Deaths of Top Shipbuilding Experts at Chinese State-Owned Firm Said to Put Future Military Development at Risk

August 28, 2018 Updated: August 29, 2018

The deaths of three shipbuilding researchers, who drowned while trying to save an experimental floating platform that was being battered by Typhoon Rumbia, have revealed defects in the Chinese Communist Party’s military plans and might affect the future development of Chinese aircraft carriers or nuclear submarines, military experts say.

The three late experts—Huang Qun, Song Yuecai, and Jiang Kaibin—worked for the state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corp. (CSIC), which often does business with the Chinese military. CSIC is China largest conglomerate in designing, manufacturing, and trading of military and civilian ships, marine engineering, and marine equipment.

The three were leaders at CSIC’s 760 Research Institute, based in Dalian, a coastal city in northeastern China’s Liaoning Province.

On Aug. 20, Rumbia caused strong winds and huge waves in the Dalian harbor, leaving an important experimental platform by the 760 Institute at risk of collapsing or being overturned. State media reported that the platform was being used for scientific research and important core technologies within China’s shipbuilding industry—but weren’t more specific.

To protect the platform, the three experts and nine other staff members attempted to fix cables that had been loosened by high waves. Due to storm conditions, seven of them fell into the water. Four were successfully rescued, but the three experts were swept out to sea.

All three were key engineers. Huang, 51, researched weapons and equipment models. Song, 61, was head of the experimental platform project and was an expert in submarines. Jiang, 61, was in charge of the platform’s electromechanical system and had worked in electromechanical engineering for over 30 years.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping lamented their deaths in an Aug. 26 statement, indicating how important these researchers’ work was.

Li Cheng-hsiu, a military expert at the think tank Taiwan National Policy Foundation told Radio Free Asia in an Aug. 24 interview that because the typhoon was forecasted, the CSIC should have known that the conditions weren’t suitable. “You can predict how strong the gusts will be, how serious the impact of the waves are,” he said. “It’s negligence on the part of the company.”

Mysterious Project

Li thinks that the platform is associated with China’s first domestic-made aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, so the death of these three experts has made the future of aircraft carrier development uncertain.

“It’s very difficult to train an expert,” said Li.

According to Chinese state media, the CSIC Dalian shipyard built the Type 001A; the 760 Institute’s experimental platform is located inside a private dock within the same shipyard.

This past May, the Type 001A completed its first sea trial, with a second sea trial, which began Aug. 26, focusing on communication, GPS, and its electromechanical system. The military will then test its radar and weapons. The projected service launch date is 2020.

Meanwhile, Huang Dong, a Macau military researcher, told Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily that he thinks the platform is developing a new nuclear submarine.

China has kept the research details of the 760 Institute top secret. All Chinese state-owned research institutes with a number that begins with 7 are working on military ships. Their businesses are confidential.

China has two nuclear submarines under construction at CSIC’s Bohai shipyard, located in Huludao, another city in Liaoning Province, according to satellite images.