China is aggressively pushing its expansionist agenda across the globe. That includes right off our shores in the Bahamas where China has been involved in port building and efforts to secure commercial fishing rights for a number of years now. That may not sound like a national security threat. It is.
As tensions ramp up between the United States and China and we focus more and more on the possibility of direct military confrontation, the balance of power between the Chinese and U.S. Navies becomes ever more significant. Of particular importance is the ability of American submarines to operate in the Pacific in relative proximity to Communist China and deny the Chinese Navy the ability to gain access to the open ocean and pass beyond what is known as the First Island Chain which includes Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
American submarines in such a conflict would not win by numbers. They would win by superior design and capability and in particular by their ability to remain undetected. That very ability may be one of the reasons the Chinese are so focused on the Bahamas and if they are able to establish a permanent presence of their “fishing” fleet there that ability may be threatened.
Chinese fishing fleets do not operate as normal commercial operations. They function as part of what is known as a “maritime militia.” Ships are armed and routinely used to project Chinese power and force the ships of other nations out of particular areas. More to the point for this discussion, they also provide cover for intelligence collection operations.
And it turns out that there is something very much worth spying on in the Bahamas. It’s the U.S. Navy’s equivalent of Area 51.
The Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center — AUTEC — is located on the Bahamian island of Andros in immediate proximity to what is known as the “Tongue of the Ocean” — or “TOTO.” The long, deep trench with a flat bottom provides a perfect area to test sonar and communication technologies in an area free from outside “noise.” It has been there for 56 years. This is where the U.S. Navy conducts much of the work that guarantees its submarines remain undetectable and that we maintain maritime supremacy.
The Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center’s detachment on Andros Island’s main job is managing what amounts to giant underwater test ranges so the Navy can measure the acoustic signatures of submarines and validate those signatures before deployments. In the game of cat and mouse that is modern submarine operations if you can be heard you can be killed.
And, if you know what to listen for and can characterize the acoustic signature of American submarines you can do the killing.
The Tongue of the Ocean is a perfect place to do the kind of work the Navy does there. It is around 150 miles long, has a width of around 20 miles, and is up to 6,000 feet deep. It is shielded from noise from other parts of the ocean by Andros Island and various reefs and shoals. It is also easy to screen off from prying eyes.
Chinese commercial fishing fleets operate in large groups. Hundreds of vessels at a time swarm an area often literally stripping it clean of sea life. Within such a horde of vessels operating out of the Bahamas on a regular commercial basis, it would be child’s play to deploy a handful of vessels with the kinds of sensors and communications gear required to collect critical intelligence on American submarines as they go through their paces at AUTEC in preparation for deployment around the globe.
The information gathered from such an intelligence operation could – quite literally – change the balance of power on the globe and provide a decisive advantage to the Chinese Navy in any future engagement with the United States. For that reason, quite obviously, we ought to be intervening aggressively to prevent any further Chinese encroachment into the Bahamas.
Existing port facilities should be shut down. Discussions about future projects and anything that justifies the Chinese deployment of its thinly disguised spy ships should be turned off. Whatever combination of pressure and inducement required to make that happen with the government of the Bahamas should be employed.
It won’t be. This administration is owned by the CCP.