The Haiyi is deployed by a vessel called Tansuo-1 , which location reports placed in the vicinity of Challenger Deep near Guam in early October. In addition to deploying Haiyi, the ship was likely there to maintain one of two sets of acoustic sensors that monitor US submarine movements. Tansuo-1 is also capable of deploying a manned submersible that can manipulate objects smaller than 50 centimetres wide on the seabed such as communications cables. Chinese researchers have acknowledged the military applications of these vessels— Tansuo-1 was even on show at the 9th International Military and Civilian Dual-use Technology Exhibition in Chongqing last year.
Tracing the background of Tansuo-1 reveals further connections. The ship was built at Chengxi Shipyard by the Chinese State Shipbuilding Corporation, which also constructs undersea sensor networks and is a member of the Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology. The Institute of Marine Geology, also located in Qingdao, is another member of the national laboratory. These projects have found polymetallic and cobalt nodules around Kiribati, the Cook Islands and New Caledonia, as well as sulfide deposits in the Bismarck Sea.
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Other dual-use assets are also at work in the South Pacific. The PLA is known to disguise surveillance ships as fishing vessels. At least officially, those signals are the sounds produced as a result of undersea earthquakes, typhoons and other extreme weather patterns above, and marine animals, such as whales. Underwater quakes in particular can trigger devastating tsunamis giving the sensors a legitimate role in improving early warning of potential natural disasters.
At the same time, those same sensors cannot help but offer a way to listen for submarine traffic.
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Their strategic locations near Guam, a major staging base for U. Just being able to monitor underwater movements to and from Guam, and elsewhere in the general vicinity, is an important capability.
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Capable of operating for protracted periods below the surface, submarines have inherent deterrent qualities and are well suited to avoiding detection in order to get close to a particular area to launch a no-notice strike or to discreetly gather intelligence. On top of that, the Chinese listening devices may be able to pick up underwater communications transmissions.
The South China Morning Post reported that there might be networks of undersea hydrophones in and around Guam that allow submarines to communicate with U. Navy command centers without having to get to periscope depth or surface completely and reveal their position. It would also be able to pick up any other acoustic communications, as well.
In , reports emerged that the U. Navy had hired Raytheon to work on a system called Deep Siren , which would use a small buoy to convert satellite signals into sound waves, allowing a submerged submarine to use long-range communication networks without having to expose itself. It is likely that any such transmissions containing sensitive information would be encrypted or otherwise coded in some fashion, but they could still provide a wealth of information for Chinese analysts , such as possible details about standard operating procedures based on how many messages go out in a certain time frame or when and where the exchanges occur.
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It could also expose potential vulnerabilities in those communication methods. This is not a new concept, of course.
Spies subsequently comprised that system, leading to a multi-faceted combination of underwater sensors and ship-based towed sonar arrays, all cued to processing stations ashore, known as the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System IUSS , parts of which remain in operation to this day. But for China, developing its own such capability is important, especially as it increasingly tries to restrict the movement of foreign military forces through its vast territorial claims in the South China Sea.
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Earlier in January , the Arleigh Burke -class destroyer USS Hopper conducted one of these missions near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, prompting a Chinese warning that the country would do everything to defend its sovereign territory. The Chinese are intent on expanding the size and capabilities of their own submarine force, including the development of advanced diesel-electric types using air-independent propulsion systems and other technologies to reduce their acoustic sigature,.
So far, though, the results of those modernization efforts have been less impressive than parallel work with regards to the country's surface fleet, including new modern destroyers and an expanding aircraft carrier fleet.
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At present, the People's Liberation Army Navy's PLAN submarine component remains a relatively small portion of its overall naval force and relies heavily shorter range coastal types less well suited to long duration patrols to help enforce its maritime claims. As such, the Chinese have turned to other means to try and limit the ability of foreign submarines to maneuver freely through areas it claims. In February , China announced planned changes to its maritime safety regulations that would require submarines to surface and display a national flag while transiting through the areas of the South China Sea that the country claims as its own territory and report their activities and movements to civil authorities.
Beyond just being of dubious legality under international maritime law, there was no obvious way Chinese authorities could enforce these rules.
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