Tag Archives: submarine

China’s Impenetrable Island Fortress

12 Sep

In recent years, a secret military base operated primarily by the People’s Liberation Army Navy has been discovered by Western intelligence on Hainan Island near the city of Sanya, on the island’s southern point. The entire fortress complex is essentially one massive cavern capable of hiding up to 20 nuclear submarines while the harbor outside supports nuclear ballistic missile submarines and jetties long enough to moor an aircraft carrier. The only ways into the base are through the heavily defended submarine entrance or through 11 massive 60 ft high blast doors. It has been suggested that the base may be capable of withstanding multiple nuclear strikes.

The base is a mile stone for China’s mission of building up it’s ability to project force abroad. Current estimates by the US government have determined that China will have 5 Type-094 nuclear submarines by the beginning of 2011, each able to carry a payload of 12 intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles. The harbor has two 950 meter piers and 3 smaller ones capable of accommodating 2 carrier strike groups or amphibious assault ships.  There is also a demagnetization facility to remove the residual electronic fields from a submarine before it’s deployment. This interesting revelation may explain why Chinese subs have been able to occasionally avoid the radar and sonar systems of American vessels in the last few years.

The location of the base, near territory that is disputed with several other countries, has sparked tensions and raised fears about China’s growing assertiveness with its claims. Suspicion of Chinese motives on the part of other countries is well founded. The base is within easy striking distance of the Strait of Malacca, Straight of Sunda and Lombok Strait. These three locations see roughly 50% of all the world’s shipping. A blockade by a capable naval force could be crippling for East Asia, Oceania, and even the Americas.

While already large by military standards, the base is expected to go through a period of expansion as China is believed to be planning on building an additional 6 aircraft carriers and add to its submarine fleet. The Hainan region was chosen specifically for it’s proximity to regional flashpoints, but also due to the deep water just off the coast that exceeds 5,000 meters in  depth in some places, which greatly increases the difficulty in finding and tracking a submarine’s movements.

While China’s wish to defend its interests abroad and assert itself more aggressively is understandable in light of its recent success, its actions have already started a regional arms race with surrounding countries, most notably India. Both are competing to develop more advanced ICBMs and counter measures against each other’s missiles in order to maintain some semblance of a military balance. One thing is for sure, Hainan’s base will have an important role to play should any regional conflict break out.