The Chinese military is thinking about how to stealthily destroy a naval port to cripple an adversary’s capabilities and hinder its ability to fight, a People’s Liberation Army Navy officer explained to state media after a recent explosive test that was reportedly meant to simulate an attack on a port.
The Chinese military, through a PLA Naval Research Academy institute, recently detonated underwater explosives at an unidentified port.
Sensors set up at important structural points gathered data on the damage the port sustained. Chinese media said the data “will provide scientific support to attack hostile ports in a real war.”
The test was the first of its kind for the Chinese military, according to CCTV, a state-run broadcaster which aired its report on the testing over the weekend. Chinese media did not say when the test was carried out, only noting that it happened recently.
The recent test explored the impact that different weapons might have on an operational port in an actual conflict scenario. The explosion reportedly destroyed the testing terminal.
Zhao Pengduo, who Chinese media identified as a captain and the deputy director of the Naval Port Demolition Test Program, highlighted the military’s thinking behind the test in his interview with CCTV.
Zhao said that naval bases and ports are valuable targets because they are used to support logistics vessels that move munitions, fuel and other essential supplies to the frontlines of a fight.
He told Chinese media that “if we can use stealthy ways, like underwater explosions, to destroy the ports, we can kill off the enemy’s war potential,” according to a Global Times translation of his remarks.
A unnamed military analyst in Beijing told the Chinese state-affiliated media outlet that attacking key ports could undermine the US strategy of dispersing its forces throughout the Indo-Pacific region by threatening the critical supply lines that US forces would require to operate effectively.
The media reports on the Chinese military’s naval port destruction testing did not explain how China would deliver underwater explosives to an adversary’s port and likely under intense fire.
It is unclear if China is thinking about manned infiltration, autonomous systems, submarines, mines, or some other approach entirely.
Bryan Clark, a former US Navy officer and defense expert at the Hudson Institute, said attacking a US naval port is “easier said than done,” telling Insider that attackers would have to bypass security barriers, nets to stop submersibles, acoustic sensors to detect divers, patrols, and other countermeasures. The risk is greater at civilian ports though given that they are not as well defended.
As the recent test was the first such test China has conducted, the Chinese military may still be working through these questions, but the testing clearly indicates some degree of interest in developing this combat capability.
Ryan Pickrell is a senior military and defense reporter at Business Insider, where he covers the Pentagon and defense-related issues from Washington, DC.