China sub se­cretly stalked U.S. fleet

Sur­faced within tor­pedo range of air­craft car­rier bat­tle group

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Bill Gertz

A Chi­nese sub­ma­rine stalked a U.S. air­craft car­rier bat­tle group in the Pa­cific last month and sur­faced within fir­ing range of its tor­pe­does and mis­siles be­fore be­ing de­tected, The Wash­ing­ton Times has learned.

The sur­prise en­counter high­lights China’s con­tin­u­ing ef­forts to pre­pare for a fu­ture con­flict with the U.S., de­spite Pen­tagon ef­forts to try to boost re­la­tions with Bei­jing’s com­mu­nist-ruled mil­i­tary.

The sub­ma­rine en­counter with the USS Kitty Hawk and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing war­ships also is an em­bar­rass­ment to the com­man­der of U.S. forces in the Pa­cific, Adm. William J. Fal­lon, who is en­gaged in an am­bi­tious mil­i­tary ex­change pro­gram with China aimed at im­prov­ing re­la­tions be­tween the two na­tions’ mil­i­taries.

Dis­clo­sure of the in­ci­dent came as Adm. Gary Roug­head, com­man­der of the U.S. Navy’s Pa­cific Fleet, was mak­ing his first visit to China. The four-star ad­mi­ral was sched­uled to meet se­nior Chi­nese mil­i­tary lead­ers dur­ing the week­long visit, which be­gan over the Nov. 11-12 week­end.

Ac­cord­ing to the de­fense of­fi­cials, the Chi­nese Song-class diesel-pow­ered at­tack sub­ma­rine shad­owed the Kitty Hawk un­de­tected and sur­faced within five miles of the car­rier Oct. 26.

The sur­faced sub­ma­rine was spot­ted by a rou­tine sur­veil­lance flight by one of the car­rier group’s planes. The Kitty Hawk bat­tle group in­cludes an at­tack sub­ma­rine and anti-sub­ma­rine he­li­copters that are charged with pro­tect­ing the war­ships from sub­ma­rine at­tack.

Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cials, the sub­ma­rine is equipped with Rus­sian-made wake-hom­ing tor­pe­does and anti-ship cruise mis­siles.

The Kitty Hawk and sev­eral other war­ships were de­ployed in ocean wa­ters near Ok­i­nawa at the time, as part of a rou­tine fall de­ploy­ment pro­gram. The of­fi­cials said Chi­nese sub­marines rarely

have op­er­ated in deep wa­ter far from Chi­nese shores or shad­owed U.S. ves­sels.

A Pa­cific Com­mand spokesman de­clined to com­ment on the in­ci­dent, say­ing de­tails were clas­si­fied.

Pen­tagon spokes­men also de­clined to com­ment.

The in­ci­dent is a set­back for the ag­gres­sive U.S.-China mil­i­tary ex­change pro­gram be­ing pro­moted by Adm. Fal­lon, who has made sev­eral vis­its to China in re­cent months in an at­tempt to de­velop closer ties.

How­ever, crit­ics of the pro- gram in the Pen­tagon say China has not re­cip­ro­cated and con­tin­ues to deny U.S. mil­i­tary vis­i­tors ac­cess to key fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing a Bei­jing com­mand cen­ter. In con­trast, Chi­nese mil­i­tary vis­i­tors have been in­vited to mil­i­tary ex­er­cises and sen­si­tive U.S. fa­cil­i­ties.

Ad­di­tion­ally, mil­i­tary intelligence of­fi­cials said Adm. Fal­lon has re­stricted U.S. in­tel­li­gence­gath­er­ing ac­tiv­i­ties against China, fear­ing that dis­clo­sure of the ac­tiv­i­ties would up­set re­la­tions with Bei­jing.

The re­stric­tions are hin­der­ing ef­forts to know more about China’s mil­i­tary buildup, the of­fi­cials said.

“This is a har­bin­ger of a stronger Chi­nese re­ac­tion to Amer­ica’s mil­i­tary pres­ence in East Asia,” said Richard Fisher, a Chi­nese mil­i­tary spe­cial­ist with the In­ter­na­tional As­sess­ment and Strat­egy Cen­ter, who called the sub­ma­rine in­ci­dent alarm­ing.

“Given the long range of new Chi­nese sub-launched anti-ship mis­siles and those pur­chased from Rus­sia, this in­ci­dent is very se­ri­ous,” he said. “It will likely hap­pen again, only be­cause Chi­nese sub­ma­rine cap­tains of 40 to 50 new mod­ern sub­marines en­ter­ing their navy will want to test their met­tle against the 7th Fleet.”

Pen­tagon intelligence of­fi­cials say China’s mil­i­tary buildup in re­cent years has pro­duced large num­bers of sub­marines and sur­face ships, seek­ing to con­trol larger por­tions of in­ter­na­tional wa­ters in Asia, a move U.S. offi- cials fear could re­strict the flow of oil from the Mid­dle East to Asia in the fu­ture.

Be­tween 2002 and last year, China built 14 new sub­marines, in­clud­ing new Song-class ves­sels and sev­eral other types, both diesel- and nu­clear-pow­ered.

Since 1996, when the United States dis­patched two air­craft car­rier bat­tle groups to wa­ters near Tai­wan in a show of force, Bei­jing also has bought and built weapons de­signed specif­i­cally to at­tack U.S. air­craft car­ri­ers and other war­ships.

“The Chi­nese have made it clear that they un­der­stand the im­por­tance of the sub­ma­rine in any kind of of­fen­sive or de­fen­sive strat­egy to deal with a mil­i­tary con­flict,” an intelligence of­fi­cial said re­cently.

In late 2004, China dis­patched a Han-class sub­ma­rine to wa­ters near Guam, Tai­wan and Ja­pan. Ja­pan’s mil­i­tary went on emer­gency alert af­ter the sub­ma­rine sur­faced in Ja­panese wa­ters. Bei­jing apol­o­gized for the in­cur­sion.

The Pen­tagon’s latest an­nual re­port on Chi­nese mil­i­tary power stated that China is in­vest­ing heav­ily in weapons de­signed “to in­ter­dict, at long ranges, air­craft car­rier and ex­pe­di­tionary strike groups that might de­ploy to the west­ern Pa­cific.”

It could not be learned whether the U.S. gov­ern­ment lodged a protest with China’s gov­ern­ment over the in­ci­dent or oth­er­wise raised the mat­ter in of­fi­cial chan­nels.

Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

The USS Kitty Hawk and its bat­tle group were the ob­ject of sur­veil­lance by a Chi­nese sub­ma­rine that was un­de­tected un­til it sur­faced within fir­ing range in the Pa­cific.

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