Increasingly aggressive Chinese harassment of U.S. survey vessels came to a head on 8 March when five Chinese ships surrounded the ocean surveillance ship USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS-23), with one Chinese crew member even apparently attempting to snag her towed array with a grappling hook. The Impeccable was operating in international waters 75 miles south of China's new Yalong Bay submarine base on Hainan Island, prompting speculation that the Chinese actions represented a coordinated effort to dissuade the United States from monitoring China's latest nuclear-powered submarines and their area of operations. According to Xiamen University South China Sea expert Li Jinming, "It is well known that the submarine base was established [at Hainan], so it is unacceptable for China to have the U.S. Navy snooping around so close." This incident suggests that Beijing may be particularly sensitive about U.S. activities in this region, in part because it appears poised to become the home base of China's second generation of nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs), the Type 094, or Jin-class.
An Undersea Deterrent?
China's investment in a nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarine force and the accompanying infrastructure indicates a major effort to take the boats to sea.
By Andrew S. Erickson and Michael Chase