"As Big a Shock as the Russians Launching Sputnik"

The Chinese have demonstrated, convincingly, that their military technology is superior to America’s, via having a cloaked sub slip, undetected, within striking distance of a US aircraft carrier during war games.

This has to rate as one of the most important news stories of the year, yet it has been reported (in English, anyhow) only in the Daily Mail and the Cleveland Leader (hat tip Culture of Life News).

Too many times in the popular media, US military dominance is seen to guarantee our status as an economic power. Consider that we run a deficit with China in advanced technology products, China and Japan are the world’s shipbuilding nations, and our fleet is aging and badly in need of repair and modernization. In a not-too-subtle signal, China announced its plans to increase its military spending right before a March visit by Treasury secretary Hank Paulson. The message to the US was obvious: don’t assume you can tell us what to do.

Oh, did you know that a Chinese spacecraft started circling the moon last week, another landmark completely unnoticed in the US, and hot on the heels of a similar lunar shot by Japan? The militarization of space has begun.

From the Daily Mail:

When 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.

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  1. EEngineer

    This happened about a month ago as I recall. I’m ex-US Navy so maybe it’s the kind of thing I would find. It was, unfortunately, not much of a surprise. The Chinese make some very nice anti-ship missiles too. They’ve sold a ton of them to the Iranians over the years.

    Pop over to the Pen and Sword at http://zenhuber.blogspot.com periodically to keep up on such things.

  2. Yves Smith


    Thanks for the tip. I’m not surprised that people who follow military developments are up on this, but as I said above, the lack of mainstream media coverage is a disgrace. Guess the only news worth reporting is that which supports our national mythology.

  3. CrocodileChuck


    Our Collins Class diesel electric subs (Swedish design) have done this in wargames with the USA several times. Modern diesel electric propulsion is the quietest ever commissioned. Not so surprising, really. What IS: the myopia of the USA, and its media.


  4. Yves Smith


    That is curious, because the article made it sound as if it was due to cloaking technology, not to having superquiet engines (not that that doesn’t require significant sophistication, but cloaking sounds oh-so-sci-fi-ish).

  5. Anonymous

    If as CrocodileChuck says the Collins class submarines can do this; how then is this as big as Sputnik ?


  6. Yves Smith

    These Chinese submarines seem to be of a known design. Maybe they didn’t have super quite engines (i.e., they really did it with cloaking).

    After all, if the Aussies surprised the Americans a few times with their subs, you’d hope the Americans would wise up and get equipment capable of finding quiet subs.

    And I hate to seem dense, but how would being quite keep them from being found on sonar, anyhow? So the Aussies must have been able to hide somewhere where the sonar wouldn’t see them and then popped up.

  7. Anonymous

    More likely someone was sleeping on the watch or the computers had glitches and the easiest way out was to blame it on the UFOlogy of the Chicoms. Or again let the stupid sub slip and use the incident to get Congress to hand more pork to the Navy.


  8. Anonymous

    Paraphrasing: “China and Japan send space probes to the Moon; the militarization of space has begun”

    This is a silly nonsequitur. Did the Apollo program have a military component? Putting military bases or whatever on the Moon makes about as much sense as putting them at the South Pole. Militarization of space will take place much closer to Earth.

  9. Yves Smith

    Anon of 8:23 AM,

    Then why do our military tech commentators and China’s neighbors see it that way? From Forbes.com yesterday:

    Russia and India will jointly build a space ship. Under the project we plan to send an entire laboratory to the moon,’ Roskosmos head Anatoly Perminov said in a statement.

    High-tech, and particularly military cooperation, are at the centre of bilateral ties, Putin said.

    The timing appears driven by anxiety about the China push.

    From AsiaTimes::

    Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist for China’s moon program, declared in an interview with the official People’s Daily that the lunar exploration “is a reflection of a country’s comprehensive national power and is significant for raising our international prestige and increasing our people’s cohesion”. In a region riddled with competing nationalisms, the development of indigenous space programs could well turn the race into serious disputes. But space also contains the seeds for regional cooperation….

    China’s space missions aim to foster both the economic and military sectors. Since the first Gulf War in 1991, Chinese policy-makers have emphasized the link between the space and information fields as well as the need for China to modernize its space forces to counter the technologically advanced US military. The killing of one of its own satellites in January demonstrated China’s new assertiveness and capacity to seriously affect US space assets in the area.

    Another Asia Times story:

    The Indian Air Force is in the process of establishing an aerospace command to exploit outer space by integrating its capabilities,” India’s chief of air staff, Air Chief Marshal Shashi P Tyagi, said last week….

    Describing India as “an aerospace power having trans-oceanic reach”, he said the aerospace command would be set up soon to exploit outer space and to control space-based assets. While the IAF will require help from the Indian Space Research Organization in setting up the aerospace command, the latter will be distinct from ISRO as it is a military command, Tyagi said. Besides ISRO, India’s Defense Research and Development Organization and even private operators in the space arena are expected to play a role in the setting up of the aerospace command.

    The air chief’s announcement came a fortnight after China signaled it is a serious contender in the race to control space….

    In fact, last year the administration of US President George W Bush announced a National Space Policy that rejects future arms-control agreements that might limit US flexibility in space and asserts a right to “deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests”.

    The Chinese might be pushing for a treaty outlawing the weaponization of space, but their actions tell a different story, say critics. The United States, for instance, accused the Chinese of pointing high-powered lasers at US spy satellites to test their ability to blind them.

    The Chinese are seen to have military ambitions for their space race. FromSatNews.com:

    The Chinese’ Xinhua news service is reporting the launch of a new, remote sensing satellite from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, which is located in northern China in the Shanxi Province. In a Rui C. Barbosa bylined article at the NASA website, the launch occurred yesterday (Monday, 22:48 UTC Sunday night) in the early morning hours. The satellite was lifted into space by a CZ-4C Chang Zheng-4C (Long March) rocket. The vehicle is believed to be a new variant of the Chinese CZ-4B family of rockets. The satellite is called the Yaogan-III and weighs 2700 kg. and is the second Jian Bing-5 vehicle. The first mention of this satellite’s existence was the Xinhua news service AFTER the launch.

    Yaogan-III’s stated purpose is for scientific research, land resources surveying, crop yield estimate and disaster prevention and relief. However, the satellite appears to have a military nature, as the People’s Liberation Army finds Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites vital in ensuring their information dominance for future warfare. SAR sats can measure the intensity and phase of reflected microwave radiation. This results in a high sensitivity to texture as well as 3D capabilities and the ability to produce hi-res imagery of the Earth’s surface, regardless of weather conditions or day or night conditions. SAR sats are tremendously useful in locating and tracking moving targets and are also highly adapted for military mapping projects. The Chinese have also mentioned this technology is important to them as it allows them to track enemy submarines in shallow waters. This was the 105th successful orbital launch for China, the 104th launch of the Chang Zheng (Long March) series of rockets, while also being the 23rd successful launch from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center – the third from Taiyuan this year, and the 10th – and probably last – Chinese launch of 2007.

    On October 24, China launched its first lunar probe, Chang’e-1, which will study the moon during more than a year. Next year will be a major year for the Chinese space exploration as China will launch its third manned mission, ShenZhou-7 and two of its Yuhangyuans will step outside to carry out the first Chinese spacewalk.

    And this (note this was directly followed a mentinon of the Chinese lunar flight:

    The Chinese said, they are militarizing space because the US refuses to sign any treaties concerning demilitarizing space. I remember when I was pushing for this treaty. William Safire and I debated this in public. Safire claimed that we shouldn’t throw away the opportunity to use space colonies and such as weapons and with them, we could win the Cold War. I tried to corner him on this scenario, being a realist, myself. In meetings in DC, the Rockettes all thought, we could win this war if we throw away our national belief and not shooting first. If we could just launch an unannounced sneak attack….

    I was furious. Russia has been the victim of more than one massive sneak attack. If there ever was a nation on earth on hair trigger for this, it is Russia. The behind the scenes, delicate negotiations between the French, Germans [past sneak attackers on Russia] and Ronald Reagan defused all this in the famous negotiations in Iceland. Russia retracted its empire and gave up. The Cold War ended.

    Well, here we are, in the Nouveau Guerre Froide.

    The author may occasionally write like an eccentric, but she has advised the Chinese……

  10. CrocodileChuck


    Re: submarine stealth: the secrets are 1) damping of power train to reduce vibration, and 2) design and machining of the screw to minimise cavitation (bubbles). Remember in the ’80’s when the USA came down hard on Japan for allowing Toshiba to sell special machine tools to the Russians? Between loss of design secrets (Hannson?) and acquiring this metalworking technology, the Soviets v nearly caught up with US submarines in terms of quiet running…

    Crocodile Chuck

  11. Lune

    2 points, the first one minor: your description of the Chinese sub as “nuclear” is a little misleading. There’s a big difference between nuclear-powered subs and subs able to fire nuclear weapons. The first is the primary means of having a credible deep second-strike capacity in the event of a nuclear exchange, while a diesel-powered sub is more of a tactical weapon. Anyway, it’s a minor nit since it’s cleared up later in the article.

    Point two: most countries in this world have an incentive to talk up their military because they have neighbors that need to be intimidated. OTOH, the U.S. military frequently downplays their own capacities and talks up our enemies’ because that’s the only way to convince Congress to fund new weapons systems. Witness the original “missile gap” of the 50s/60s (that somehow was corrected the minute Kennedy became President), the unstoppable Soviet juggernaught of the 80s (so powerful it collapsed in a few years), the fearsome ICBMs that China/India/Russia/Iran/etc/etc/ are developing that require us to build Star Wars II, etc.

    I’m certainly not saying that we can turn a blind eye to the rapidly modernizing forces around the world, or that we should just assume we’re still the biggest bad-asses out there (the fact that we’ve been brought to our knees by a middling country that hadn’t even recovered from the devastation of its last war should serve as a wake-up call). But every military secret made available to the public was leaked for a purpose, and until we understand those agendas, I think it’s premature to reach conclusions.

  12. Yves Smith


    Good catch re the lead-in, have corrected the post.

    Perhaps I am the suspicious sort, but if the objective was to get Congress to provide more funding, you would think this, ahem, development would have been leaked in such a way that it would get play in the US press. It hasn’t. In fact, the complete lack of coverage is pretty weird.

    That suggests to me either that someone was completely asleep at the switch during the war games (which would mean war games might not ve very useful exercises) or that the Pentagon is very sensitive about the Chinese military catching up with ours, tech wise (even if, per the comments above, the degree of improvement isn’t as great as the article suggests).

  13. Yu-Mei

    Thanks for the heads up. I’ve been living in Taiwan for almost 20 years and ridden out more than a few crises stirred up between this island and mainland China. This piece shows that the Chinese threat to Taiwanese sovereignty is finally viable. Add to that the US being bogged down in Iraq and Chinese cheering the Americans on to up the ante in the Middle East by condemning the Iranians for looking to build nuclear weapons; and it looks like Taiwan could be toast some time after the Beijing Olympics. Moreover, our fate could be sealed if the DPP’s virulently pro-Taiwan independence candidate Frank Xie is elected to succeed Chen Shui-bian in the March 2008 general election.

  14. Yves Smith


    The article is from November 10 of this year. Thanks for sending the link; will have a look.

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