- A Vietnamese fisherman found a Chinese torpedo in Phu Yen province on December 18th 2018.
- According to China’s Defence Ministry, the weapon was only used for training purposes, without an intended target.
- The torpedo in question is Yu-6, one of the most advanced Chinese torpedoes.
- Amid the South China Sea dispute, the discovery of Yu-6 could help Vietnam counter accordingly in case of underwater warfare.
A Vietnamese fisherman, Tran Minh Thanh, found a suspiciously large cylindrical object four miles down at the bottom of the sea. It was undoubtedly an unusual catch to say the least. But little did Thanh know; he had reeled in one of the most developed and hi-tech Chinese torpedoes.
Under the supervision of border security, Thanh hauled the torpedo to the shore. As a result, many caught a glimpse of the marine weapon before the authorities could take it away for further investigation. On December 18th 2018, Vietnamese social media teemed with speculations and theories.
The photos clearly show a dark orange band just under the tip of the torpedo. This is where the warhead is usually stored in that section. However, the dark orange colour signifies a test or training round. One could only guess that one of nearly 80 Chinese submarines fired it during an exercise.
Yu-6 Torpedo: A Threat or A Mistake?
Following the unexpected discovery, China’s Defence Ministry tried to clear the air. According to CGTN, the Ministry clarified that the torpedo found in Vietnam was only for training purposes. It had no fixed target. The torpedo had gone missing in the early days of December 2018.
The Chinese Navy had lost the weapon near the eastern shore of South China’s Hainan Island. The Ministry theorized that the torpedo must have drifted to Vietnamese waters due to ocean currents. Whether it was a mistake or a subtle threat remains unknown.
The Chinese Yu-6
The torpedo pulled by the Vietnamese fisherman measured a little over 22 feet. Additionally, it had a diameter of slightly more than 21 inches. The make and model indicated that it was Yu-6 from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
Currently, very little information is publicly available about the Yu-6.
China started working on Yu-6 in 1995. However, technical issues delayed the operations frequently. Finally, after 15 years, Yu-6 was ready to wreak havoc, or at least be prepared to. The final design has a maximum range of about 30 miles and a top speed of 75 miles per hour. Moreover, the device has remote-controlled wire guidance, active and passive sonar homing, and wake homing.
It was indeed a wonder for the Chinese Armed Forces. Rightfully, in 2006, the Chief Designer Dong Chunpeng received the State Science and Technology Prize. In 2012, Yu-9, a state-of-the-art electrically powered torpedo, succeeded Yu-6.
South China Sea Dispute: A complex relationship between China and Vietnam
The South China Sea is a disputed territory. The sea holds an estimated 11 billion barrels of untapped oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Unsurprisingly, regional countries are after that black gold, with China and Vietnam being the major claimants. However, the growing tension between the two does not stop there.
Phu Yen, where the torpedo was found, is located 300 miles southwest of the Paracel Islands. The area is at the heart of a years-long conflict between the two. Also, Vietnam’s central province is less than 400 miles from Hainan Island, a place that happens to be China’s biggest naval stronghold.
The discovery of Yu-6 in Vietnamese waters could prove to be an intelligence goldmine. The country could examine and determine the range and full capabilities of the torpedo. The ability to figure out its exact location during a marine conflict could well turn the tide should be peace be broken. Every piece of information pulled from the torpedo is an added advantage for Vietnam and its allies.
China has drastically expanded its naval power over the last few years. A mix of nuclear and smaller diesel submarines stand ready to engage any enemy. With the South China Sea dispute becoming more pronounced by the day, Vietnam must hasten its military operations.
In any case, with the advent of technological warfare, plucking every piece of information from unmanned devices could become a common occurrence. It is also highly likely now that fishermen across the South China Sea will catch objects far more valuable than they could imagine.