The US Navy has reportedly deployed three spy ships simultaneously to sensitive waters near China over the past week in a provocative move experts said on Thursday aims to boost its submarine and anti-submarine warfare capabilities against the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), after the US “acknowledged its shortcomings” with last year’s undersea collision of the USS Connecticut nuclear-powered attack submarine in the South China Sea.
Since March 17, three US surveillance ships have been simultaneously operating in and near the South China Sea: the USNS Bowditch ocean survey ship in waters south of Hainan Island, the USNS Effective ocean surveillance ship in waters north of Huangyan Island, and the USNS Loyal ocean surveillance ship in waters to the east of the island of Taiwan, according to the monitoring data released by the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI), a Beijing-based think tank, on Wednesday.
The US Navy has frequently sent spy vessels near China in recent years, but it is unusual to see so many of them present at the same time.
An ocean survey ship mainly carries out missions like underwater terrain probing and hydrological surveying, and an ocean surveillance ship is usually responsible for the reconnaissance of underwater targets and the support of anti-submarine warfare, the SCSPI noted.
The US spy ships’ intensive activities near China show that the US values underwater warfare in its concept of a potential conflict with the PLA, as it knows that surface vessels would not survive for long in waters near China because of the PLA’s anti-ship capabilities, a Chinese military expert told the Global Times on Thursday, requesting anonymity.
With the collision of the Seawolf-class nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Connecticut with an uncharted seamount in the South China Sea in October 2021, the US Navy acknowledged that it must develop a better understanding of the underwater situation in and near the region, so its submarines can come and go as they please with few risks, the expert said, noting that the US is also attempting to find and track the activities of Chinese submarines.
If the US Navy gets footholds in those underwater regions, they could pose serious threats to China, so China must raise its alert level and be prepared, analysts warned.
The US recently insisted on hyping the situation in the South China Sea, with US Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral John C. Aquilino claiming that China has “fully militarized” several islands in the region after personally joining an aerial reconnaissance on Sunday. Also, the US Navy sent the USS Miguel Keith expeditionary mobile base to the region for the first time on Monday.
These show that the US and its military have set their eyes firmly on China despite the complex situation in other places in the world like the Ukraine tensions, and the US’ provocative moves go against the recent, positive talks between the top leaders of China and the US, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military expert, told the Global Times.