Shot Across Our Bow
China's president announces that the world's most populous nation is preparing to challenge U.S. naval supremacy on the high seas by building a blue-water navy. The dragon sets sail.

In comments made last week to Communist Party delegates and published in the People's Liberation Army Daily, Hu Jintao, Chinese president and commander in chief, urged his country to build a "powerful navy that adapts to the needs of our military's historical mission in this new century and at this new stage."

Hu also urged "sound preparations for military struggles and (to) ensure that the forces can effectively carry out missions at any time."

It was not idle chatter for domestic consumption. Chinese naval strength is building rapidly and its capabilities are growing. This was demonstrated in October, when a Chinese Song-class attack submarine surfaced undetected within weapons distance of the USS Kitty Hawk off Okinawa. The sub was armed with Russian-made, wake-homing torpedoes and anti-ship cruise missiles.

The Japan-based Kitty Hawk and its escort ships are our only Asia-based battle group and would be the first to respond to a crisis concerning Taiwan. China said it would attack the island nation it considers a lost province if Taiwan were to declare its independence.

"Given the long-range of new Chinese sub-launched anti-ship missiles and those purchased from Russia, this incident is very serious," said Richard Fisher, a Chinese military specialist with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

"It will likely happen again, only because Chinese captains of 40 to 50 new submarines entering their navy will want to test their mettle against the 7th Fleet."

China's fleet of modern attack submarines is expanding. China has 10 Song/Yuan/Kilo class attack subs in the Pacific today, plus more than 50 older Ming- and Romeo-class boats, five Han-class nuclear attack submarines and one Xia-class ballistic missile submarine.

In late 2004, China dispatched a Han-class submarine to waters near Guam, Taiwan and Japan. Japan's military went on emergency alert after the sub surfaced in Japanese waters.

China has 16 new submarines under construction with more on order. These include a new class of nuclear attack submarine designated the Type-093 and a new nuclear ballistic missile sub, the Type-094. The Type-094 is equipped with the JL-2 ballistic missile, a sub-launched version of its land-based DF-31 ICBM. The JL-2 is equipped with multiple warheads and penetration aids that could reach the mainland from Chinese coastal waters.

In February 2005, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld commented that the size of the Chinese submarine fleet could surpass the U.S. Navy's within a decade. "It is an issue," he said, "that the (Defense) Department thinks about and is concerned about and is attentive to." We hope so.

China is deploying an impressive surface fleet as well, including Sovremenny-class guided-missile destroyers purchased from our Russian friends. They come equipped with supersonic, sea-skimming SS-N-22 Sunburn cruise missiles that were designed by the Soviets for one purpose — to attack American carrier battle groups.

As U.S. officials seek greater trade and cooperation, Chinese officials prepare for greater confrontation. China sees its navy as a means not only of liberating Taiwan, but also of safeguarding its expanding overseas energy supplies. We'd suggest that U.S. defense planners and U.S. shipyards start getting busy.