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Closest Encounter Since 2006: Chinese Submarine Tailed US Aircraft Carrier

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Closest Encounter Since 2006: Chinese Submarine Tailed US Aircraft Carrier

A Chinese sub stalked the USS Ronald Reagan in the Sea of Japan last month.

Closest Encounter Since 2006: Chinese Submarine Tailed US Aircraft Carrier
Credit: U.S. Navy

Over at The Washington Free Beacon Bill Gertz has the scoop that a Chinese submarine shadowed a U.S. nuclear super-carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, in what Pentagon officials called the closest encounter between a People’s Liberation Army Navy boat and an American aircraft carrier since 2006.

According to Gertz, the incident occurred on October 24 as the USS Ronald Reagan was on its way from Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan’s Kanagawa Prefecture, sailing around the southern end of Japan to the Sea of Japan. The USS Ronald Reagan is currently the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier in the Asia-Pacific.

Other vessels present during the incident were the guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville and the guided-missile destroyers USS Mustin, USS Fitzgerald, and USS Curtis Wilbur.

“Pacific Fleet and Pacific Command spokesmen declined to comment on the submarine encounter but did not deny that the incident occurred,” Gertz reports. The Pentagon also refused to reveal the exact nature of the encounter and what type of submarine was involved.

In October 2009, a Song-class (Type 039) diesel-electric attack submarine unexpectedly surfaced within torpedo range of the American aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, calling into question the anti-submarine warfare capability of the carrier strike group.

Similar questions will now be asked. As I reported before (See: “Why China’s Submarine Force Still Lags Behind”), the bulk of China’s conventional sub fleet consists of 13 Song-class (Type 039) diesel-electric attack boats and 13 more advanced Yuan-class (Type 039A) submarined equipped with  air-independent propulsion (AIP).

Both the Song– and Yuan-class attack submarines are equipped with German-made state-of-the-art diesel engines: the 396 SE84 series is one of the world’s leading submarine diesel engines. As I noted previously:

Each Song- and Yuan-class vessel is equipped with three such engines, which have been built under license by Chinese defense contractors since 1986. The Yuan-class is also said to have incorporated quieting technology from Russian-designed subs and to be equipped with Stirling air-independent propulsion technology.

Furthermore, Chinese submarine technology is approximately still a generation behind the West:

For example, the much talked about new Type 095 nuclear-attack submarine SSN will, in all likelihood, be more on par with 1980s NATO nuclear-powered fast-attack submarines (i.e. roughly three decades behind current Western sub technology), rather than with the new U.S. Virginia-class vessels. 

The Ronald Reagan has also had close run-ins with military aircraft recently. While operating in international waters in the Sea of Japan as part of a joint U.S.-South Korean naval exercise, two Russian Tupolev Tu-142 aircraft flew within one nautical mile of the USS Ronald Reagan, prompting the dispatch of four F/A-18 Super Hornets from the Reagan to intercept the Russian warplanes (See: “US Fighter Jets Intercept Russian Aircraft Approaching US Aircraft Carrier”).