Yves here. This post, which consists largely of the translation of an article in a top Russian strategy publication, provides useful detail on Chinese submarine capacity and prospects.
By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears
Following last week’s meeting in Washington of Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne (lead image left), the Australian defence minister and their US counterparts, a strategic military and basing agreement was announced between Australia, the UK and US (AUKUS). This is being reinforced with summit meetings in Washington this week.
The declared target of their war-making preparations is China.
Australian strategy against Russia in the Pacific region follows in lockstep with the US. But for the time being the Russian enemy, and Russian submarine and surface fleet operations in the Indo-Pacific region, are not being discussed by Australian officials in public; at least not to the extent when President Vladimir Putin last visited Australia in November 2014 with a nuclear-powered, nuclear armed naval escort.
Ahead of schemes for strategic warmaking in the Pacific, the US, the UK and Australia are also engaged in proxy war operations. These have accelerated recently in Myanmar, where Russia and China are allied in support of the military government of General Min Aung Hlaing. Next, from both sides, state bribery, subversion, putsch-making, and other special operations are likely to accelerate in the Pacific islands from Fiji to Papua-New Guinea.
For the moment, the initial reaction to AUKUS from the Russian Foreign Ministry has been as close to uncritical as the ministry can be. “We noted the plans, announced by Australia,” said spokesman Maria Zakharova last Thursday, “to build nuclear-powered submarines as part of an ‘enhanced trilateral security partnership’ agreed yesterday by the United States, Great Britain and Australia. We proceed from the premise that being a non-nuclear power and fulfilling in good faith the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Australia will honour its commitments under this document, as well as the IAEA Safeguards Agreements along with its Additional Protocol. We hope that Canberra ensures the necessary level of cooperation with the IAEA in order to rule out any proliferation-related risks.”
The first detailed technical and strategic assessment of the AUKUS scheme has followed this week in Vzglyad, the leading strategy publication reflecting the Russian General Staff and GRU assessments. A translation from the Russian article by Alexander Timokhin follows.
The headline is ironic: “How Australia’s nuclear submarines will bring to China to its knees”.
“In a few years, another country with a nuclear submarine fleet will appear in the world – Australia. What kind of submarines will this country receive from its allies, what kind of combat capabilities do they provide, and according to what scenario can they be used to contain China’s military power?
Everything is learned by comparison. What are the eight multi-purpose nuclear submarines that Australia will receive (not to be confused with submarines armed with ballistic missiles)? Let’s compare them with other fleets.
First, take the example of China, against which (at least, so they say) everything is being planned. Now China has only nine multi-purpose nuclear submarines, with low stealth. Three of them are Project 091; these are old and noisy vessels that have almost no combat value. The remaining six are Project 093, more modern boats, which, however, are inferior to modern American and British ones. In fact, only these six have a real combat value, and it is this number that should be taken into account.
I must say that the Chinese have made tremendous progress if we start from their initial level. Their submarines are already armed with good torpedoes and means of countering enemy torpedoes. But they are still very far from British ‘Astutes’ or American ‘Virginias’.
The Jin-class Type 094 Chinese ballistic submarine. Its successor, the Type 095, is under construction read this. The Type 096 is still being designed. For more, click to read and https://www.csis.org/
The first of the British Navy’s Astute-class submarines in construction; for details, read.
A US Navy Virginia-class submarine in construction; for details.
Theoretically, the ‘Virginia’ of the latest modification (the block, as the Americans say) will be able to be used when delivering a high-precision massive non-nuclear strike on Chinese territory. In this case, the Australians will be able to increase the American salvo. In the future, when the Americans finish their hypersonic missile program for the Navy, this strike may also be very fast.
It will be a separate story if the Americans again trample on international norms of behaviour and deploy nuclear weapons on Australian submarines before the war. Then, using cruise or hypersonic missiles, Australia will be able to cause China (and not only it) simply monstrous damage. And just ordinary Tomahawks with their fast, surprise launch can cause considerable damage to the side attacked – and the tactical and technical characteristics of the ‘Virginia’ will allow you to secretly approach even a well-guarded shore and deliver a sudden and unexpected blow.
Naturally, this is true if Australia builds ‘Virginias’ with vertical missile launch installations, and not ‘Astutes’, which can only use Tomahawks through torpedo tubes. There is no answer to this question yet.
In the event of a war more or less close to a classic naval war, these submarines will create an additional threat to China, and China will be required to allocate additional forces to this threat, which it will need very much in a war with the United States and Britain, even without Australia.
The Chinese are taking care of their fleet and developing it. They have anti-submarine surface forces and anti-submarine aviation, but when performing combat tasks outside the combat radius of their base (coastal in colloquial language) aviation, the problem of combating enemy submarine forces will become quite acute for China. Chinese surface ships will be subjected to air strikes by Australian based and American carrier-based aircraft; anti-submarine aircraft will not be able to work without cover; in fact, all tasks will have to be solved by Chinese nuclear submarines. They do not reach the western (that is, the future Australian) level yet, and they will be forced to act against heterogeneous enemy forces (submarines, anti-submarine aircraft, surface ships) without support.
How will China respond?
China has hope – there are new multi-purpose nuclear submarines being created, designated in the foreign press as Type 095, and in China itself 09-V. According to visual assessment of images of the boat, it is clear that China is trying to introduce a large number of technical solutions that increase the stealth of the submarine and the range of detection for its underwater targets. It is clearly visible that the boat is being created specifically for combat.
But what success the Chinese will have is an open question, and most importantly, even these boats will not see superiority in quality; ideally there will be approximate parity. At the same time, if the current pace of updating the submarine forces in China continues, then China will be inferior to the Americans and the British in numbers even without Australia, and even more so with it. These new boats are still in planning stage — China has not built any of them yet. And another hostile nuclear submarine fleet will definitely require the Chinese to invest very quickly and very seriously in expanding their production; that requires time, money, and resources.
Can China ignore this threat? No.
Here is just one of many examples. Geographically, Australia can completely block the connection between China and the Indian Ocean: there is a direct exit there and this is not controlled by China in any way. China only has the Strait of Malacca, which with its new submarines Australia will be able to block from the Indian Ocean. Or go past Australia itself, with the same submarines and its aircraft. There is no other road by which a large amount of oil can be supplied to China.
Australia would never have had these opportunities in this form if it had continued its work on the purchase of non-nuclear submarines from France. A non-nuclear (in fact the same diesel-electric) submarine is not capable, for example, of going under water at a high speed, as the ‘Virginias’ and ‘Astutes’ can, and secretly, without a critical increase in noise. A non-nuclear boat needs to deliver fuel to the combat service area, an atomic one does not need to – a nuclear submarine is not tied to nearby bases or to fuel, and it can operate disproportionately more freely than a diesel-electric one, even with an air-independent power plant.
In combat, a nuclear submarine also has a lot of advantages, up to the possibility of sometimes getting away from the enemy’s torpedo by running. For a hypothetical Australian-French non-nuclear submarine, this would be impossible. The hydroacoustic complex on the ‘Virginias’ is generally difficult to compare with something, and this is the range of target detection and the range of shooting at it.
Now China, in addition to measures to counter the submarine fleet of the United States and Great Britain, will also have to take into account Australia, which wants to get a nuclear submarine more powerful than anything that China has at present.
What does the battlefield look like in numbers? If we start from how many of the ‘Virginias’ are already built and under construction to go into service by 2036, when the Australians want to get their eight submarines, then we can assume that there will be about 20 units. And they will not be able to throw everything at China; some of the submarines will be needed in case of emergency operations against Russia.
Thus, an additional eight Australian submarines will increase the number of units opposing China by at least a third, compared only with American submarines. This is even more than the British will be able to give for the war with China. China will have to increase both the submarine and other fleet forces by a comparable number.
In general, for China, these eight additional enemy submarines are a fresh handful of bones in the throat. That’s about what the Americans planned to do with the British. That’s what eight nuclear submarines are.
This is what caused the reaction of the Chinese to the news. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the transfer of nuclear submarine construction technologies to Australia harms the nuclear non-proliferation regime and ‘exacerbates the arms race’, as well as the fact that the United States and Great Britain ‘extremely irresponsibly’ apply double standards. These admonitions, of course, will not have any effect.
And what does this mean for Russia? If Australia wants to have eight multi-purpose submarines by 2036, then by that year we will ideally have four Yasen-class vesselsin the Pacific Ocean – the ‘Novosibirsk’, ‘Krasnoyarsk’, ‘Vladivostok’ and, presumably, the ‘Perm’.
The Russian Navy’s Yasen-class ‘Kazan’, June 2021.
As for the future boat of the project 545 with the code-name ‘Laika’, the form in which the ‘Laika’ was presented to the president in December 2019 indicates the deliberate obsolescence of the project. And most importantly – it is extremely doubtful that these boats will be in service by the mid-thirties. This is another example of how many there will turn out to be — eight nuclear submarines in one theatre of military operations.
However, the western ‘partners’ may have difficulties in implementing these wonderful plans.
Is everything so simple?
There is one aspect in all of this that can complicate everything. The production of as many as eight nuclear submarines, stuffed with high-tech systems to the brim, is not an easy matter. If we assume that the Australians will build some kind of ready-made project, for example the ‘Virginia’, then in any event they will up to 14 years for the construction of eight nuclear submarines if they start next year. This is an ultra-fast pace for eight units; the Americans themselves take five years to build one ‘Virginia’ from the popint of laying the keel to delivery to the Navy.
Is it possible for the Australians to meet the deadlines? Yes, but only in an “expansive’ way – laying more submarines a year than the Americans. And this requires, firstly, shipyards in sufficient quantity to build submarines; secondly, workers and engineers; and thirdly, the supply of components from the United States, which can become the bottleneck of the project because of the existing crisis in American shipbuilding. Does Australia have all this in the right amount? The allies will not be able to help them there; they do not have enough themselves.
And if the Australians build some kind of British project – either the ‘Astute’ or, as is now rumoured in Britain, the future project of a British multi-purpose submarine, which should replace the ‘Astutes’, then nothing will work out. Britain is barely coping with the construction of its submarines by itself, including the part played by related companies. In the case of the ‘Astutes’, some of the related parties are from France engaged by by the Anglo-Saxons. On the other hand, the British can in this way compensate for the losses of the French from the broken Australian contract for non-nuclear submarines. Still, the problem of timing will also arise in this case.
The Australians seem to understand this. On Sunday, September 19, the Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said that Australia will not wait until its nuclear submarines are built, but will buy or lease British or American ones.
This is quite possible. However, not with British submarines, but more likely with American ones, although such a scheme would not lead to the desired increase in anti–Chinese forces; there would still be as many submarines against China, just some of the flags would change. But, firstly, by the time the construction of their series is completed (even if not all and with a delay), the Australians will already have experience working with nuclear submarines, and secondly, the United States now has problems with repairing its submarines (they do not pull, as they say), and renting some of their ships to Australia for the Americans will in fact mean their salvation as combat units, even under a foreign flag.
In general, it is possible to make Australia a country with a nuclear submarine fleet quickly. Moreover, the authors of this initiative have an extremely serious reason for all this. Such gigantic investments and sharp political turns are not carried out just like that. The hegemony of the Anglo-Saxons in the world is seriously shaken, both because of their own internal weakness, and because of the growth of China, and the sabotage of their system of power by Russia. It is quite obvious they will not give up their power over humanity and the benefits resulting from this in a favourable fashion.
It is worth recognizing that the world is on the verge of war. Australia’s agreement with the United States and Britain says exactly this. An ordinary world war with tens of millions of dead, as one option, or with hundreds of millions; after all, no one has canceled nuclear weapons. Such a war is almost inevitable.
Moreover, knowing what deadlines the ‘partners’ set for themselves, you can roughly understand the time for which they are preparing the ‘hot phase’. And looking at how other countries are preparing for the next world war, it’s time for us to take a critical, honest and non-biased look at how we are preparing for it.”