At the 2016 RIMPAC naval exercises off Hawaii, the Chinese navy (PLAN) has participated alongside the navies of twenty five other countries. On July 14, the US Navy and PLAN successfully conducted the first ever submarine rescue exercise in RIMPAC history, making it a milestone in Sino-American naval relations.
American and Chinese submariners gathered on the PLAN Type 926 submarine rescue ship Changdao (the USN no longer uses submarine rescue ships, instead relying on tech carried by submarines) for the exercise, after a tabletop simulation the day before. Together, the joint team launched the LR-7 deep sea submersible.
The LR-7 can dive over 300 meters below and rescue up to 18 submariners at one time. Meanwhile, the USNS Safeguard, a US naval auxiliary ship, placed a ‘false seat’, which simulates a downed submarine, at a depth of 180 feet. The LR-7 then descended and successfully attached to the false seat. (In the event of a real life submarine wreck, the submariners could climb through the attached portholes to safety.)
By all accounts, the Changdao-Safeguard exercise was a success, both in the operation itself and the broader goal of conducting a confidence-building measure between two navies engaged in often tense relations, most notably in the South China Sea. Other Chinese naval participation in RIMPAC 2016 will include search and rescue, maritime interdiction and resupply.