The military expansion that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is seeking military dominance in the South China Sea is flexing its muscles with military exercises using fighter jets and bombers. The CCP is also developing a network of sensors and communications capabilities or surveillance platforms between Hainan Island and the Paracel Islands in the northern part of the South China Sea.

Recent research by the CSI’s Asian Transparency Initiative indicates that the platforms are part of what the CCP calls the “Blue Ocean Information Network.” 

Military analyst H.I. Sutton said the platform network could be part of an effort by the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to control the South China Sea.

“It is unrealistic to assume that their sensor data cannot be accessed by the PLAN for military purposes. And they may be part of a much larger sensor network, most of which is unseen beneath the waves,” Sutton said in Forbes magazine.

Implementing such a platform would give the CCP a clear advantage over other countries in the region. It could monitor the movements of the U.S. Navy, said Sutton, who claims that some of the information on the project was revealed at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition in 2019.

Sutton explains that in underwater warfare these platforms, incorporating a range of sensors and communications, would be equipped with electro-optical/infrared sensor towers, high-frequency radio, and cellular masts. They also can deploy sonar to complement the PLAN’s “Underwater Great Wall” designed as a submarine monitoring system in the South China Sea.

The CCP also has a large radar dome, which could be the primary sensor. The platforms are unoccupied and rarely require maintenance.

According to Sutton, the platforms are located over Chinese waters. Some have already been deployed in international waters, considerably increasing CCP’s radar coverage in the South China Sea.

Sutton adds the CCP now has an “unbroken chain” of radars between Hainan and its bases on the Paracel and Spratly islands.

The platforms may consist of a much more extensive sensor network that would not be visible to the naked eye because it’s underwater, and referred to as the “Underwater Great Wall.”

That the CCP is planning this network of seafloor sensors is not hidden, but naturally, the technology, location, and status are a military secret, according to Sutton.

Sutton also noted that territorial disputes over the South China Sea involve claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

“China [the CCP] claims almost the entire area including many islands and reefs which are, de facto parts of other countries. The exact boundaries of the Chinese [CCP] claims are ambiguous and generally referred to as the nine-dash line. But the spirit of their claim is clear: in Beijing’s eyes the SCS belongs to China,” said Sutton.