A Chinese government survey ship, the Xiang Yang Hong 03, is currently operating in the Indian Ocean and carrying out a search pattern west of Sumatra, the latest satellite and open source intelligence (OSINT) has revealed.
This same vessel was last week accused of ‘running dark’, i.e., operating without broadcasting its position, in Indonesian territorial waters. China’s Xiang Yang Hong survey ships are suspected of operating underwater gliders in the Indian Ocean to map the sea bed.
“The suspicion is that, as well as conducting civilian research, these ships may be gathering information for naval planners — currents, bathymetry, salinity of the water — which are all relevant to submarine warfare,” H.I. Sutton, defence and OSINT analyst told ThePrint. He added that hydrographic data is civilian-defence agnostic, which means that it can be used for both civilian and military purposes.
“The eastern Indian Ocean is likely to be of particular interest to the Chinese Navy as they expand their submarine capabilities. The data from these surveys may help submarines navigate, or improve their chances of remaining undetected,” Sutton said.
What China could be up to
In an article published on NavalNews, Sutton wrote that some of the survey activities, nearer to Indonesia and the Andaman and Nicobar islands, could relate to finding the US Navy’s reputed ‘fish hook’ sensor networks.