The US Navy operated 75 nuclear-powered submarines in 2014, with around 15 being the more modern Virginia or Seawolf-class designs, according to the World Nuclear Association. However, it deploys just four Los Angeles-class submarines in the Asia-Pacific region, operating out of its naval base in Guam.
In 2017, the US would spend more than US$8 billion next year to ensure it had “the most lethal and most advanced undersea and anti-submarine force in the world”. That budget – a roughly 14 per cent increase – will include spending on the development of undersea drones.
The US has recently completed initial trials of robotic surface anti-submarine ship.
China now has about 70 submarines – very close to the US’ total – with 16 of them nuclear-powered, according to the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress last year on China’s military and security development. Fifteen of China’s non-nuclear submarines are stealthy, equipped with quiet Stirling air-independent propulsion (AIP) engines that also allow them to stay submerged for longer.
China claims nearly 2 million square kilometers of the South China Sea, and to help protect that claim has built Asia’s largest submarine base, Yulin, on the south coast of Hainan, near Sanya. The base features underground submarine facilities with tunnel access, shielding Chinese submarines that enter the South China Sea from the prying eyes of US reconnaissance satellites.
China has a newly built deep-water port at Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys, more than 1,000km from Sanya, which could extend the PLA Navy’s reach.
Air independent propulsion allows China’s submarines to be quieter and to stay submerged for 90 days or more.
China is now concentrating on its latest nuclear-powered submarine, the Type 094 or Jin-class, most of which are based at Yulin. Four of the boats are operational, with a fifth under construction, according to the Pentagon’s report to congress. It said they were expected to be equipped with up to 12 JL-2 ballistic missiles – with an estimated range of 7,400km
China is also developing an improved, third-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, the Type 096, to be fitted with JL-3 long-range missiles that could reach the US from the waters of the South China Sea. JL-3 missiles are beieved to have a range of 10-11,000 kilometers.
There are also some rumors of a Type 098 submarine.