China has completed a naval exercise in the South China Sea that could help it to counter Taiwanese defenses in the event of an invasion.
The exercise was aimed at neutralizing the types of anti-ship “smart mines” that Taipei has been developing over the past year.
A spokesperson for China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) said Chinese warships were able to find and detonate the mines from “hundreds of meters away.”
A US military source said this development is something that should “certainly concern” Taiwan.
US military advisers have been encouraging Taiwan to develop “smart mines” as a significant part of the nation’s anti-invasion defenses.
The Taipei Times reported in December 2012 that a new generation of “smart mines” was being developed for deployment in shallow water close to the coast, where they would be more effective in stopping enemy landings.
The report said that Taiwan’s west coast features a large number of estuaries — adding to the nation’s vulnerability — as an attacker would not have to invade across beaches, but can move upriver and disembark inland.
While the smart mines remain classified, it was reported that a budget had been approved for their development beginning last year.
It is understood that the mines are hidden on the ocean floor and can be remotely activated to detect enemy ships by their electronic and magnetic signals.
When an enemy ship comes close to a mine, it explodes.
Craig Hooper, a former teacher at the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, has reported that the Chinese navy conducted its drills in formation for the first time.
The drills were carried out by ships from the Nanhai Fleet.
“The garrison approached the mines in varied formations corresponding to different conditions. After hours of searching, the flotilla discovered a number of smart mines hundreds of meters away and detonated them upon the commander’s order,” Hooper quoted Xinhua news agency as saying.
Chinese military specialist with the US International Assessment and Strategy Center Richard Fisher told the Taipei Times that the PLAN had one of the largest naval mine inventories in the world for use in both offensive and defensive operations.
Fisher said that over the past decade, the Chinese navy had made much greater investment in counter-mine technologies and new mine-sweeping ships.
“During both blockade or invasion operations against Taiwan, the PLAN will likely employ thousands of naval mines,” Fisher said. “They would be placed in minefields that block off both ends of the Taiwan Strait, as well as outside major Taiwanese ports. The PLA Navy even has torpedo-propelled mines that could swim inside a port and rest on the harbor bottom.”
Fisher was able to throw some light on the possible method used by PLAN to find and destroy “smart mines.”
“For about four years, the PLA Navy has been using a new small counter-mine unmanned underwater vehicle [UUV] to both find and dispatch mines, either by moored type or bottom-dwelling mines,” he said. “Such a UUV would allow the PLA Navy minesweepers to detonate smart mines hundreds of meters from their ship.”
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