China holds anti-submarine drills as regional rivals boost underwater forces

Liu Zhen in Beijing, South China Morning Post

Posted at Oct 06 2022 08:58 AM

Chinese Navy submarine attends the Navy parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in Qingdao, China's Shandong province, 23 April 2019. EPA-EFE/WU HONG
Chinese Navy submarine attends the Navy parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in Qingdao, China's Shandong province, 23 April 2019. EPA-EFE/WU HONG
  • PLA naval air force ‘always ready for battle’, says command overseeing operations around Taiwan and East China Sea
  • High-intensity warfare training features Shaanxi Y-8 planes and target identification and tracking exercises

The Chinese navy has intensified its anti-submarine training through high-intensity drills as the US, Australia and Japan seek to build up underwater forces in the region.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theatre Command on Tuesday said its naval air wings conducted a 48-hour high-intensity anti-submarine warfare exercise last week.

The command, which oversees operations around Taiwan and the East China Sea, said its naval air force is “always ready for battle”.

Photos posted on the command’s official social media account showed at least three Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft lined up side by side in a lit-up hangar at night preparing for take-off.

During the exercise, crew members identified false targets and real submarines by throwing sonar buoys and analysing radar, magnetic, optical, and electronic signals. They locked on the targets and continuously tracked and monitored them, according to the command.

The command said the drills highlighted the use of real war scenarios in training and accelerated the development of troops’ ability to persevere in combat and fight in complex environments.

The next step of training will focus on strengthening the crew’s cardiovascular endurance and balance training and improving their fatigue resistance and G-force tolerance, the command added.

The Shaanxi Y-8 series used in the exercise is the PLA’s main anti-submarine warfare aircraft. The planes frequently carry out patrols in the East China Sea and near Taiwan, according to the Japanese and Taiwanese defence ministries.

However, the turboprop plane, which is based on the Soviet Antonov An-12, is considered outdated. In March, a Y-8 was reported to have crashed into the South China Sea, killing all seven crew members on board.

The PLA’s emphasis on anti-submarine warfare comes amid growing military tensions in the Asia-Pacific and the rapid build-up of underwater forces by powers in the region.

The United States has significantly increased submarine presence in the waters around China, with nuclear submarine activity in the South China Sea reported almost every month last year, according to the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI).

In October 2021, the USS Connecticut hit an underwater mountain in the South China Sea, damaging the submarine and injuring crew members.

In April, the US navy bolstered its submarine base in Guam to host five Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarines and expanded facilities to accommodate bigger Virginia-class submarines.

Japan commissioned its first advanced Taigei-class submarine in March, with four more planned in the coming years. The vessels are the successors to Japan’s active Soryu-class submarines.

Australia has also announced plans to acquire nuclear submarines from the US and Britain through the Aukus alliance – a plan China strongly opposes, citing the risk of nuclear proliferation.