Home Defence How China has stepped up under-sea information-gathering in Bay of Bengal

How China has stepped up under-sea information-gathering in Bay of Bengal

Satellite images show that Chinese ships have been frequently getting near Indian waters in the Bay of Bengal. ThePrint takes a look at these ships.

Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd)
Chinese survey ship Shiyan 01 in Indian waters | Source: Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd.)

New Delhi: China seems to have stepped up its underwater forays in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), specifically in the Bay of Bengal. The frequency of submarine patrols by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has almost tripled in the last two years.

Earlier this month, the Indian Navy detected Chinese ships gathering information near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal.

Submarine activities require a lot of data, especially about salinity and oceanic surface currents, and India has the inherent advantage of having operated in the region for decades. These surveys in distant oceans (or, as China calls them, “far seas”) provide enormous data for assisting the PLAN operations by mastering the oceanic battle-space environment.

Nearly two years ago, ThePrint had reported on China and Pakistan’s cooperation in the Arabian Sea and the IOR. Now, we bring you details of Chinese ships’ recent activities in the Bay of Bengal.

Shiyan 01

The Shiyan 01 is a small water-plane area twin hull (SWATH) expedition boat, designed by the China Ship Scientific Research Centre, and commissioned in 2009.

Source: Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd) | ThePrint

The ship is 60m in length, 26m at the beam, and has at least two dozen pieces of equipment for hydrographic surveys on board. Its total weight is more than 3,000 tonnes, with an endurance of 40 days, and can travel up to 8,000 nautical miles at 15 knots.

This is a semi-submerged ship produced for high stability even under sea state conditions up to a scale of 6.

The ship was observed near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Source: Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd) | ThePrint

Zhukezhen #872 (Haiyang 20)

The Type 636A hydrographic survey ship Haiyang 20 was designed by the China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC), similar to its predecessor Haiyang 18, which was later named after the famous scientist Li Siguang.

This PLAN survey ship is 130m in length and 17m at the beam, with a displacement of 5,000 tonnes, and carries a complement of 150 personnel.

Source: Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd) | ThePrint

The hydrographic survey ship seen at Colombo, Sri Lanka, on satellite imagery is Zhukezhen pennant number 872 (previously the Haiyang 20), under the Maritime Survey Division of the PLAN, and is a naval ship.

The ship still carries the old name Haiyang 20 to pass it off as a civil survey ship. But the two 25mm air defence guns on the aft of its bridge (marked on satellite imagery) clearly show that it isn’t.

PLAN marine commandoes have been observed practising firing on the ship during its earlier forays in the IOR.

Source: Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd) | ThePrint

This marine comprehensive survey ship is equipped with more than 20 measurement systems, including submarine geomorphology, submarine surface geological survey, ocean gravity, area temperatures, salinity, density, tide etc.

Xiangyanghong 3 and 6

The ship Xiangyanghong 6, which set sail from its home port Zhoushan for the IOR on 27 November 2019, was observed very close to Indian waters near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Source: Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd) | ThePrint

On 11 December, the ship also reportedly deployed at least six 2m-long autonomous unmanned vehicles (AUVs) called ‘Haiyi’. These AUVs or gliders can measure seawater temperature, salinity, turbidity, chlorophyll, and oxygen content.

These were deployed immediately after the Chinese Ministry of Defence issued a lengthy warning to its agencies undertaking scientific research in foreign waters to “fulfil obligations under international law and coastal country laws”. The warning came into effect two days before they were deployed near Indian waters.

Another survey ship, Xiangyanghong 3, owned by China’s Third Institute of Oceanography was also noticed near Indian waters on the same day. The ship can be seen on satellite imagery during fitting out.

Source: Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd) | ThePrint

Xiangyanghong 10

The Xiangyanghong 10 is a survey ship owned by the Second Institute of Oceanography, with a length of 99m and a beam of 17m.

Source: Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd) | ThePrint

The ship, with approximate tonnage of 5,000 tonnes had undertaken a 250-day research trip to the Indian Ocean in July 2018.

During this survey mission in the south-west Indian Ocean, the ship had deployed an AUV named Qianlong 2. The AUV supposedly conducted nine dives for a total of 257 hours, according to US Navy reports.

Also read: These are the test facilities where China is working towards its Mars probe dream

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  1. A major risk in marching to a military tune is that it can bankrupt a nation. The Russians and the Pakstani experience attest to this. Besides, in the last 70 years, no nation has lost its nationality for lack of military strength to defend itself against a superior Army. What does China gain from Bay of Bengal gathered intelligence?. Just that if you have a hammer, you always look for a nail head.!


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