Second Chinese Naval Demagnetization Facility Spotted

Click image for large version

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Chinese navy has constructed what appears to be a demagnetization facility near an East Sea Fleet submarine base.

The facility is the second spotted at Chinese naval bases since 2008.

Chinese Naval Demagnetization Facilities

The new demagnetization facility is located less than 10 km from the Kilo submarine base at Maocao Nong approximately 40 km southeast of Ningbo in the Zhejiang province.

Seven Kilo-class submarines were visible at the base on January 15, 2009, nearly a third of the roughly 19 diesel-electric attack submarines that are deployed with the East Sea Fleet.

Location of New Demagnetization Facility
The East Sea Fleet demagnetization facility is located near a submarine base south of Ningbo, at coordinates 29°31’14.28″N, 121°40’30.00″E. Click image to see larger version.

The East Sea Fleet facility was built between August 2007 and March 2008.

The East Sea Fleet facility is the second known Chinese demagnetization facility. In April 2008, I identified the first such facility at the South Sea Fleet base near Yulin on Hainan Island.

The South Sea Fleet facility was constructed sometime between January 2006 and February 2008.

Comparison of Chinese and U.S. Demagnetization Facilities
China’s two known naval demagnetization facilities are similar, capable of handling all Chinese submarine sizes, and similar in design to U.S. demagnetization facilities.
Click image to see larger version.

The two demagnetization facilities are similar but with differences. The South Sea Fleet facility is built in a c-shape, similar to the U.S. design. The East Sea Fleet facility, which is located in a river, consists of two parallel piers, perhaps to accommodate strong currents.

The Purpose of Demagnetization

Demagnetization is conducted before deployment to remove residual magnetic fields in the metal of a vessel to make it harder to detect by other submarines and surface ships. It reduces the ship’s vulnerability to mines that are triggered by magnetic signals from metal hulls. Demagnetization apparently also can improve the speed of the vessel.

Demagnetization of Ballistic Missile Submarine
A U.S. SSBN is prepared for demagnetization at the Kitsap Naval Submarine Base near Bangor, Washington. The U.S. Navy has such facilities on both coasts.

Both submarines and surface ships are demagnetized at regular intervals.

Nuclear-powered submarines including SSBNs are based at the North Sea and South Sea Fleets, but not at the East Sea Fleet. I suspect that we’ll see construction of a North Sea Fleet demagnetization facility soon.

Some Implications

Occasional Chinese naval force operations get prominent attention in western news media, such as the recent transit between Okinawa and Miyako Island of eight destroyers and two submarines. Routine operations by U.S. forces, on the other hand, are rarely described except when they involve large exercises or when incidents occasionally expose secret options such as the Impeccable incident in 2009.

Mining of harbors and costal areas would likely be an important mission for both U.S. and Chinese attack submarines and anti-submarine warfare forces in a hypothetical military conflict between China and the United States. Chinese naval forces have, despite ongoing modernization, significant technological and operational deficiencies.

So why has China not constructed naval demagnetization facilities earlier? After all, other naval powers have done so for decades after German engineers during World War II invented the magnetic mine. According to one report, China appears to have used degaussing vessels rather than fixed facilities.

Perhaps construction now reflects acquisition of new technology, a decision that fixed facilities are more efficient than degaussing vessels, or that modifications to China’s naval strategy make demagnetization more important.

Whatever the motivation, the construction of demagnetization facilities at China’s fleets are clear tell-signs of the cat-and-mouse game that is in full swing in the region between the naval forces of China and the United States and its Asian allies.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

4 thoughts on “Second Chinese Naval Demagnetization Facility Spotted

  1. The easiest strategy for a mouse to survive is to figure out whatever the cat is doing and why. Then the mouse can make the cat’s gadgets. You never hear a mouse trying to eat a cat, but the cat always feels that it is his God-given rights to chase the mouse and eat it if necessary. Hence, to understand the Chinese psyche, one is well advised to read Chairman Mao’s poem to a close friend of his beloved wife – “忽报人间曾伏虎 泪飞顿作倾盆雨”. This poem was also the title of an interview of Deng Jiaxian’s wife, who did not know until too late that her husband was the man who had “subdued the tiger”. China is not going to be a dead mouse on someone’s plate; it is developing the ability to “subdue the tiger” so it can be left alone and continue the trajectory predicted by Adam Smith.

    Reply: Very poetic. I hope that trajectory includes appreciation for both the Wealth of the Nations as well as the Theory of Moral Sentiments, to stick with the Adam Smith metaphor. To that end, check out the interview Prime Minister Wen Jiabao did last year with the Wall Street Journal and Daniel Drezner’s comment in Foreign Policy. But if the mouse grows so big that it begins to resemble a rat in the eyes of its neighbors, then that same trajectory might be seen as carrying with it a lot of risks as well. So how to prevent that the military cat-and-mouse competition doesn’t grow into a tiger-and-rat stand-off? HK

  2. I guess that China’s neighbors will come to interact with China the way Mexico and Canada are doing with the US. History shows that China was never in the business of exporting ideology; a well-earned respect and fair trade are all China expected in the past. Most Chinese people believe in the Confucian principle of “What one does not desire for himself, do not impose it on others”. There are plenty of non-violent means to resolve differences and let others be themselves. Being a largely atheist country, China has the unique advantage of not getting into anyone’s frays.

  3. How much time does it take for a sub to get demag? The open end at the Ningbo facility means saving of time or is it something else?

    Reply: I don’t know how long it takes. Perhaps there are some navy readers who can answer that. As for the open end of the East Sea Fleet facility, it might have something to do with the water flow (it’s not inside a harbor). Hard to say. HK

  4. That I can recall that there are magnetic, acoustic and pressure mines. Which are the most dangerous today? Is Captor still around? Are there any mines laid in deeper water waters than the littorals?

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