China’s massive Yulin Naval Base on Hainan Island is one of the greatest strategic interests in the region. It is home to China’s nuclear ballistic missile submarine fleet—the backbone of its second-strike deterrent—as well as other submarines. It sits at the northern edge of the highly contentious South China Sea. To its east is the gateway to the open Pacific and Taiwan. The most intriguing feature of this facility is the mysterious submarine cave built into the side of a mountain that dominates the southern end of the installation. Although I have seen satellite images of the roadway barges removed from the opening, we have never seen one with a submarine actually using it, until now.
You can read all about Yulin Naval Base, its submarine cave, and the very high level of strategic interest the U.S. and allied regional players put on it in this past article of ours.
The image was taken by Planet Labs, but first appeared on Radio Free Asia’s social media channels. We were alerted to it via a post from @DRM_Long. Interestingly enough, not one other submarine is visible in the satellite image. The docks are completely empty. This also seems exceedingly rare based on our monitoring experience.
It isn’t clear exactly what type of submarine is seen in the image, but our best guess would be a Shang class/Type 093 nuclear attack submarine. The type seen is really beside the point, what’s important is that we finally get to see this James Bond-esque feature in action.
As for where all the other submarines are, we have no clue. Tensions are exceedingly high in the region and the U.S. has massively upped its presence there. Meanwhile, Taiwan has gone on elevated alert as China executes war games nearby. While some of those drills could and likely do involve submarines based at Yalin, it’s also possible that others have moved inside the mountain, as well. Why exactly remains unclear.
We will update this story as more information comes available.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com