A nuclear-powered Type 094A Jin-class ballistic missile submarine of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is seen during a military display in the South China Sea April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Deepening Chinese activities in the Arctic region could pave the way for a strengthened military presence, including the deployment of submarines to act as deterrents against nuclear attack, the Pentagon said in a report released on Thursday.

The assessment is included in the U.S. military's annual report to Congress on China's armed forces and follows Beijing's publication of its first official Arctic policy white paper in June.

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A nuclear-powered Type 094A Jin-class ballistic missile submarine of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is seen during a military display in the South China Sea April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Recent visitors to the bay surrounding a submarine base on the southern coast of China's Hainan Island describe a curious nocturnal phenomenon. Powerful spotlights are sometimes trained directly on the ocean frontages of neighboring hotels at night, making visibility out to sea virtually impossible. Some of the lights are mounted on land and others on passing naval patrol boats.

"The effect is incredible," said one recent visitor. "The glare is so great you can hardly stand it on the balcony. You go inside and draw the curtains tight."

The blinding lights cannot obscure something of intense interest to the world's military intelligence agencies: evidence that China has made a breakthrough in its drive to rival America and Russia as a nuclear arms power.

Satellite imagery reveals the regular presence of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines at the strategic base near the resort city of Sanya. Specialized surface warships and aircraft designed to protect the subs are prowling key waterways off the coast. Facilities at the base appear to have been built to store and load ballistic missiles. Antenna arrays that support the hunt for foreign submarines have appeared on Chinese-held islands in the hotly contested South China Sea. And a veteran submariner has been appointed to command Chinese forces in the south of the country.

Taken together, this means China has a force of missile submarines that can launch nuclear attacks from beneath the waves and now appear to be heading out on patrols, according to serving and retired naval officers, diplomats and security analysts. That gives Beijing something it has until recently lacked: a more reliable "second strike" capability if its land-based nuclear arsenal comes under attack.

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The NSWCCD Acoustic Research Detachment (ARD) is located on Lake Pend Oreille, which is Idaho's largest, deepest (1,150 feet), and quietest body of water providing an ideal environment for acoustic testing without the attendant problems and costs of open ocean operations (U.S. Navy)

An investigation is underway to determine why a barge capsized two months ago at the U.S. Navy's stealth submarine research facility at Lake Pend Oreille in North Idaho.

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The Navy is bulking up its fleet of autonomous robot vessels with the purchase of a cadre of four of Boeing's extremely large and incredibly grandiose unmanned Orca submarines.

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A video screen grab shows the USS South Dakota (SSN 790) at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Conn., on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, during it's commissioning ceremony. The ship is the Navy's newest fast attack submarine. (U.S. Navy video)

Ninety-two-year-old World War II veteran Richard "Dick" Hackley handed over the watch Saturday to Lt. Ben McFarland, a sailor assigned to the Navy's newest submarine.

Hackley served as a radar operator on the USS South Dakota (BB 57), among the most decorated battleships of the war.

McFarland, known as a plank owner, is among the first to serve on the fast-attack submarine USS South Dakota (SSN 790), which was commissioned at the Naval Submarine Base before a crowd of about 1,400 people. Another 800 watched on a screen from nearby Dealey Center on base.

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A 132-foot robot warship that arrived at Pearl Harbor for testing as a submarine hunter is “creating a new paradigm for Navy surface forces,” the U.S. Pacific Fleet said.

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