Key Point: Nuclear submarines could be a real threat for the U.S. Pacific fleet.
Early in 2015, a curious and disturbing report surfaced briefly and then disappeared—almost without a trace. The report, apparently published and then quickly retracted, had been posted by the French Ministry of Defense and concerned the successful operations of the French nuclear submarine Safir in an exercise pitting it against the U.S. Navy’s Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier battle group. The somewhat shocking content of the report—that the French submarine had succeeded in sinking “half the battle group” during the exercise—may explain its rapid purging from the internet. After all, close brothers in arms may demonstrate their tactical and operational prowess in a naval drill, but they should not gloat about that, and especially not in public, right?
The revelation that a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier group could be so vulnerable to a nuclear submarine did not make the mainstream media, and no mention was made by the many attentive defense analysts on this site, so it seems. However, the Chinese defense media does not miss much, especially concerning the capabilities of U.S. Navy carrier groups. In fact, a special issue of 兵工科技 [Ordnance Industry Science and Technology] (2015, no. 8) covered this “event,” featuring an interview with Chinese Submarine Academy professor 迟国仓 [Chi Guocang] as its cover story under the title: “A Single Nuclear Submarine ‘Sinks’ Half of an Aircraft Carrier Battle Group.”
Prof. Chi makes clear that he understands that “演习无法与实战相比 [an exercise can hardly be compared to real combat] and that, moreover, he evaluates U.S. Navy anti-submarine warfare (ASW) to be a “highly efficient” and “harmonized” system comprised of multiple layers of defense for an aircraft carrier. Yet, he concludes in the interview that the French report “有比较大的可信度” [has a reasonably high degree of credibility] and this edition of Dragon Eye will examine his logic in this respect, attempting to gain insights into emergent Chinese views on the utility of nuclear submarines in modern naval warfare.