01 February 2008

Chinese Evaluations of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force

Andrew Erickson, Gabriel Collins, Lyle Goldstein, and William Murray, “Chinese Evaluations of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force,” Naval War College Review 61.1 (Winter 2008): 68-86.

The U.S. Navy submarine force has set the standard in undersea warfare for at least half a century. America’s submarines made a vital contribution to victory in the Second World War, and they formed an elite force of truly innovative capabilities during the “cold war at sea” with the Soviet Navy. Since the end of the Cold War, the submarine force has been a leader among U.S. military warfighting communities in transforming itself to remain relevant against militant Islamist extremism and other emerging threats.

Perhaps partly inspired by the great successes of the U.S. submarine force, navies around the world have invested heavily in undersea warfare, especially in submarine capabilities. China stands out among these as an emerging submarine power. Over the last decade, Beijing has been building four different classes of boats while importing the Kilo-class diesel submarine from Russia in large numbers. Indeed, China’s intense focus on undersea warfare has led some to speculate that a transpacific rivalry is already under way, at least with respect to submarine capabilities. As policy makers in Washington grapple with the challenge of China’s rise, therefore, it may be wise to consider how Beijing is approaching its evolving naval strategy dilemmas.

This article examines Chinese views of the American submarine force. As that submarine force constitutes one of the most vital elements of Washington’s overall strategy for establishing and maintaining sea control in times of conflict, Beijing’s assessment of those capabilities may be critical to uncovering the future evolution of this nascent rivalry. The U.S. Navy submarine force is thought to represent a key capability for conflict scenarios involving China. This part of the U.S. Navy has undertaken major efforts at transformation within a new geostrategic and technological environment. The American submarine force represents a rather well-defined warfare area and thus lends itself to a bounded research effort.

Overall, this article finds that Chinese naval analysts study the U.S. submarine force in excruciating detail, as concretely manifested in thousands of both strategic and technical articles that focus on it. Such assessments underline the importance of a closer examination of Chinese perspectives concerning the American submarine force.