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Home / Health / The "NYC-sized earthquake warning system" sounds more like a way of talking to submarines

The "NYC-sized earthquake warning system" sounds more like a way of talking to submarines

China has allegedly built a New York City extremely low frequency (ELF) antenna array and a smaller system and related data processing and signaling equipment at various locations across the country. Officially, the entire system, known as the Project Wireless Electromagnetic Method or Project WEM, will support the Chinese raw materials extraction industry and alert them to possible earthquakes early on. However, there is significant evidence that its primary function is actually to provide remote communication with Chinese submarines, a crucial capability to support the growing number of nuclear-armed ballistic missile boats
presented the update for the WEM project on December 31

, 2018. Antenna arrays and other sites have been in development for more than ten years. The program was a major component of China's 11th Five-Year Plan, which began in 2006. China, however, was particularly secretive about the project and has not officially announced the location of the main array. The available information indicates that most of the WEM project is located in the central Huazhong region of the country, according to Post .

. ELF radio waves have been proven to penetrate deep under water and into the ground. In principle, this means that a huge array of antennas could be useful for detecting natural resources such as precious metals or fossil fuels in the subsurface. Mining companies are already using ground-based radar and laser imaging systems for similar purposes.

It is also possible to use such a system for monitoring movements under the earth's surface. This, in turn, could provide the first indications of imminent earthquakes that are not uncommon in many regions of the country. The deadliest known earthquake ever occurred in China in the 16th century, killing between 820,000 and 830,000 people, according to the Ming Dynasty.

AP Photo / Mark Schiefelbein

A worker in a Chinese coal mine in Inner Mongolia. 19659007] There are very real scholarships in both civilian roles for applying for ELF, and Chinese researchers have published papers on these topics. The financing of the project WEM also came from state budgets for civil projects, [19459006Post] .

At the same time, however, there is significant information suggesting that civil applications could be of minor importance to the WEM Chinese government. The ability of ELF radio waves to penetrate hundreds of meters of water has long made them attractive to communicate with submerged submarines.

By comparison, very low frequency (VLF) waves can only reach about 100 feet, preferably underwater. This means that submarines must come relatively close to the surface or use a towed antenna to use these types of communication systems. There is a risk that this could give away their position and make them susceptible to attacking submarine defenses.


A US Navy map showing various options for submarine communication and their relative risk. The "bells" symbol for VLF / ELF "stealth" transmissions indicates that these are disposable ringtones, which are typically used to alert a submarine that it needs to find a safe place to get closer to get to the surface for additional information.

One of the key benefits of modern submarines, particularly nuclear-powered boat types and boats with advanced, non-nuclear, air-independent propulsion systems, is their ability to remain hidden underwater for a long time. This gives them inherent deterrent properties. As a result, they are also well-suited to gather covert information or, in the case of conventional land attacks or nuclear missiles, to make submarines armed with submarines beat short or unnoticed in times of crisis.

That's it It's not necessarily surprising that the Chinese Research Institute 724, part of China's state-owned Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), is a major communications and other electronics supplier to the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) for the project WEM responsible. Lu Jianxun, the project's chief scientist, is also publicly involved in the advanced communication work for the PLAN, reported .

Qiao Tianfu / Color China Photo / AP

A Chinese Type 091 attacked submarine.

CSIC President Hu Wenmin visited the site in May 2017. He thanked "for the construction of the WEM project and submitted comments and requirements for the further development of the project and the technical application of related fields," said a subsequent statement the company.

The Post also published a translated map showing the various components of the Project WEM system that came from the PLAN. In addition to the huge concentration in central China, the South China Sea is reportedly also near the coast of the district, which would make it relatively close to the country's submarine base on Hainan Island.

PLAN on the South China Morning Post (19459005)

A map that reportedly shows the general location about the various components of the WEM project.

"Although I'm involved in the project, I have no idea where it is. It should now be operational, "Chen Xiaobin, a researcher at the Institute of Geology of China Earthquake Administration, told Post pointing to a level of security around the project that would seem too high for its declared civilian Aims. "This facility will have important military purposes in the event of an outbreak of war."

Unfortunately, ELF systems are known to be inefficient and require large locations in very specific locations to provide reasonable communication capabilities. They are also limited in the amount of information they can transport and how quickly they can be sent out, with only text messages transmitted extremely slowly. Since submarines do not have enough space for their own ELF transmitters, these one-way warnings often only require the crew of the boat to be safely in position to receive up-to-date instructions.

Only three other countries – the United States, Russia, and India – have or had ELF submarine communications locations. The US Navy officially closed the last of their arrays in 2004 because they were outdated due to improvements in very low-frequency communication systems (VLFs). The Navy's fleet of 16 E-6B Mercury strategic communications aircraft and ground-based VLF stations are currently the US military's main means of communication for deploying submarines.


An image of the main building of the ELF's Clam Lake ELF transmission system of the US Navy in 1982.

The US military still uses VLF waves to deliver so-called "Emergency Action Messages" to send the nuclear strike process, which you can read more about here. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), including the Pentagon's top research and development arm, has explored the potential for further enhanced laser and space-based communication options.

For China, this is one of the largest U-boat forces on the planet, the ability to communicate with these boats without them having to emerge or almost appear is an essential skill. China had previously built a super-low-frequency (SLF) array in 2009 and demonstrated the initial ability to communicate over long distances with submarines underwater.

ELF provides an additional way to alert at least one submerged boat to new orders or other information they need to receive. It also provides an extremely wide-ranging communication capability that will benefit the PLAN as it continues to work to grow from a regional force to a global one. More importantly, however, the WEM project could be vital to the Chinese government's development of nuclear-armed anti-sub missile missile rockets (SLBMs).

In this case, the ability of submarines of ballistic missiles, or SSBNs, to stay afloat for long periods of time is crucial to protect them from discovery and attack and to ensure that they can carry out their mission if necessary.

Currently The Chinese military is not near the nuclear command and control infrastructure that the United States has in the air and on the ground. One or more large ELF arrays would be a cost effective means of expanding in the short term the communication capabilities of the country's SSBN power, which is increasing in size and scope.

Information that points to China's submarine was identified in 2018. Nuclear deterrence is far more mature than publicly understood. In November 2018, one of the 094 PLAN Jin Planetary Balloons submarines allegedly made the first test flight of JL-3 solid fuel ballistic missiles, which have an estimated range of close to 5,600 miles. The existing JL-2 can only reach targets at a distance of 4,350 miles.

In the same month, satellite imagery showed that the PLAN has four operational Type 094s and two more are under construction. China has not publicly acknowledged how many Jin class boats have or expects to produce.

China's [China's] Jin SSBNs represent China's first credible nuclear deterrent from the sea, "the US military said in its 2018 issue of its annual China Military Power report. "China's Type 096 next-generation SSBN, which is supposed to be armed with the successor JL-3 SLBM, is likely to begin construction in the early 2020s."

For all the advanced Chinese submarine deterrents to be credible, it An increasing amount of communication and command and control architecture will be required. The schedule of the WEM project, which started in the same year as the first type 094 appeared in public satellite imagery, fits in well with the developments one would expect. Placing the main draw in central China also makes it harder for opponents to focus on the goal in a crisis.

It remains to be seen if China will continue ELF communications in the long run or eventually give up as United States have opted for other options. Project WEM that the country is ready to make significant investments in technology to improve its ability to communicate with and control the large and growing submarine forces.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

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