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Interview:Unraveling Chinese Nuclear Submarine Catastrophe:Exploring Possibilities & Impossibilities

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Email Interview Of Mr. Brent​ Sadler, Senior Research Fellow, Naval Warfare and Advanced Technology, Center for National Defense, The Heritage Foundation.

Interviewed by Ms. Sruthi Sadhasivam is a research officer, Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S).

Image Courtesy: Eurasian Times

Section 1


In case you think that there is possibility of the submarine accident to have happened, kindly answer the following questions (kindly ignore section 2 questions)


1) Ms. Sruthi Sadhasivam: Earlier you had expressed certain issues in believing Dr. Li-Meng Yan’s reports on the occurrence of the 093-417 nuclear submarine accident. Do you believe in the veracity of the recently released UK intelligence report on the Chinese nuclear submarine accident? In case you believe in the report, why do you do so?


Mr. Brent​ Sadler: I remain uncertain on the veracity of what is being rumored to have occurred. For one, little was seen in the way of notice to mariners warning of rescue or salvage operations at the time of the incident, and shipping/fishing activity didn’t seem to be affected via AIS data streams. The story also is too similar to the loss of a diesel submarine in roughly the same place a decade ago – the number of sailors on a diesel boat more closely matches the lives being reported as lost not the nuclear submarine reportedly lost.


2) Ms. Sruthi Sadhasivam: How was it possible for UK intelligence to get access to exact coordinates (35°38.962’N/121°19.562’E), where the catastrophe occurred?


Mr. Brent​ Sadler: I am not sure the UK has this information and the reporting doesn’t make it seem as if the reporter was able to verify it.


3) Ms. Sruthi Sadhasivam: Although Taiwan has no incentive to release official statements that China’s nuclear submarine did not meet with an accident, it did keep releasing statements refuting claims that China’s submarine met with a misadventure. But it is true that Taiwan kept saying that no accident occurred in the Taiwan straits. So does that mean there is a possibility that China’s 093-417 nuclear submarine met with an accident in some other place, say the Yellow Sea?


Mr. Brent​ Sadler: Hard to say, and Taiwan would be in a bad position commenting one way or the other – would have to disclosure what it does or doesn’t know.


4) Ms. Sruthi Sadhasivam: Why did the UK's defense establishment refuse to comment on their leaked intelligence report, why did they not release any statements verifying the report that was released?


Mr. Brent​ Sadler: This makes us question the credibility of the report. One, perhaps this never was assessed by UK intelligence and the reporting is erroneous. Or, two, the UK doesn’t wish to divulge its intelligence sources and capabilities. Both equally plausible at this time.


5) Ms. Sruthi Sadhasivam: The Chinese submarine is fitted with sonars and radars, why did it not prove effective in detecting the chain and anchor trap? If the Chinese laid the trap, do they not know where they laid the same, why did they take their submarine to the trap area?


Mr. Brent​ Sadler: Undersea navigating is challenging and any number of reasons this could have occurred if in fact such a device was placed on the sea floor. I remain skeptical of this given the shallowness of the water, high maritime traffic and fishing activity nearby that could be impacted by a sea floor obstruction not charted.


Section 2


In case you think that there is less possibility of the submarine accident to have happened, kindly answer the following questions (kindly ignore section 1 questions)


1) Ms. Sruthi Sadhasivam: Why do you not believe in the UK intelligence report?


Mr. Brent​ Sadler: No official sanction given yet, but the data is less than complete and the numbers seem off if a nuclear submarine crew was lost.


2) Ms. Sruthi Sadhasivam: Not all Chinese nuclear submarine missions are publicized, in that case, don’t you think there are chances that the 093-417 nuclear submarine’s mission would not have been publicized by the Chinese government. Moreover, it was around august, 2023 that it was well known that China was conducting drills in the Taiwan straits in response to Vice President William Lai's visit to the United States. So how right is it to base our judgment that as there was no news on Chinese submarine operations in Yellow sea, no such accident happened?


Mr. Brent​ Sadler: It is actually a cumulation of circumstance that makes me less inclined to believe China lost a nuclear submarine in the Yellow/East China Sea. Of course, submarine operations are perhaps the most secretive of all.


3) Ms. Sruthi Sadhasivam: Taiwan kept saying that no accident occurred in the Taiwan straits (it did not refer to Yellow sea). Taiwan has not refuted the UK's intelligence report on the occurrence of the accident in the Yellow Sea. So does that mean there is a possibility that China’s nuclear submarine met with an accident in the Yellow Sea?


Mr. Brent​ Sadler: I think that is more plausible given the data that came out later that showed the submarine was reportedly sunk near Qingdao which is more Yellow Sea than East China Sea.


4) Ms. Sruthi Sadhasivam: Dr. Li-Meng Yan’s report and UK’s intelligence report indicate the same, (i.e), China’s nuclear submarine met with a misadventure in the Yellow sea. Recently, there was another piece of news about how the UK had bugged the apple watch of a Chinese Navy officer and got aware of the submarine accident. How do you perceive this news in terms of the authenticity of the nuclear submarine accident?


Mr. Brent​ Sadler: Plausible, recall that when Kashogi was captured and killed in the Saudi embassy in Turkey, there were audio recordings too from his apple watch that came to light later. Of course, anyone wearing an apple watch on a submarine would not have a signal to a shoreside database to record the info.


(Mr. Brent​ Sadler is a Senior Research Fellow, Naval Warfare and Advanced Technology, Center for National Defense, The Heritage Foundation and Ms. Sruthi Sadhasivam is a research officer, Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S). the views expressed does not reflect the views of C3S)

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2 Comments


Sruthi, well constructed questions.


We may never know what exactly happened or if it even happened at all. Hitting something undersea is not that uncommon as we saw in the case of the SSN USS Connecticut last year in the SCS, which the US Navy, one hopes, would have mapped out well.

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Thank you Sir! Agreed Sir, we do not know for sure of what happened with regards to this case.

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