The uninvited guest: Chinese sub pops up in middle of U.S. Navy exercise, leaving military chiefs red-faced

A state-of-the-art Chinese Song class attack submarine sailed within torpedo range of the US super-carrier USS Kitty Hawk during recent US naval excercises off the Chinese coast, an event described as “as big a shock as the Russians launching Sputnik.” But is it? And what does it mean?

Daily Mail (UK), November 10, 2007

The uninvited guest: Chinese sub pops up in middle of U.S. Navy exercise, leaving military chiefs red-faced (Plus comment below.)

Song Class subWhen the U.S. Navy deploys a battle fleet on exercises, it takes the security of its aircraft carriers very seriously indeed.

At least a dozen warships provide a physical guard while the technical wizardry of the world’s only military superpower offers an invisible shield to detect and deter any intruders.

That is the theory. Or, rather, was the theory.

American military chiefs have been left dumbstruck by an undetected Chinese submarine popping up at the heart of a recent Pacific exercise and close to the vast U.S.S. Kitty Hawk – a 1,000ft supercarrier with 4,500 personnel on board.

By the time it surfaced the 160ft Song Class diesel-electric attack submarine is understood to have sailed within viable range for launching torpedoes or missiles at the carrier.

According to senior Nato officials the incident caused consternation in the U.S. Navy. The Americans had no idea China’s fast-growing submarine fleet had reached such a level of sophistication, or that it posed such a threat.

One Nato figure said the effect was “as big a shock as the Russians launching Sputnik” – a reference to the Soviet Union’s first orbiting satellite in 1957 which marked the start of the space age.

The incident, which took place in the ocean between southern Japan and Taiwan, is a major embarrassment for the Pentagon.

The lone Chinese vessel slipped past at least a dozen other American warships which were supposed to protect the carrier from hostile aircraft or submarines.

And the rest of the costly defensive screen, which usually includes at least two U.S. submarines, was also apparently unable to detect it.

According to the Nato source, the encounter has forced a serious re-think of American and Nato naval strategy as commanders reconsider the level of threat from potentially hostile Chinese submarines.

It also led to tense diplomatic exchanges, with shaken American diplomats demanding to know why the submarine was “shadowing” the U.S. fleet while Beijing pleaded ignorance and dismissed the affair as coincidence.

Analysts believe Beijing was sending a message to America and the West demonstrating its rapidly-growing military capability to threaten foreign powers which try to interfere in its “backyard”.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy’s submarine fleet includes at least two nuclear-missile launching vessels.

Its 13 Song Class submarines are extremely quiet and difficult to detect when running on electric motors.

Commodore Stephen Saunders, editor of Jane’s Fighting Ships, and a former Royal Navy anti-submarine specialist, said the U.S. had paid relatively little attention to this form of warfare since the end of the Cold War.

He said: “It was certainly a wake-up call for the Americans.

“It would tie in with what we see the Chinese trying to do, which appears to be to deter the Americans from interfering or operating in their backyard, particularly in relation to Taiwan.”

In January China carried a successful missile test, shooting down a satellite in orbit for the first time.


This may not be as surprising as it would seem. August 21, 2007 CBS news reports then-incoming Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Mike Mullen had addressed mid-shipmen at the Chinese naval academy and had observed naval excercises from a Chinese warship during a recent visit. Moreover, “Mullen’s visit follows one in April to the United States by the head of the Chinese navy, Vice Adm. Wu Shengli. Mullen said he asked for and received the same level of interaction and access provided to Wu, adding to growing interaction between the militaries that has included joint sea rescue drills, and a planned hot line between the Pentagon and China’s Defense Ministry. Mullen, seen as a pragmatist, also said he was heartened by the upcoming visit of Russia’s naval chief to the U.S., despite new tensions in ties between Washington and Moscow.”

Similarly, the August 21, 2007 International Herald Tribune’s article “U.S. naval chief tours defense facilities in China” describes Mullen’s visit as “a revealing tour of defense facilities and exercises,” and says Mullen had organized the visit of the Chinese naval chief. While in China, Mullen had seen an exercise involving a Song-class diesel-electric submarine with state-of-the-art noise-reduction technology, ” a very capable submarine. … Certainly I have a better understanding of that having seen it on the trip.” This is occuring against a backdrop of “double-digit increases in annual defense outlays over most of the last 15 years have allowed the 2.3 million-strong army to increase its firepower sharply. It has trimmed manpower from what remains the world’s biggest standing force while continuing to deploy a wide range of modern weapons, including warships, strike aircraft, missiles, tanks and artillery.”

Taiwan is often portrayed as the object of China’s naval build-up, but considering the importance of the area surrounding Taiwan for oil transport into China, China may consider the island as a milestone of military buildup rather than a strategic goal. In any case, August 21’s China View reports Mullen saying the US will not support Taiwan independence or any move by Taiwan in that direction.

Mullen is said to be the brains of the “thousand ship navy” concept, a multi-national “global maritime partnership that unites maritime forces, port operators, commercial shippers, and international, governmental and nongovernmental agencies to address mutual concerns.” Some of the patter in the Navy’s June 2007 Playbook: “Through multinational exercises, security cooperation and personnel exchanges, the U.S. Navy is building ties with nations around the globe. Even in places where U.S. assistance is neither required nor routinely requested, nations are expressing a desire to work together to achieve common goals. This groundswell of support is a major step forward in promoting the economic and political stability that secures for all maritime nations the benefits of globalization.” The piece also outlines the Navy’s 30-year 313-ship rebuilding plan.

So before breaking out the champagne and toasting the outbreak of world peace, let’s remember the words of Berthold Brecht:

“When the leaders speak of peace
The common folk know
That war is coming.
When the leaders curse war
The mobilization order is already written out.”

New York Times, October 22, 2007

Joint Chiefs Chairman Looks Beyond Current Wars


WASHINGTON, Oct. 21 — The new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff plans to press Congress and the public to sustain the current high levels of military spending — even after the Iraq war — arguing for money to repair and replace worn-out weapons and to restore American ground forces he described as “breakable,” though not yet broken.

The new chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, expressed deep concerns that the long counterinsurgency missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have so consumed the military that the Army and Marine Corps may be unprepared for a high-intensity war against a major adversary.

He rejected the counsel of those who might urge immediate attacks inside Iran to destroy nuclear installations or to stop the flow of explosives that end up as powerful roadside bombs in Iraq or Afghanistan, killing American troops.

With America at war in two Muslim countries, he said, attacking a third Islamic nation in the region “has extraordinary challenges and risks associated with it.” The military option, he said, should be a last resort.

But Admiral Mullen warned any nation, including Iran, not to “mistake restraint for lack of commitment or lack of concern or lack of capability.” He described the Air Force and Navy as America’s “strategic reserve,” ready to carry out a full range of combat operations beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.

In his first interview since becoming chairman, Admiral Mullen sat in his Pentagon office on Friday and described his three immediate priorities:

¶Develop a military strategy for the Middle East, beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.

¶Accelerate efforts to “reconstitute, reset, revitalize” the armed forces, which he said meant replacing combat equipment and tending to the needs of those in uniform, in particular soldiers and marines and their families.

¶Refocus the military’s attention beyond the current wars to prepare for other challenges, especially along the Pacific Rim and in Africa.

Those efforts will require a considerable commitment of money, and Pentagon officials are quietly acknowledging that Congress and the public may have little appetite after Iraq for sustaining the high levels of military spending carried out since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But Admiral Mullen said that an important part of his job would be making the case for maintaining those large military budgets.

“I think as a country we’re just going to have to devote more resources to national security in the world that we’re living in right now,” he said. “And I don’t do that lightly.”

“I recognize that the budget is higher now than it’s ever been,” he added, referring to the combined total of the basic annual Defense Department budget and the special supplemental budgets to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Military spending is hovering around 4 percent of gross domestic product, “and I would see that in the future as an absolute floor,” Admiral Mullen said.

According to statistics supplied by the Office of Management and Budget, military spending was sustained at 5 percent or more of gross domestic product from the mid-1970s, rising above 6 percent in the final years of the cold war. In 1993, after the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the Persian Gulf war, it dropped below 4 percent, declined to 3 percent by the late 1990s, and only climbed above 4 percent again in 2003.

Weighing into a Washington debate assessing the current capability of insurgents in Iraq who align themselves with Al Qaeda, and fighters loyal to the Taliban in Afghanistan, Admiral Mullen described both organizations as severely wounded but still very lethal.

The admiral, who previously was chief of naval operations, visited troops in Iraq and Afghanistan immediately after becoming chairman three weeks ago, and said he returned pleased with progress on security.

One of the few Vietnam War veterans remaining in the most senior officer corps, Admiral Mullen expressed worries that the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan had undermined the military’s ability to fight big wars — and distracted the armed forces from preparing to face other threats.

“Because we have had such an intense focus on the Middle East and Iraq and Afghanistan, there is risk associated with those other parts of the world,” Admiral Mullen said.

Current combat efforts are so heavily focused on counterinsurgency missions that the Army and Marine Corps “haven’t been training in or focusing on this wider spectrum of requirements should we need to be called to do something else,” Admiral Mullen said.

“And so we’ve got to make sure that we can train to, equip to and be ready for just a broader spectrum of missions,” he added.

He pushed back against those who are calling for military action against Iran’s nuclear program, saying that diplomatic and economic pressure must take precedence.

The threat to American and allied troops from high-powered explosives from Iran, he said, should be countered by halting their flow into Iraq or Afghanistan across the borders, and with attacks on those bomb-making and bomb-planting cells inside Iraq or Afghanistan.

“That said, that doesn’t get at the source of it,” he acknowledged. Asked whether the American military should aim at sites inside Iran if intelligence indicated that such interdiction could halt the flow of those bombs, he said “the risks could be very, very high.”

“We’re in a conflict in two countries out there right now,” he added. “We have to be incredibly thoughtful about the potential of in fact getting into a conflict with a third country in that part of the world.”

After meeting with soldiers and marines in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent weeks, Admiral Mullen said: “They’re tired. They’ve been doing unbelievably great work for our country. And we need to make sure we take care of them and their families.”

Assessing the impact of long, repeated deployments for the ground forces in Iran and Afghanistan, he said, “The ground forces are not broken, but they are breakable.”

3 Responses to “The uninvited guest: Chinese sub pops up in middle of U.S. Navy exercise, leaving military chiefs red-faced”

  1. 1 Will Laing November 26, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    I commend Admiral Mullen’s comments on our nations capcity to defend this nation and at the same time let the other powers understand that there must be some level of cooroperation between countries like China and Russia. I believe there is alternative motives with these two countries when it comes to their involvment with countries like Iran, but they must understand that Irans war making capsity is just a speck on a blank sheet of paper compaired to ours. Who would they rather have as a future ally, us or them? The Iranian people who make up those who support the current government are not all in support of war with anyone. If China and Russia want oil to continue to flow from the Middle East, they should see to it that along with N. Korea these powder kegs should be kept capped for the good of all. When it comes to Chinese subs shadowing our naval forces in the Tiawan straights I believe that this report is just that, a report from some reporter not a military information release. As far as there being egg on the faces of our military leaders at the time the sub was detected, I don’t see how that could have any affect on whether or not the sub was not detectable but rather that the Chinese were keeping up their watching out for their interest in the area. I believe that there are liberal reporters even concerning military operations that would say anything to make the US look bad. I’ll take a guess and say we probably did know that there was a sub in the area, but didn’t necessarily want them to include themselves in this operation. It was kinda like a party crasher, nobody likes that. But on the other hand we have to be aware that 9-11 was accomplished on the low tech level and not the high tech level that seemingly everyone would like to believe would exist these days. 9-11 proved one thing that war will be fought on all levels not just high tech. World War II was fought on levels that produced some of the highest tech weapons known at that time with the advent of the a-bomb. But also to there were weapons that killed people that were nothing more than a .22 bullet in a ballpoint pen. I don’t really think we should read to much into this report about this sub especially since Admiral Mullen is allowed to ride around in Chinese ships as a friendly gesture of cooporation between nations.

  2. 2 WildKid November 27, 2007 at 4:27 am

    Really good and really interesting post. I expect (and other readers maybe :)) new useful posts from you!
    Good luck and successes in blogging!

  1. 1 » The uninvited guest: Chinese sub pops up in middle of US Navy … Trackback on November 12, 2007 at 2:28 am

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