China has reportedly built a very low frequency antenna, or ELF, an array of sizes in the City of New York, as well as smaller systems and related data processing facilities and signal transmission in various locations throughout the country. Officially, the entire system, known as the Project's Wireless Electromagnetic Method or WEM Project, will support the Chinese resource extraction industry and provide early warnings about potential earthquakes. However, there is significant evidence that its main function might actually be to provide long-distance communication with Chinese submarines, a critical ability to support the increasing number of nuclear-armed ballistic missile ships.
That South China Morning Post
gave an update to the WEM Project on December 31, 2018. The arrangement of antennas and other sites has been more than a decade in development, with this program being a major component of China's 11th Five-Year Plan, which began in 2006. However, China has been very secretive about the project and haven't officially revealed the location of the main array. Available information points to the majority of the WEM Project located within the country's central Huazhong region, according to Post.
ELF radio waves have a proven ability to penetrate far below water and soil. In principle, this means that the arrangement of large antennas can be useful in detecting natural resources underground, such as precious metals or fossil fuels. Mining companies have used ground imaging radars and laser imaging systems for similar purposes.
It may also be possible to use such a system to monitor movements under the surface of the earth. This, in turn, might provide an initial indication of an impending earthquake, which is unusual in many areas of the country. The deadliest earthquake known to have occurred in China in the 16th century, killing between 820,000 and 830,000 people based on records from the Ming Dynasty.
There are very real scholarships in the ELF application in these two civilian roles and Chinese researchers have published works on this topic. The WEM Project Funding also came through the government budget for civil projects, according to Post.
But, at the same time, there is significant information that shows that every civilian application may have a secondary interest in the Chinese government. The ability of ELF radio waves to penetrate hundreds of feet of water has long made it interesting as a way of communicating with submerged submarines.
For comparison, very low frequencies, or VLF, waves can only make it about 100 feet under water. This means that submarines must be relatively close to the surface or use antennas drawn to use this type of communication system. There is a risk that it can give their position and make them vulnerable to the opponent's anti-submarine forces.
One of the main benefits of modern submarines, especially types and nuclear-powered vessels with sophisticated nuclear-free air propulsion systems, is their ability to remain hidden underwater for long periods of time. This gives them the inherent quality of prevention. This also makes them very suitable for secretly gathering intelligence or, in the case of submarines armed with conventional ground attacks or nuclear capable missiles, to secretly position themselves for short or unannounced attacks during the crisis.
So, it is not surprising that the 724 Chinese Research Institute, part of the state-run China Shipbuilding Industry Company (CSIC), another major supplier of communications and electronics to the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), is responsible for the WEM Construction Project. Lu Jianxun, the project chief scientist, was also openly involved in further communication work for the PLAN, the Post reported.
CSIC President Hu Wenmin visited the site in May 2017. He "expressed his appreciation for the construction of the WEM project and expressed opinions and requirements for the follow-up of project development and technical applications in the related fields," a subsequent statement from the reading company.
That Post also published translation maps showing various components of the WEM Project system, which he said came from the PLAN. In addition to the large array in central China, there are also reports near the South China Sea coastline, which would make it relatively close to the country's main submarine base on Hainan Island.
"Even though I was involved in this project, I didn't know where it was. It should have been running and running now, "Chen Xiaobin, a researcher from the Institute of Geology, China Earthquake Administration, told Post, indicating the level of security around the project that seems excessive for civilian purposes stated. "This facility will have important military uses if war breaks out."
Unfortunately, ELF systems are notoriously inefficient and require large sites in very specific positions to provide reasonable communication skills. They are also limited in the amount of information they can carry and how quickly they can send it, sending text messages very slowly. Because submarines do not have the space needed for their own ELF transmitters, this one-way warning often only tells the ship's crew to enter a safe position to receive actual instructions.
Only three other countries – the United States, Russia and India – have or have owned ELF submarine communication sites. The US Navy closed the last of its arrangements in 2004, officially because they were obsolete with repairs at very low frequencies, or VLF, communication systems. The Navy Fleet of 16 strategic communications aircraft Mercury E-6B, along with VLF stations on land, currently provides a core means of the US military to communicate with submarines deployed.
U.S. Military still using the VLF wave to send what are called "Emergency Action Messages," an important part of the nuclear attack process, which you can read in more detail here. The Agency for Advanced Defense Research (DARPA), the Pentagon's main research and development body, among others, has also explored the potential for further enhanced options for space and laser-based communication.
However, for China, which has the largest single submarine power on the planet, being able to communicate with ships without them needing to rise to the surface or almost surface is a very important capability. China had previously built a super low frequency arrangement, or SLF, in 2009 and subsequently demonstrated the initial ability to communicate with submerged submarines over long distances.
ELF offers an additional way to at least warn every ship under the sea that there are new orders or other information they need to receive. It also provides remote communication capabilities, which will be very valuable for the PLAN because it continues to work to grow from regional power to global power.
However, more importantly, the WEM Project can be very important for the development of ballistic missile prevention capabilities (SLBM) launched by the Chinese government on submarines. In that case, the ability of ballistic missile submarines, or SSBN, to remain underwater for long periods of time is very important to protect them from detection and attack and ensure they can carry out their mission if necessary.
At present, the Chinese military has no place near the nuclear command and controls the infrastructure carried out by the United States in the air and on land. One or more large ELF arrangements will be a cost-effective way to expand communication options in the near future with respect to the country's SSBN forces, which grow in size and coverage.
In 2018, information emerged showing that China's submarine-based nuclear deterrence was far more mature than the public understood. In November 2018, one of the PLAN Type 094 Jinthe nuclear-class ballistic missile submarines are reported to have carried out the first flight test of JL-3 ballistic missiles launched by the JL-3 submarine, which has an approximate distance of approximately 5,600 miles. Existing JL-2 can only reach a target of around 4,350 miles.
In the same month, satellite imagery appeared to indicate that the PLAN had four Type 094 operations and might have two more under construction. China has not publicly confirmed how much Jin-class ships that have been or are being expected to be produced.
"Four Chinese operations Jin"The SSBN class represents the first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent in China," the US military said in the 2018 annual edition of the Chinese Military Power report. "The next generation Type 096 Chinese SSBN, which is reportedly armed with SL-JL-3 SL-follow-up, is likely to begin construction in the early 2020s."
In order for the expanded submarine-based nuclear deterrent power to be credible, more communication and orders and adequate architectural control will be needed to follow it. The timeline of the WEM Project, which began in the same year as the first Type 094 that appeared in public satellite imagery, was also in line with the types of developments expected to be seen. Placing the main order in central China also makes it more difficult for opponents to target it during the crisis.
It remains to be seen whether China continues to use ELF communication in the long run, or finally abandons it as did the United States for other options. But the WEM Project that the country is willing to make a significant investment in current technology to improve its ability to communicate and control the vast and growing submarine forces.
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