Analysts say Beijing getting ready for ops
– beyond Far East
May 9, 2008
LONDON — Defense analysts for the British intelligence service MI6 believe China is preparing for the “eventuality of a nuclear war.” The conclusion follows evidence that Beijing has built secretly a major naval base deep inside caverns which even sophisticated satellites cannot penetrate.
In an unusual development, the analysts have provided details to the specialist defense periodical, Jane’s Intelligence Review, which published satellite images of the base location which is hidden beneath millions of tons of rock on the South China Sea island of Hainan.
The MI6 analysts have confirmed the submarine base hewn out of the rock will contain up to 20 of the latest C94 Jin-Class submarines, each capable of firing anti-satellite missiles and nuclear tipped rockets.
Knocking out the satellites would leave Taiwan, Japan and other countries around the Pacific Rim effectively without a key warning system. An attack also would disrupt vital communications between U.S. battle squadrons in the region and Washington.
Satellite images studied by GCHQ, Britain’s spy in the sky intelligence gathering organization based at Cheltenham that works closely with the U.S. National Security Agency, have confirmed the entrance to the base is through no fewer than 11 separate tunnel openings.
A Royal Navy nuclear submarine, one of those in the Typhoon Fleet, now has joined another from the U.S. Pacific Fleet to build up a clear image of what is happening inside the secret base which, as well as China’s nuclear subs, could house “a host of aircraft carriers.”
Naval intelligence officers in London and Washington have confirmed the discovery of the base will present “a significant challenge to U.S. naval dominance and protection to countries ringing the South China Sea.”
The base is sited at Sanya on the southern tip of Hainan island. The island came to the attention of Western intelligence in April 2001, when a U.S. EP-3 spy plane trying to test the island’s electronic defenses was forced to land there by Chinese fighters, one of which crashed in the sea killing the pilot.
The 24 U.S. crew on board, including specialist technicians, brought the first international crisis to the administration of George W. Bush.
The EP-3 was released two days later, gutted of all its secrets. Since then Beijing has secretly evacuated the base — an engineering feat that one of the MI6 analysts said took “even more skill than building the Great Wall of China.”
One of the advantages of the base is that submarines can sail from there already submerged into very deep Pacific water — exceeding 15,000 feet — making their detection that much harder.
In comparison, Britain’s Trident submarines have to remain on the surface when they leave their base in northwest Scotland and cannot submerge to patrol depth until they are beyond the Irish Sea.
Intelligence analyst Alex Neill at the Asia Security Program in London, which works closely with MI6, believes the secret base “is a clear indication that Beijing is preparing for wider operations in the Far East and very possibly beyond.”
Another Ministry of Defense analyst, who cannot be named for security reasons, believes “this could be the prelude to China preparing for a nuclear response.”
More certain is that Chinese defense spending could be as high as $200 billion. Kerry Brown, a China analyst at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, says the secret base is part of “a sea denial campaign which will prevent the United States intervening in any conflict with Taiwan. The base’s submarine fleet will use their anti-satellite missiles to ensure that U.S. satellites over the Pacific would be ‘blind’ and unable to keep the Pentagon in touch. The fact is that China is determined to challenge the power of the U.S. Pacific Command. The Sanya base is just a start.”
Gordon Thomas is the author of the newly published Secrets and Lies: A History of CIA Mind Control and Germ Warfare (Octavo Editions, USA) and the forthcoming Inside British Intelligence (JR Books, UK).