Recent events indicate that the era of undisputed US dominance in the seas around China is coming to an end.
China is narrowing the gap with the US in submarine technologies, as reported by Sarbaz.kz citing the Wall Street Journal.
For decades, the US had little cause for concern about Chinese submarines. They were noisy and easily detectable. Meanwhile, the Chinese military diligently worked on detecting ultra-quiet American submarines.
However, China is now closing this gap as it advances in its submarine technologies and underwater detection capabilities.
Satellite images earlier this year showed China deploying an atomic-powered attack submarine with a pump-jet propulsion system instead of a conventional propeller. It marked the first time that noise reduction technology used in the latest American submarines was observed on a Chinese sub. Months earlier, satellite images of a Chinese nuclear submarine production base in the northeastern city of Huludao revealed sections of the hull, which, when pieced together, were larger than any existing Chinese sub. The completion of a second modern facility at the plant in 2021 signaled intentions to ramp up production.
At present, China possesses six atomic submarines.
Simultaneously, Beijing has constructed or nearly completed several underwater sensor networks known as the "Underwater Great Wall" in the South China Sea and other regions around its coastline. According to Chinese military and academic sources, these networks provide significantly improved capabilities to detect enemy submarines. Submarine detection capabilities are further augmented by patrol aircraft and helicopters that collect hydroacoustic information.
In August, China conducted over 40-hour anti-submarine warfare exercises in the South China Sea, involving dozens of Y-8 anti-submarine patrol aircraft. In July, the navies of China and Russia held joint anti-submarine defense exercises in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska.
In recent years, China has also rapidly expanded its surface fleet. It currently surpasses the US fleet in the number of vessels, although China's ships are generally smaller and less advanced. In response, a significant portion of the US Navy has been deployed to the Pacific, including some of the most advanced American ships and aircraft.
According to the latest Pentagon report on China's military strength, by the end of 2022, China had 60 attack submarines and submarines with ballistic missiles and could operate up to 80 by 2035.