South China Sea: Secret underground navy base revealed in satellite images

·3-min read

A remarkable satellite image has captured a Chinese submarine at the entrance of a highly-secretive underground navy facility on the fringes of the South China Sea.

The rare image from American imaging company Planet Labs on August 18 shows the submarine exiting the Yulin Naval Base – a key defence site for the country which houses its nuclear ballistic missile submarine fleet.

The image from Hainan, an island province off the south coast of China, comes as tensions in the highly-disputed South China Sea continue to rise as China pushes forward on its claims of sovereignty over the sea.

A submarine seen exiting the rarely seen underground network at China's Yulin Naval Base in Hainan. Source: Planet Labs
A submarine seen exiting the rarely seen underground network at China's Yulin Naval Base in Hainan. Source: Planet Labs

Australia and the US have both encountered Chinese forces in the region, with experts fearing the chances of conflict are on the rise as the US navy continues to flex its muscles.

China has ramped up its military presence in the South China Sea as it looks to assert its dominance in the area, continuing to construct military bases on artificial islands it has built in the disputed waters while continuing to bolster military resources.

A glimpse of the Yulin Naval Base’s underground facility in action, which was branded ‘James Bond-esque’ online, provides a reminder to the Western world of the threat posed by China’s navy, Drew Thompson, a former United States Defense Department official, said.

"The bottom line is they have a large and growing submarine fleet which is improving in quality," Mr Thompson, Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, told CNN.

He said the underground tunnels allow China to keep details of its developments in the South China Sea out of Western hands.

"You have no evidence of [the submarine's] combat readiness, operational response times and availability," Mr Thompson said.

"Tunnels blind potential opponents to the submarines' operating status and patterns, denying them the ability to determine the state of China's military preparations, knowledge critical to assessing China's intentions and plans.”

According to The Drive’s The War Zone, the image is also significant due to the absence of the base’s other submarines at its docks, raising questions whether they are now all being housed underground or are currently deployed elsewhere.

According to the US Defense Intelligence Agency’s annual China Military Power Report, there are now about 70 submarines in China’s arsenal.

The submarine pictured is believed to be a Type 093 nuclear-powered attack submarine, according to CNN.

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