London, May 2: China has secretly built a major underground nuclear submarine base that could threaten Asian countries and challenge American power in the region. Satellite imagery, passed to The Daily Telegraph, shows that a substantial harbour has been built which could house a score of nuclear ballistic missile submarines and a host of aircraft carriers.
In what will be a significant challenge to US Navy dominance and to countries ringing the South China Sea, one photograph shows China's latest 094 nuclear submarine at the base just a few hundred miles from its neighbours. Other images show numerous warships moored to long jettys and a network of underground tunnels at the Sanya base on the southern tip of Hainan Island. What may concern the Pentagon are the massive tunnel entrances, estimated to be 60ft high, built into hillsides around the base. Sources fear they could lead to caverns capable of hiding up to 20 nuclear submarines from spy satellites.
The US Department of Defence has estimated that China will have five 094 nuclear submarines operational by 2010 with each capable of carrying 12 JL-2 nuclear missiles.
Janes Intelligence Review obtained the images after the periodical was given access to imagery from the commercial satellite company DigitalGlobe.
The development so close to the sea lanes vital to Asian economies "can only cause concern far beyond these straits," claimed the paper quoting Western military analysts.
Military analysts believe that China's substantial build up of its forces is gaining pace, put has remained hidden from the world in the build-up to the Olympics.
China has diverted much of its resources from the huge Peoples Liberation Army to the navy, air force and missile development.
Within the next five to 10 years, the Peoples Liberation Navy is expected to build up to six carriers that will also coincide with the Royal Navy's construction of two major carriers.
The location of the base off Hainan will also give the submarines access to very deep water exceeding 5,000 metres within a few miles, making them even harder to detect.
So far China has offered no public explanation for its building at Sanya.