidates that Australia could buy.

“Over the next 18 months, Australia will work with the UK and the US to thoroughly examine all the fundamental requirements for nuclear management,” said Australia’s newly formed Nuclear Submarine Task Force. in a statement.

In addition to China, many other parties in the Indo-Pacific have also expressed interest in undersea power. India, North Korea and South Korea have begun or plan to develop nuclear submarines, while the island of Taiwan is said to be desperate to replace aging submarines with new ones, amid growing tensions. increase with mainland China.

“The US will limit Taiwan, but it can let loose to Japan and India, or even transfer some nuclear submarine technology to India,” said Song Zhongping, a military commentator in Hong Kong. , assessment, pointed out that Tokyo and New Delhi, along with Canberra, are members of the Security Quadrant Dialogue, another Washington-led group in the Indo-Pacific.

India has commissioned one Arihant-class SSBN and plans to add three more in the future. It has just returned a Russian-made Akula-class SSN and will lease another from 2025. Japan has long focused on underwater power, with 20 diesel-electric attack submarines in service. and building one more.

“Japan and India both have the ability to build their own nuclear submarines. The Japanese just need the green light from the US. South Korea too,” commented commentator Tong Trung Binh.

In January, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said the country had completed the design of a nuclear-powered submarine capable of “launching strategic nuclear weapons”, adding that the development process ” are in the final stages of testing”.

In response, South Korea is said to have negotiated with the United States to agree to build nuclear submarines. Last month, the country successfully tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile for the first time.

According to popular belief, the best anti-submarine weapon is the submarine. However, observers point out that the cost of buying, operating and maintaining them is too expensive, not every country in the Indo-Pacific can afford, or is willing to spend money to, develop a fleet. submarine.

Even so, rising tensions mean that countries that can’t afford to create new submarine fleets, or expand their existing fleets, may also have to look for anti-submarine warfare solutions. due to being caught up in the race of the “big guys”.

“The cheaper option is to invest in other countervailing capabilities, like ships or helicopters specifically designed for anti-submarine warfare,” said Collin Koh, an expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the National University of Technology. Singapore’s Nanyang Technology, Review.

He added that when these submarines are deployed, they are likely to be concentrated in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway deep enough for submarines to operate. “The more crowded the coastal areas in the region, the greater the risk of encounters involving submarines and surface forces, as well as incidents of collisions with other ships, including ships. civilian,” Koh warned.

In addition, mechanisms to prevent or mitigate underwater incidents in the Indo-Pacific are yet to be developed. Last week, the US Navy confirmed that the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Connecticut “crushed an unidentified object” in the South China Sea.

China expressed concern about the risk of nuclear leakage causing pollution to the marine environment after the incident of the US submarine, amid increasingly fierce competition between the two superpowers. Washington insists the nuclear reactor on the USS Connecticut is safe, but has not released more information about the collision.

Luster (Follow SCMP)

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