Autonomous Underwater Vehicles Form Part of China’s Marine Survey and Defense Strategies

China HUV 001 UUV

A pair of HSU 001 autonomous undersea vehicles, seen at a 2019 military parade in Beijing. Courtesy CCTV 4. Twin propellers signal long-range cruise capability. The flat nose indicates sonar sensors. The two masts appear retractable, probably containing devices for above-surface reconnaissance and communication. The small bumps could contain homing systems.

A wide range of underwater unmanned vehicles (UUVs) is developing in China and could be used in future conflicts, particularly in the 180-kilometer wide Taiwan Strait and the contested South China Sea area.

Prototypes of medium and large undersea vessels include the Sea-Whale 2000 and Qianlong Hidden Dragon series of UUVs; the Haishen Poseidon series, of AUVs, the Haiyi 1 Sea Wing autonomous undersea gliders and the Weilong Microdragon. Their capabilities, range, battery life and equipment are largely unknown but subject to knowledgable expert conjecture, based on photos such as those taken during military parades.

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China’s stated primary purposed for UUVs include marine surveying and reconnaissance, mine warfare and countermeasures, undersea cable inspection and anti-submarine warfare, with the differing models targeting different applications.

Large UUVs could carry weaponry for counter-submarine warfare. The largest one to date (3.5 tons), the Haishen Poseidon measures 7.6 meters and can dive 6,000 meters deep. It carries an ultra-short baseline positioning system, an aircraft black box search sonar array, deep-sea side scanning sonar, an underwater camera, and forward-looking sonar.

One function of Chinese UUVs could be to patrol the proposed Great Underwater Wall in the South China Sea, on the lookout for subsurface incursions. A network of stationary arrays, surface buoy sensors and UUVs, as well as air and space-based detection technology could constitute a formidable defensive wall in an area of high priority to Chinese trade, particularly oil, and strategic interests.