Ongoing sea trials of new Chinese nuclear submarines capable of launching nuclear missiles “all over Europe, Asia and the United States” could have been a major reason why a National Security Agency-sponsored Navy EP-3E surveillance flight was in the area of Hainan Island last weekend, sources tell WorldNetDaily.

The new submarines — the culmination of years of development by the People’s Liberation Army Navy — are also capable of launching cruise missiles while submerged, which, analysts say, pose a distinct threat to U.S. warships and especially aircraft carriers.

Corroborating this assessment is a Pravda report stating that “American military expert Brian Bender thinks that EP-3E was not spying upon Chinese ships. It was searching for Chinese submarines.”

Al Santoli, a national security adviser to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said the Chinese navy’s first of a planned six Type 094 submarines was launched late last fall.

China’s sole Xia-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine has led to the development of the newer Type 094 class.

He said the launching of the 094-type has shaved two to three years off the originally scheduled year of 2005 set by the Chinese navy for its planned deployment of the new generation strategic submarine. The new model is preparing a test run before being commissioned.

According to Santoli, the submarine is capable of simultaneously launching 576 nuclear warheads all over Europe, Asia, Australia and the United States. The submarine’s Julang-2 or Dongfeng 31-type missiles, armed with three to six independently targeted multiple warheads, have a range of more than 5,000 miles.

Santoli and his boss, Rohrabacher, have made many trips to the region over the past few years and have witnessed firsthand developments of China’s emerging capabilities.

Regarding the EP-3E’s mission last week, Santoli said he believed it was “a routine mission,” because “we have flights constantly monitoring” the area.

“That’s essentially what the NSA flights do,” he said.

However, he said China has been conducting “continuous” naval exercises in the same region “since last summer, and the exercises are significant because [they involve] the integration of new technologies” acquired from — among others — the United States and Russia.

Santoli said one of the systems being tested “is their new C4I [command-and-control] system, and their ability to encrypt their military communications.” That ability, he said, “comes from us.”

“I would think that’s far more significant than their integration of new ships, such as the [Russian-built] Sovremenny, or ships that they’re building themselves,” Santoli said. “Some of those have the capability of launching nuclear-capable warheads, like the SS-N-22 ‘Sunburn’ missile.”

“What, to me, is far more dangerous is their integration of U.S. telecommunications and encryption equipment,” he said, “so that we can’t break their codes. In terms of elements of surprise attack, in terms of having a better understanding of the direction they’re going,” the gear gives China the ability to mask its intentions.

“The ongoing military exercises” — besides being performed to test equipment — “are being done for deception purposes also,” he said. “For instance, at some point, if they decide they want to make an attack on one of the Spratly Islands … when you have ongoing exercises, they can turn it into the real thing at any time, and if we can’t intercept their messages, we will have no advance warning.”

“This is critical,” he added.

Yesterday,, an economic and military forecasting firm based in Texas, also said the U.S. Navy plane could have been in the area to monitor the Chinese submarines.

“There are two vessels at issue,” said the Stratfor analysis. “The [Chinese have] placed a new version of the Russian-designed Kilo-class submarine into service April 4, 2000,” according to a brief Hong Kong newspaper report cited by the intelligence firm.

“The new Kilo is equipped with anti-ship weapons and has conducted recent drills simulating combat with carrier-type ships,” the report said, quoting the Sing Tao Jih Pao newspaper, which — in turn — cited Chinese army sources. “It takes up to a year to qualify a new vessel and crew for duty at sea.”

Russian-built 636 Kilo-class sub of the type exported to China.

“But the Chinese navy may have made a more significant breakthrough,” said. “It has been working for years on a variant of the larger, more powerful [Russian-designed and built] Victor III submarine. This submarine … [was] due for completion sometime in late 2000, [and] was designed to launch cruise missiles while submerged.

“That would allow the Chinese to threaten the pre-eminent American weapons system in the region: The aircraft carrier,” the report said.

Sources told WorldNetDaily the subs can also be used to mine harbors and inlets around Taiwan, as well as interdict sea lanes that bring oil, supplies and goods to northeast Asia.

Also, reports said a U.S. Navy vessel was chased out of a Yellow Sea exercise area inhabited by Chinese naval vessels earlier this year. Experts said one or more of the new submarines could have been operating there as well.

Analysts — some who wished to remain anonymous — told WND that China’s seemingly belligerent reaction to the U.S. Navy plane could be tied to protecting its newest naval assets.

Santoli said China operates a pair of submarine flotillas in the South Sea Fleet; one naval base that supports this fleet is the northern port of Haikou, on the island of Hainan — where the 24 U.S. crew members made an emergency landing after “bumping” a Chinese fighter last weekend and where they are still being held.

“I look at the way they’ve reacted after this incident,” Santoli said. “The actual incident could have been an accident, but the way they’ve been responding afterwards appears as though China is sending the entire region a message: ‘If the United States is helpless against us, you better not even think about resisting us.'”

The analysis said it appeared as though “the new Kilos not only have entered service but also may have been certified to take part in deep-water operations, ostensibly against American carriers in case of war.”

Last year, the Defense Department, in a report, said China’s Kilo subs were to be adapted to use Russia “quieting technology” and sonar, as well as weapons systems. The Pentagon estimated that China “is expected to begin arming some of its submarines with submerged launch cruise missiles.”

“As a result,” the Pentagon study said, “China’s submarine fleet could constitute a substantial force capable of controlling sea lanes” in and around China, Taiwan, the Spratly Islands and other areas of interest to Beijing.

Santoli said Chinese weapons were progressing in capability much faster than many Western analysts believe because Chinese technicians — “many trained by us here in the U.S., at some of our finest schools” — are very capable.

The national security expert also said an internal power struggle against “two, maybe three factions,” within China was also bound to shape the country’s future and its dealings with the U.S.

U.S. military officials were warning of China’s emerging submarine threat as early as 1997.

During an April 8, 1997 hearing before the Senate Armed Service Committee’s seapower subcommittee, Rear Adm. Michael W. Cramer, director of naval intelligence, said China’s new subs, “designated the Type 094, will be fitted with new ballistic missiles currently under development, the JL-2 with a range of over 4,000 nautical miles — making it China’s first truly intercontinental strategic nuclear delivery system.”

Cramer also told the Senate panel that the upgraded Kilos purchased by China from Russia were “among the quietest in the world.”

Santoli said China had increased the number of deployed submarines around Asia the past few years “as they have increased the number of submarines acquired.” He also said China’s indigenous sub-building programs were in full swing.

“We should not underestimate the technological capabilities of the Chinese,” he said.

Russian Amur-class diesel-electric submarine, reportedly several times quieter than current Kilo-class subs.

Russian navy sources said one of two fourth-generation Amur-class diesel-electric submarines — laid down in 1998 — was intended “for export,” while the other will go to the Russian Navy.

Officials did not say which country was importing the sub, but Russia and China have signed a number of strategic partnership agreements, and Beijing purchases several weapons systems from Moscow.

Published information claims that the Amur-class subs are “several times quieter than Kilo-class submarines.”

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