In yet another show of expansionism likely to add uncertainties over regional security issues, China is eyeing deep-sea exploration in the Marianas Trench with plans to develop two deepsea manned submersibles able to reach a depth of 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) by 2020.
According to an article published in the January issue of the Maritime Executive magazine, China's deepsea manned submersible Jiaolong , which set a record by diving to a depth of 7,062 meters during tests in the Mariana Trench in June 2012, will officially begin operation this year.
“China also plans to develop other high-tech devices for deep-sea exploration and mining,” the Maritime Executive reported.
China has expanded its international seabed mining area to 86,000 square kilometers (33,000 square miles) over the last five years, according to China’s Ministry of Land and Resources.
The South China Morning Post reported that Chinese scientists broke two world records at the Mariana Trench last year by becoming the first country to collect the artificial seismic stratigraphy of the Challenger Deep, the deepest section of the trench. It also reported that China set a new world diving record for underwater gliders at 6,329 meters (20,764 feet) with Hai Yi, a glider designed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
In 2012, film director and deep-sea explorer James Cameron descended to the bottom of Challenger Deep, briefly reaching 35,756 feet (10,898 m) during the expedition.
The Chinese scientists reportedly sampled snailfish in the Yap Trench at a depth of 7,884 meters (25,866 feet), a record depth for China for sampling fish, according to the Maritime Executive.
During a conference on underwater science in Hong Kong last year, Liu Xincheng, chief adviser to the deep-sea science and engineering institute at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said China was still more focused on developing the technology to find natural resources than on scientific research as the country relied on foreign imports for most of its energy needs.
He added that the Jialong needed to go further if it was to make any major scientific discoveries.
“The technology required to develop equipment needed for deep-sea exploration is even more advanced than that needed for outer space because of the pressure – an area as small as the size of a fingernail needs to be able to withstand the weight of 700 kilograms,” the South China Morning Post quoted Liu as saying.
China’s latest efforts to accelerate collection of deep-sea data for its submarine fleet operation, coincided with President Donald Trump’s reported approval of a plan for the U.S. Navy to carry out patrols in the South China Sea.
Last week, the Navy announced Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Dewey (DDG 105) and USS Sterett (DDG 104) departed their homeport of Naval Base San Diego for a scheduled deployment to conduct operations in the Indo-Pacific Region. Dewey and Sterett are scheduled to support the Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group deployment in order to advance U.S. Pacific Fleet's Up-Gunned ESG concept. Wasp, now forward-deployed to Sasebo, Japan, has the capability to land and launch the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, a key element to the Up-Gunned ESG concept. "The Dewey crew is prepared, committed and ready to execute all tasks," said Cmdr. Anthony L. Webber, Dewey commanding officer. "We look forward to another deployment and safe return home to our love ones." Surface ships like Dewey and Sterett enhance an amphibious force's ability to conduct its primary mission of ship-to-shore movement in the littorals, particularly in a contested environment. Dewey and Sterett possess important sensors and weapons to detect and neutralize undersea, surface and air threats that are vital to protecting the amphibious force.
The Marianas Trench, situated within Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, was designated as a U.S. national monument in 2009. While it was among the 27 national monuments initially recommended for sanctuary designation recall, the Marianas Trench National Monument survived the chopping block.
However, is also among the five being considered for possible exploration under Trump’s “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.”
As part of Trump’s plan to unlock the nation’s energy reserves in a bid to cut reliance on foreign oil, the strategy will make millions of acres of federal waters eligible for oil and gas leasing.
Locked away under the deep beds of the Marianas Trench are methane hydrates, a potential energy source. According to scientists, it’s one of the few areas where organisms can convert light energy and carbon molecules into chemical energy.