Vietnam’s Undersea Anti-Access Fleet
Image Credit: Wikicommons

Vietnam’s Undersea Anti-Access Fleet


If nothing else, this series on access denial shows that anti-access strategy comes in many varieties. Vietnam too is pursuing such a strategy, founded on a squadron of six Kilo-class submarines Russia is building for the Vietnam People’s Navy under a contract inked in 2009. In August the Vietnamese press reported that the first boat has been launched, and that all six will be delivered by 2016. The elusive Kilos should make a lethal access-denial force. While China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy operates Kilos itself, it has conspicuously neglected antisubmarine warfare hardware and techniques. It seems South China Sea waters will remain opaque to Chinese commanders for the foreseeable future despite the PLA Navy’s overwhelming superiority over the Vietnam People’s Navy.

First consider the politics of access denial, as we did with Iran and North Korea. Vietnam and China, like North and South Korea, are contiguous powers with vital interests at stake in the same waters. Vital interests like territory beget strong passions. Whereas Iran prizes its ability to manage offshore waters and skies more than the United States cares about operating there—and thus commands a political edge—both Hanoi and Beijing are impassioned about their maritime claims in the South China Sea. Both are prepared to wage efforts of serious magnitude and duration,commensurate with their material capacity to carry on the competition. Neither is likely to relent after dispassionately tallying up the costs and hazards of operating in waters its opponent wants to place off-limits. The result: a combustible situation.

Several tactical and operational characteristics of Vietnamese access denial are worth pondering. Its anti-access force, like all such forces, is asymmetric to the adversary it is designed to oppose. But unlike relatively balanced Iranian and North Korean forces, the Vietnamese access-denial contingent is almost purely one-dimensional. Hanoi doubtless chose well if it could select only one platform to execute its strategy. Submarines offer enormous bang for the buck, and they are survivable. Still, this also means that advances in Chinese antisubmarine warfare could nullify Vietnam’s effort to fend off the PLA Navy. Next, Vietnamese access denial could take on an offensive as well as a defensive character. Vietnamese Kilos could, say, loiter unseen off the Chinese naval station at Sanya, on Hainan Island, holding PLA Navy submarines at risk at the delicate moment when they are entering or leaving port—exposing them to enemy action.

Access denial—a strategically defensive posture—could therebytake on an escalatory hue.The inception of a Vietnamese undersea fleet will further crowd the already crowded waterspace of Southeast Asia, complicating efforts to discriminate among friend, foe, and bystander. China operates Kilos; so will Vietnam; even India could conceivably dispatch Kilos to the region. And this leaves aside the different submarine types deployed by Singapore, Malaysia, and other regional seafaring states. The chances for miscalculations and mishaps will only grow as access-denial strategies take shape.

Not long ago, pundit Robert Kaplan pronounced the South China Sea “the future of conflict.” Kaplan may have spoken truer than he knew.

December 24, 2013 at 06:59

Who knows how may mini subs were there in Vietnam Navy? VN suffered heavy loss in sea battles against Chinese naval forces of 1988, not mention ab a surprised land attack from PLA in 1979. With a modern fleet of 6 new, full size subs also with a revelation of secret formation of Vietnamese sub unit since 1997…Wait and see,,,when the war broke out in SCS, it is doubt that the surprised factor will be on the side of Vietnamese…

Paul Wu
January 5, 2013 at 12:34

It is good to see that employees of the People's United Front are here to be sure that we have the latest views from the offical Party.  Xie Xie, Nin!

December 14, 2012 at 10:28

China dream will be buried by the proxy war.
India and US will sit back and enjoy the show!!!

December 6, 2012 at 17:38

PAC-3 and Iron Dome anti-missle systems will render china missles in affective, what else china has in its assenal to fight the US? certainly a second hand last century aircraft carrier or replicate copies won't do. I think Vietnam + ASEAN should coordinate their effort and investment in long range cruise missle systems which can be fired from shore and subs and AWE + Multirole attach aircraft fleets that will deny the PLA access to the West Sea. The threat to criple Chinese shipping line in and out of China is an efftective deter weapon in itself. I can't imagine how the PLA fight a war while its 1.3 billion people go riot at home due to the criple ecconomy (food, matterial, energy supply line being cut off). I think chinese leadership is engaging in a dangerous bluffing and premature game with neighbours. By claiming to territorials using falsified evidents and they believed that if they push the claim long enough and back with show of force the lie some how will become true evidents. It s like if you kidding yourself long enough you will start to beleive it s truth.

November 9, 2012 at 06:55

Vietnam should continue to produce mass numbers of cheap mini attack Subs (with 1 or 2 men’s operators only) and ready for the great games. Once the battles started, SCS water way will be blocked and China's economy will be heading for much further south.
The people in China will be becoming hungry (hungry for foods and hungry for an Arab Spring). The US, Russia, India, Japan, the Philippines, etc. should also be ready to do their part in this great game.
China is only a loner wolf and a lonely, immature bully nation. China/PLA still has to buy engines for cars, ships and planes from other countries for its 2nd hand and 3rd rate products.

November 8, 2012 at 09:24

Let's ignore that JC – china – maniac. :))
His words are transparent example of how well the China governent has  distorted the history as well as the frame of mind of its people. 
Poor them. With the Internet, which provides accesses to constant sources of facts, large part of China population is till brainwashed by the echelon for their own dreams of "Middle Kingdom".
I wish the truth for the China people. God please save them … !

Vietnamese Pride
November 8, 2012 at 09:15

Yeah , Rogue !! A very exactly word for China. I cant understand why China keep carrying fire in its hand and water in the other.So poor . They think 7000 trillion $ and 3000$ per capital can make they become a super country. They're wrong. When the rich poor gap get to a limit, people will rise up against oppression .

November 7, 2012 at 17:53

I guess I can safely assumed that you are Chinese. You call Vietnam a rogue nation, then what you do call China?
Do you forget or not know about Chinese history? Go back a few thousands years, 4 to be exact, you tell me how many times China waged wars against neightboring countries. Well, how about China funded Pol Pot to kill innocent people of Campodia. When the Vietnamese tried to stop that, China send their army over to fight with Vietnamese militia…what a shame, and they call that victory. And now, China took away Scarborough islands from the Philippines, and they want to bring it to the international court, China said no…So, who is rogue???

November 7, 2012 at 02:03

What are you then?
Military? Government? ArmChair strategist?

Bob McDonald
November 7, 2012 at 00:46

@John Chan,
The Chinese was merely giving token help to the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, but you people had much more sinister motives: to control Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.  The Soviet Union and the Eastern Block countries were the ultimate supporter of North Vietnam. You Chinese were a curse. You Chinese could not get over the fact the the Vietnamese fought you people for thousands of years and they have always emerged victorious.  And here are a few recent aggressive wars that you have waged against the Vietnamese:
1974 – attacked South Vietnamese controlled Paracel Islands (East Vietnam Sea)
1978 – supported Polpot Khmer Rouge  to attacked Vietnam
1979 – launched a war against Vietnam
1984, 1986, 1989, 1991, and to present – numerous small scale attacks against Vietnamese territorial installations
If you Chinese are so eager to prove your manhood, go to war with either Russia or the US.  The Russian sure gave you a bloody nose in the Damanskii Incident (1969).

November 6, 2012 at 23:25

Chinese distorted history is laughable.  It is a historical fact that China was the principle backer of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime that resulted in the death of over two million people in Cambodia.  It is agreed among historians and scholars, including the former US ambassador to Cambodia, that it was Vietnam that put an end to the carnage by toppling the khmer rouge and effectively evicted the Chinese from Cambodia.  While China was unwilling and unable to stop the genocide, including the death of over 250 thousand ethnic Chinese, Vietnam’s liberation of Cambodia not just saved millions of Cambodians, it saved what was left of the ethnic Chinese, very ironic.  Humiliated that its client regime got toppled, China launched an ill-fated invasion of Vietnam in 1979, and received a bloody repulse.  The Chinese are so proud of that event that Chinese government whitewashed the history and today many Chinese don’t know that it existed.  I feel sorry for the Chinese and the Tibetan people, they are truly oppressed.

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