The chief of naval operations told Congress on Tuesday that he is vigilant of, but not worried by, China’s large-scale naval buildup, including the Pentagon’s disclosure on Monday that Beijing is building two new classes of missile submarines.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert was asked about a report Tuesday in the Washington Free Beacon about the Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military that revealed it is building two new classes of missile submarines in addition to the eight nuclear missile submarines and six attack submarines currently being deployed.
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"They are absolutely capable," Greenert said of the Chinese navy during an appearance before the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.
On China’s unique, aircraft-carrier killing DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, Greenert said the U.S. Navy is working on ways to counter the missile during the "kill chain" involving the missile, its maneuvering warheads, and the sensors and guidance used in targeting.
"In other words to do such a thing you have to have the sensor, you have to detect a ship, you have to recognize it is a ship, you have to then be confident that you got it well enough, then you have a tracking solution, the you’ve got to be comfortable you can launch, it launches, it goes in the right direction, then it has to adjust itself," he said. "So at that point you can spoof it, you can jam it, you can try to shoot it down, and as it gets closer you can put a wall of lead up."
Greenert said the entire chain of events is needed to strike a carrier at sea with the DF-21D and for defenses "you’ve got to break a couple of those chains."
"And that’s what we look at, frankly," Greenert said. "Many people focus on the bullet … there’s a lot of effort going on, has been, making great progress. I’m pretty comfortable where we are" in efforts to counter the missile.
On China’s submarine capabilities, Greenert said in response to questioning from Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R., N.J.): "Well, congressman, we own the undersea domain. I have a lot of empirical data that tells me exactly that. It would appear to me based on the construction program, and it kind of is logical, that China would like to modernize."
China is replacing older submarines with newer and more modern systems but "they’re not there yet," Greenert said. "And so our job is to remain owning the undersea domain."
On China’s deep-water naval capabilities, the Chinese navy is "comfortable" operating within the first island chain about 100 miles from the Chinese coast.
"They have very capable individual platforms that they’re now starting to put to sea," he said. "The ability to network, to bring them together in an effective manner is somewhat of question. But I would submit that we have an opportunity as well, to operate together and we’re working in that very direction. It doesn’t have to be adversarial."
However, Frelinghuysen said in response: "But they are, they seem to have a pretty adversarial situation in terms of their relationships with the Philippines, with Vietnam. … Not only are we confronted, those countries are confronted as well. Now obviously the Philippines have been a strong ally of ours."
"So, it does or doesn’t worry you about their arms buildup here?" the congressman asked.
"I would just say that I’m vigilant," Greenert said. "I would hate to say that I’m worried, yet, because I’m not necessarily worried. Very vigilant and we need to pay attention and understand the intent. And challenge them on that intent."
The Pentagon report made public on Monday for the first time disclosed the existence of the two new missile submarines, identified as the ballistic missile submarine dubbed the Type 096 and a new cruise-missile firing submarine called the Type 095.
Those new submarines are being developed as China is deploying new Jin-class ballistic missile submarines and Shang-class nuclear powered attack submarines.
It plans on eight Jins and six Shangs, the report said.