New satellite images of a secret underground submarine base built by the Chinese and capable of hiding up to 20 nuclear submarines further stresses the need for the United States to get serious about China’s modernizing naval capabilities.

Since the end of the Cold War China has built or acquired 30 submarines, consisting of up to five various classes. DoD estimates that by 2010 the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will already have acquired five of the sophisticated, indigenously-built, Jin-class (Type-094) SSBNs.

China considers submarines to be a critical element in their two-pronged strategy to project power beyond their coastal waters while also acquiring the necessary capabilities to challenge the U.S. military through strategies that seek to deny its naval and air forces access to the Taiwan strait. The scope of this buildup is unprecedented in modern naval history and its geostrategic effect is already being felt by both the U.S Navy and China’s regional neighbors.

But several recent events indicate that the U.S. is finally responding to China’s submarine buildup in a serious manner. Yesterday, the House Armed Service Committee passed the FY 09 National Defense Authorization Act, adding a much needed boost to the submarine budget that will add advanced procurement funding for two Virginia-class attack submarines, one built in 2010 and the second in 2011. The decision will essentially move the Navy towards a 2-1-2 plan, allowing them to build and deploy one new submarine every 6 months – a strategy deemed necessary by Heritage Foundation defense analyst Baker Spring.

Additionally, the U.S. Navy moved a stepped closer to modernizing its anti-submarine capabilities with the news of a successful test of the MK54 “Fish Hawk” torpedo. Unlike conventional torpedoes, the Fish Hawk is being designed as a high-altitude deployable weapon that can be dropped from submarine-hunting aircraft at 15,000 feet and glided to a small target area further out to sea. While the Fish Hawk will work with the aging P-3 Orion, the Navy has envisioned it as part of the upcoming P-8 Poseidon fleet, the next-generation of long-range anti-submarine aircraft. The 108 P-8s scheduled to be built will be a much needed upgrade to the P-3, which Adm. Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, calls “tired iron.”