STALKING. Last month, a Chinese Song class diesel electric submarine approached, apparently undetected, to within 5 nautical miles of the USS Kitty Hawk, well within both missile and torpedo range. The submarine then surfaced, and was reported by a recon aircraft. What's going on here?
Diesel electric submarines are remarkably difficult to detect, but I'm nonetheless kind of surprised that one was able to get so close to a USN supercarrier. Kitty Hawk has an escort group and multiple recon aircraft whose job it is to detect approaching submarines. Indeed, a carrier battle group normally includes a nuclear attack submarine specifically to deal with undersea threats. Even if, as PACOM chief Admiral Fallon has suggested, the group was not conducting anti-submarine exercises, they have to be embarassed by the failure to pickup the Chinese sub. I'm also a bit surprised that the Chinese sub was of the indigenously built Song class rather than of the newer and quieter Russian Kilos.
It's possible, of course, that the sub was detected well before it surfaced, and that the resulting discussion over the exercise has simply been an effort to convince the People's Liberation Army Navy that it has greater capabilities than it really does. I have my doubts, however. As the surfacing of the sub indicates, naval prestige was at stake. I can hardly imagine a US admiral, much less the captains in command of the various escort vessels, admitting that a Chinese submarine had slipped through the protective net of a supercarrier if it hadn't actually happened. In any case, I suspect that ASW exercises will get a bit more attention in the Pacific over the next few months, and that a Chinese sub skipper may get a promotion.