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The PLAN exploits data from the South China Sea – Radio Free Asia


New Chinese militarized outposts in the Spratlys and their expanding bases in the Paracel chain are helping to harvest one of the most valuable but least visible resources of the South China Sea: the data.

Chinese military research and other documents show collected data informs about ongoing construction activities, helping to improve naval weapons and underwater communications in the environment. Unique locality and can support future landing operations – among other uses.

This data is valuable because it allows the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to understand the elements that make up “the marine spatial environment,” said Ryan Martinson, professor at the Maritime Research Institute. China’s US Naval War College.

“China needs to collect this information because it is used to build and improve models of how these elements of the ocean space environment change under specific circumstances,” said Martinson.

Government civil scientists and PLAN staff stationed on these sites gather various types of information, including hydrological, meteorological, depth and tidal data.

In addition, scientific survey ships are operated by state research institutions regularly probe the depths of the South China Sea, collect biological samples, map seabeds and collect sediments.

Continue to build

This data has multiple uses, including supporting China’s ongoing construction activities in the South China Sea, where Beijing is locked in maritime and territorial disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia. , Brunei and Taiwan.

In January, BenarNews report that China is reclaiming more land to the north of Woody Island, its main base in the Paracel Islands, and strengthening the island’s coastline to prevent erosion.

A satellite image from December 2020 shows new breakwaters, jetty and other erosion protection structures as well as newly reclaimed land along the northern coast of Woody Island. [Planet Labs]

In preparation for this project, the Chinese Ministry of Transport’s Waterway Transport Engineering Research Institute agreed to simulate the island’s coastal erosion using data collected over many years. , bidding documents said. This document provides a rare glimpse of how China can leverage its long-term occupation of disputed islands and reefs to collect and then mine data to support construction projects.

According to documents reviewed by BenarNews, the institute synthesized multi-year depth measurements, remote sensing imagery, hydrometeorological measurements and other data collected on Woody Island as well as collected data created by previous construction projects in neighboring seas. Bathymetry is a measurement of ocean depth while hydrology studies the water cycle as it involves atmospheric processes.

Ocean space environment

Data collected from remote outposts also supports China’s naval operations in the South China Sea – and helps the Chinese military prepare for potential conflicts with other claimants. or to outside competitors such as the United States.

For example, Martinson notes, tides, currents, wave heights, temperature, wind, and salinity can all change.

“It is possible to foresee these changes to be very important for the PLAN as these factors directly affect naval operations, everything from basic navigation to weapon use to the ISR. [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], ”Martinson told BenarNews.

The publicly available research conducted by PLA-affiliated engineers, meteorologists and other experts confirms the Chinese military’s relentless interest in these environmental factors.

For example, in 2020, researchers from PLA Unit 61741 published an article dealing with insulation – transition class between the warmer waters near the ocean’s surface and the cooler water deeper below – compromising underwater communications and the concealment of underwater vehicles in the South China Sea.

A recent study of the South China Sea by experts at the PLA Naval Research Institute looks at how ocean modeling can help analyze the impact of “complex oceanic phenomena” on performance. results of weapons and naval equipment.

According to the Australian Institute of Strategic Policy, the Chinese Academy focus research on technology, marine environment and defense engineering.

Other topics explored by PLA researchers include how the South China Sea environment is corrosive to aerial electronics and stainless steel, the mechanical properties of the sand used for soil reclamation in the South China Sea, and how to treat traumatic brain injury during naval battle in South China Marine environment.

Expansion of possibilities

The development of Chinese bases in the South China Sea has long been tied to the collection of environmental data.

For example, after China occupied Woody Island – the largest natural feature of the Paracel chain – in the 1950s, it rapidly establish a meteorological station.

And according to one learn published year China quarterlyBeijing used the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) international meteorological data collection as an excuse to establish a regular presence in Trường Sa at the end. 1980s, initial construction of an observation station on Fiery Cross Reef.

From this observatory, PLAN meteorologists have measured factors such as wind direction, wind speed, temperature and tides every two hours per day for the past 30 years, according to Chinese state media. report.

And as China built huge artificial island bases in the Spratlys, their ability to collect these data seemed to have increased.

“In theory, more land allows for more and larger equipment to be installed,” Martinson told BenarNews.

Martinson also noted that the new Chinese facilities in the Spratly chain could support ships used to service and deploy floating and underwater buoys, which China uses to monitor conditions. on large bodies of water.

In addition, these expanded outposts allow the PLAN to deploy additional manpower in the Spratly islands, including meteorologists and engineers to help the Chinese military gather vital data.

210324-SEA-CH-data-bottom.jpg
A technical diagram shows an “underwater survey device and a dynamic draft survey device” designed by a PLAN engineer based in the Spratly Islands. [Patent application by the Dalian Naval Academy and Wu Jingquan]

For example, according to a year 2020 report in PLA dailyAs announced by the Chinese military, a PLAN engineer based in the Spratly Islands, Wu Jingquan, has designed and patented measuring instruments suitable for the local environmental conditions since 2018.

“Tides are an important factor affecting the marine spatial environment,” PLA daily say, but the salinity and temperature of the water in the Spratlys often influence tidal measurements, leading to errors

With the support of his superiors, Wu began to work on the problem, reportedly setting up multiple observation points on Fiery Cross Reef to collect daily tidal data. He then used this data to model tidal data, eventually designing a new kind of automated machine. tide gauge will not be affected by salinity and temperature, PLA daily to speak.

BenarNews has patented documents for two of Wu’s inventions: the aforementioned tidal gauge and the “underwater survey device and dynamic draft surveyor” to support the ship done depth gauge investigations.

“Tides are a particularly important factor in landing operations. If you are trying to land on an island or bring a ship closer to an island, you need to know how the tide affects the water depth around the island at any given time, ”Martinson to speak.

Reported by BenarNews, an online news service affiliated with RFA.



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