'Underwater Great Wall' of sensors mooted for China

WASHINGTON • One of China's biggest shipping conglomerates has proposed the construction of a network of ship and subsurface sensors that could detect American and Russian submarines and help boost the country's ability to control the South China Sea, IHS Jane's Defence Weekly reported on its website this week.

The system proposed by China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) comes amid tensions between China and the United States over the South China Sea. Washington has accused Beijing of militarising the South China Sea while Beijing has criticised increased US "freedom of navigation" patrols close to islands claimed by China.

CSSC revealed details of the network of sensors, called the "Underwater Great Wall Project", in its booth at a public exhibition in China late last year, the report said.

IHS Jane's obtained a translated copy of the descriptions from a government official. The text was confirmed by a source from a second government on condition of anonymity, it added.

While some elements of this network have been known for some time, CSSC is in effect proposing an improved Chinese version of the Sound Surveillance System that for a time gave the US a significant advantage in countering Soviet submarines during the Cold War.

The proposed system is likely to be bought by the People's Liberation Army Navy but may also be offered for export.

The report quoted CSSC as saying that its objective is to provide customers with "a package solution in terms of underwater environment monitoring and collection, real-time location, tracing of surface and underwater targets, warning of sea quakes, tsunamis and other disasters, as well as marine scientific research".

The shipping conglomerate says in the document that its "R&D and production bases in Beijing and Wuxi (have) the ability to support the whole industry chain covering fundamental research, key technology development, solution design, overall system integration, core equipment development, production and operation service support".

CSSC says it has 10 series of products on offer, including systems relating to marine observation, oceanographic instrumentation, underwater robotics and ship support.

Specific components of its surveillance system include surface ships, sonar systems, underwater security equipment, marine oil and gas exploration equipment, underwater unmanned equipment and marine instrument electronic equipment.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2016, with the headline 'Underwater Great Wall' of sensors mooted for China. Subscribe