China's Plan Oceanographic Survey Ships Shiyan 1,2,3
Vinayak Bhat/ThePrint
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Satellite images accessed by ThePrint suggest Chinese Navy conducted joint exercises with its Pakistani counterpart; has increased activities around India.

New Delhi: There has been a sharp rise in Chinese naval activity to map the Indian Ocean region, with survey vessels being observed even in the company of Pakistani warships at times, satellite images accessed by ThePrint suggest.

These activities around India indicate possible preparations for anti-submarine operations.

In the past year, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy or PLAN has been sending a large number of oceanographic survey ships to the Indian Ocean region. Besides, Chinese warships and nuclear submarines have been making port calls in Colombo for the past three years.

In February 2016, a PLAN Type 926 submarine tender was seen in Colombo, suggesting a continuous survey mission. A submarine tender is a type of ship that supports submarines.

The Type 926 submarine search and rescue tender #865 Liugongdao is known to travel along with China’s nuclear submarines. This ship is also the mother-ship of the world’s most advanced rescue submarines — the Type 7103 deep submergence rescue vessel (DSRV). The DSRV can dive up to 600 m and rescue up to 18 personnel from a ‘Kursk’ like incident.

China's Plan Type 926 ASR #865 Liugongdao
Vinayak Bhat/ThePrint

The rescue submarine, however, was not observed on board the mother-ship when it was docked in Colombo. Satellite images accessed by ThePrint suggest that the DSRV was possibly on a special survey mission around Colombo.

China's Plan Type 636A Haiyang #22
Vinayak Bhat/ThePrint

More recently, PLAN’s top naval survey ship — the Type 636A hydrographic survey ship Haiyang #22 class, named after Chinese nuclear physicist Qian Sanqiang — was observed in a satellite image of 4 February 2017. This 130m-long marine comprehensive survey ship with a crew of 134 personnel can endure a journey of 15,000 nautical miles at speeds of 15 knots on its own steam.

The presence of Haiyang #22 in Colombo clearly indicates Chinese interest in surveying the Indian Ocean region for smoother submarine operations. Earlier this year, China conducted a joint exercise with the Pakistani Navy to survey the Makran Trench in the Persian Gulf–Arabian Sea region. The ship involved is PLAN’s modern Type 625C Shiyan 3 is an oceanographic survey ship.

China's Plan Oceanographic Survey Ships Shiyan 1,2,3
Vinayak Bhat/ThePrint
China's Plan Oceanographic Survey Ship Shiyan 3
Vinayak Bhat/ThePrint

It is surprising that the survey ship was on the west coast of India as of 18 January. The reasons are obvious — Shiyan 3 is conducting underwater surveys of areas in the Arabian Sea on India’s west coast.

The largest oceanographic survey catamaran in the world is undergoing sea trials in China’s Guangzhou. The length is a gigantic 90 m and beam 32 m. The ship is larger than USS Impeccable, which measures 85 m.

China's largest oceanographic surveillance catamaran
Vinayak Bhat/ThePrint

The ship is a small waterplane area twin hull (SWATH) type catamaran and looks very different than its predecessors. It has a humongous funnel at the centre of the ship. This suggests larger engines indicating longer endurance at sea. These ships are supposedly equipped with numerous modern and world-class measurement systems, including submarine geomorphology, submarine surface geological survey, ocean gravity, area temperatures, salinity, density, tide among others.

These ships act as force multipliers in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) for tracking adversaries’ submarines with oceanographic data collected. Their foray into the IOR suggests that China is preparing for an ASW in the region.

Colonel Vinayak Bhat (retd) is a Military Intelligence veteran of the Indian Army with vast experience of satellite imagery analysis. He has worked as a Chinese interpreter and is a specialist on PLA and Pakistan’s armed forces. He tweets @rajfortyseven

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  1. Do not agree with your view of ‘lack of common sense. China always plan for long term and prepare accordingly
    Not a single move is out of place as they did in claiming the entire China Sea. It was our lack of planning g and putting counter strategies in action from mid eighties oneards that has enabled it to surpass usus and do. Instead the region as per its own will.

  2. Many such action by Chinese deduce that Chinese have little common sense ! A peace loving & progressive country such has India would have been a better friend or partner than a country such as Pakistan having no effective development policy. Rather it sponsors terrorism. It may give Chinese mid term benefits but Chinese may suffer in the long term by making world against it. Its economy will also suffer. At the moment riding wave of success Chinese r indulged in wrongful activities. Lekin koi inko samjhaaye ki jab waqt buraa aataa hai to oont par bhaite aadmi ko bhi kuta kaat jaataa hai !!!

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