01 February 2007

China’s ‘Undersea Sentries’: Sea Mines Constitute Lead Element of PLA Navy’s ASW

Andrew S. Erickson, Lyle J. Goldstein, and William S. Murray, “China’s ‘Undersea Sentries’: Sea Mines Constitute Lead Element of PLA Navy’s ASW,” Undersea Warfare 9 (Winter 2007): 10-15.

Traditionally a continental power, Beijing has not wielded strong naval forces in the modern era. But this is beginning to change now and China is making rapid strides, particularly in the arena of undersea warfare. According to the New York Times, China launched 13 submarines during the period 2002-04—and this number does not include the recent sale of eight Kilo-class diesels from Russia that was accomplished by 2006. Indeed, China commissioned thirty-one new submarines between 1995 and 2005. Less well understood by naval analysts and planners is the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s dynamic mine warfare component. It is important to understand this emerging capability, because sea mines appear to be a big component of Beijing’s Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) strategy.

This article is part of a larger study that surveyed nearly one thousand Chinese language articles related to mine warfare. The major conclusions of that study are that China’s naval mine inventory likely contains some of the world’s most lethal systems and that Beijing may be on the cutting edge of mine warfare (MIW) technology and concept development. The study elucidates a preliminary outline of a Chinese MIW doctrine that emphasizes speed, psychology, obfuscation, a mix of old and new technologies, and a variety of deployment methods that target very specific U.S. Navy platforms and doctrines. Two research questions from that larger study are explored in this article: first, what is China’s potential capability and its ramifications? Second, how is the PLA Navy exploring the linkage between submarines and mine warfare to create new and significant operational capabilities? … …