China is steadily improving its submarine logistics system, and could possess one of the world’s leading undersea forces within the next two decades.
The very public testing of China’s first aircraft carrier in late 2012 may have sent heads turning around the world, but Beijing’s neighbors and other maritime powers continue to have their eyes fixed on its submarine force. Submarines are still the sharpest arrow in China’s quiver. Four new, indigenous designs entering the fleet between 2000 and 2010 have heightened the urgency for more-detailed appraisals of China’s emerging undersea capabilities. Yet, while the contours of China’s submarine force structure are relatively well-known, and satellite imagery has revealed extensive new submarine bases (at Yalong Bay on Hainan Island, for example), the inner workings of this elite undersea force remain shrouded. In particular, Beijing’s increasing efforts to improve its ability to keep its submarine fleet at a high state of readiness, well-supplied, and operating effectively suggest that learning more about how China is progressing in this area will prove crucial to understanding its overall military and naval potential.