By KEN MORIYASU, Nikkei Asia diplomatic correspondent, October 20, 2022 16:23 JST
TOKYO — Once submerged, a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine typically remains under water for 70 days. Virtually undetectable, the Ohio-class SSBN is the stealthiest submarine in the U.S. Navy fleet.
Unlike the Los Angeles-class or Virginia-class nuclear-powered fast attack submarines that carry conventional weapons and can make port visits around the world, nuclear-missile equipped SSBNs typically do not make public appearances. In the rare case that they do, it is either in U.S. waters or in the ports of America’s top ally, the U.K.
But on Thursday morning, Asia time, the U.S. Central Command tweeted that its commander, Gen. Michael Kurilla, had visited the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS West Virginia (SSBN 736) at an undisclosed location in international waters in the Arabian Sea.
The unprecedented move in the Indian Ocean region, roughly equidistant from Moscow and Beijing, had analysts contemplating who the signaling was intended for and what the message was.
The timing comes as China holds a weeklong national congress of the Chinese Communist Party, where President Xi Jinping is expected to be given an unprecedented third term as leader. At the meeting, Xi described the unification of Taiwan with mainland China as “a historic mission” of the party and threatened to use force, if necessary, to achieve it.
On Wednesday, Adm. Mike Gilday, U.S. chief of naval operations, said preparations for a Chinese naval invasion must be made immediately. Pointing to the year 2027, which retired Adm. Phillip Davidson, former commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, raised as a possible time frame for a Taiwan invasion, Gilday told the Atlantic Council, “So when we talk about the 2027 window, in my mind, that has to be a 2022 window or potentially a 2023 window. I can’t rule it out.”…..
…. The West Virginia is one of the six SSBNs stationed at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia. While the speed at which an SSBN travels underwater is classified, the month since the Putin statement could match the time it would take for the West Virginia to travel from its home base on the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. to the Arabian Sea. With the stealthy SSBN unlikely to pass through shallow chokepoints such as the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal and the Malacca Strait, the boat would have to travel around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
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