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Gov’t to strengthen surveillance against Chinese submarines in light of Senkaku intrusions

In light of a submarine, believed to belong to the Chinese navy, cruising underwater in the contiguous zone near the Senkaku Islands (in Ishigaki City, Okinawa), the government has decided to beef up patrol and surveillance against the Chinese navy. It is critical for submarines to be able to operate undetected, and the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) were only able to detect the Chinese submarine because the technical level of the Chinese navy is still inadequate. However, China is rapidly improving the quietness and underwater cruising time of its submarines, so the SDF has an urgent need to reinforce its anti-submarine capability.


Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga commented on the submarine intrusion at his news conference on Jan. 11, stressing that, “We acted firmly and calmly to fully protect our territory on land, at sea, and in the air.”


Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters: “This behavior unilaterally raises tensions, and we are seriously concerned about it.” He added: “We will deal with the situation firmly to protect our territory and territorial waters resolutely while avoiding escalating tensions unnecessarily and continuing to remain calm.”


The government is very sensitive about the Chinese submarines because they play an important role in China’s “Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD)” strategy to drive U.S. forces out of the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan.


While the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers possess overwhelming air power, they are vulnerable to attacks by submarines. For China, if its submarines are able to operate beyond the “first island chain” connecting Okinawa, Taiwan, and the Philippines to threaten U.S. aircraft carriers, it will enjoy a military advantage in the event of a contingency in Taiwan, for instance.


Furthermore, a “second attack capability” consisting of submarines cruising in deep waters launching retaliatory attacks against the U.S. mainland is necessary for China’s nuclear deterrence against the U.S. While China has a plan to deploy nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) in the South China Sea, the range of the ballistic missiles on the Jin-class submarines is only 8,000 kilometers, which will not reach the U.S. mainland.


A Defense Ministry official involved with analyzing the moves of the Chinese armed forces notes: “The only way China can launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. mainland is for its submarines to move into the Pacific.”


The SDF with its advanced anti-submarine capability is responsible for patrols and surveillance against Chinese submarines. Retired Vice Adm. Toshiyuki Ito, who has served on submarines, observed that the Defense Ministry made public the Chinese submarine’s intrusion on Jan. 11 to convey the message that, “We can see everything you do.”


However, China is expected to increase its submarines to between 69 and 78 by 2020. It already possesses air-independent propulsion (AIP) submarines, which are capable of operating underwater for an extended period of time.


A crew member of a Maritime SDF submarine confirms that “there is no doubt that they are much quieter than the old ones.” The government plans to further enhance the SDF’s anti-submarine capability, including the procurement of more advanced P-1 reconnaissance planes, under the Mid-term Defense Buildup Program from FY19 that is currently being drafted.

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