Sunday, May 11, 2008

Arms Race Update - Hainan Island

It's got all the makings of a James Bond movie: a fortified island, an underground submarine base, even a hidden tunnel through which nuclear subs come and go unseen. It exists and it's giving the Indian navy absolute fits.

A big part of the arms race now underway focuses on containing China, including China's blue water access. Two key players in this are the Indian and US navies.

The Indian navy has announced that its sphere of influence will stretch from the Persian Gulf all the way eastward to the East China Sea which, entirely coincidentally, covers every bit of China's shoreline. To do this, India has embarked on an ambitious plan to expand its fleet. There's even talk of an Indian designed and built nuclear sub in the planning.

Is this sort of thing a threat to China? Of course it is. The Americans have made no secret of wanting permanent basing in the Persian Gulf specifically so that the US could sever Chinese access to Gulf oil if the need should ever arise. Not that anyone's saying they would ever do that, of course, but hey.

So what's China doing? Well it's building up its own navy with a healthy supply of blockade busters, its own designed and built fleet of nuclear subs. Of course, having a gaggle of subs and keeping them from being obliterated in a blitzkrieg air attack are two different things and that seems to be where the Ya Long naval base on Hainin Island comes in.

The picture at top left shows sleepy Ya Long in 2002. The bottom right shows the development of Ya Long as it stood in early 2007, complete with shore installations, breakwalls and piers. Somewhere in there is an underground submarine cavern, believed capable of housing about two dozen nuclear subs.

From Asia Times Online:

"Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defense Minister A K Antony have said that all steps are being taken to protect India's security interests and sea lanes.

In a more detailed reaction, India's navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta said India has been aware of the base and would like to avoid a situation where it faces the prospect of a large number of nuclear submarines in its neighborhood.

"'Though India is not worried about Beijing building a strategic naval base on Hainan Island in the South China Sea, it is concerned about the numbers. Nuclear submarines have long legs [traversing anywhere between 7,000-15,000 kilometers] it is immaterial where they are based,' Mehta said.

The latest reports will only deepen the already heightened China focus of India's ongoing US$50 billion defense modernization exercise. This week, India tested for the third time the 3,500 kilometer-range Agni III ballistic missile that would be capable of hitting Beijing and Shanghai. New Delhi has said that the Agni III is now ready for induction. China's capabilities are of course far advanced, with its missiles capable of hitting over 11,000 kilometers."

GlobalSecurity.Org, in a 2006 report, noted that satellite imaging sleuths have been spotting all manner of interesting things popping up in China

"Three times in the past few months, they've stumbled across unusual military installations using Internet programs that allow those online to view satellite and aerial images of the world.

In the most recent find, users spotted an underwater submarine tunnel off China's Hainan Island. They've also found a mock-up of a Taiwanese air base in China's western desert. In a bizarre discovery, a computer technician in Germany noticed a huge and startlingly accurate terrain model in northwest China that replicates a sensitive border area with India."

China is also expanding its influence into Pakistan and Afghanistan, something else bound to give India fits.

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