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Autonomous and semi-autonomous ASW capability – the PLAN’s underwater gliders

By Mark Sloan, 28 March 2022

Development and employment of an effective Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) capability is a technologically challenging and truly all-arms activity, with assets having to be integrated across all the warfare domains, and beyond. Western nations (and I use the term in its widest sense) perhaps allowed some aspects of these capabilities to receive less focus after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the actual or perceived reduction in the Russian Navy’s ability to prosecute their aims in and from the sea. More recently, as our traditional and emerging competitors in submarine warfare have become more active, and capable, the complex field of ASW has received renewed emphasis.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, developing the ASW capabilities offered by semi and fully autonomous systems is the subject of research and development by many nations (a relatively recent Canadian perspective can be found here). Looking at one approach of a competitor, this article by Ryan Martinson, published by the Center for International Maritime Security, addresses the PLAN’s development of underwater gliders and their evolution from sensors collecting environmental data, to ASW sensors. Although this is not an operational capability at this stage, it is a clear demonstration of the challenges facing Western nations as they strive to maintain a technological edge in terms of submarine and anti-submarine warfare and, equally importantly, to have the skills to exploit their own capabilities to maximum advantage and counter those of a competitor. As Martinson concludes, in the case of the PLAN “This achievement has been made possible through a talented, dedicated, and well-funded research team at the PLAN Submarine Academy, a successful approach to civil-military integration, and institutional commitment to redressing China’s weaknesses in ASW.” Western nations must continue to match this effort.

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