Wuhan is a deep water port about two hundred kilometers upriver from the mouth of the Yangze River. Wuhan Shipyard was started there seventy five years ago. But under Communist control, it has become the primary builder of China’s non-nuclear submarines. In May, on the occasion of its anniversary, it displayed a new variant of the Song class guided missile submarine, longer than the parent, which, it was said, has an Air Independent auxiliary propulsion unit. Also in May two photographs were taken of a different, rather larger submarine, also at Wuhan shipyard. It appears the new submarine is as large or slightly larger than the 244 foot long (2350 ton displacement) Kilo Project 636. The DOD disclosed that this new class of conventional submarine has the code name “Yaun.”
It had been reported in the Chinese press that China had built its own version of the Russian “Kilo” class. It was stated that the submarine had been modified, and that the Chinese variant was “better” than its Russian counterpart. Analysts discounted this report as mere propaganda. Even the publication of a model of the submarine by an aviation magazine caused no change in this view: building a model is a lot easier than building a full sized submarine. But the photographs of the submarine, launched and undergoing the usual floating fitting out process at Wuhan, has caused a reinterpretation of this report. It is clear that this submarine is nearly ready for sea and that she is, indeed, a variant of the Russian Kilo class. However, it is not an exact copy. The diving planes are on the sail, and there are other detail changes. Given the Chinese have already fitted AIP in both Ming and Song type hulls, the possibility this is an AIP variant of the Kilo should not be discounted. It also may be able to launch cruise missiles from torpedo tubes, as the Song class do. Evaluation of the model indicates it is large enough. If so, it might indeed be said to be a “better” version of the Kilo than the Russian version.
There is another implication of this development. China has barely completed taking delivery of half a dozen of the third group of Ming class, It is now building the third variant of the Song class. There are two sub groups of Kilo with eight more building for delivery in 2006 and 2007. The first 093 class SSN is expected to commission in a few weeks. The first 094 SSBN is well under construction. Now we have another sub type of Kilo nearing completion. Clearly China has decided to acquire many types of submarines, more types than any other nation. The Chinese perception that its submarines are its first line warships is reinforced by the appointment of a submarine officer as the new commander of the navy (PLAN, or People's Liberation Army Navy). And it appears that the size of the Chinese submarine force is not declining, as was widely reported. Instead it appears that in excess of eighty submarines will be available (in one state or another) for the medium term. It also appears that this force is modernizing fast, and that in waters of interest to China, it probably has a significant, and growing, operational capability.
There's been some claim that the new Chinese sub is a radical "surprise" for the U.S. Navy. Despite the charges that the Navy "didn't know" they were building it, in fact the Navy did. The "surprise" was that the boat was ready sooner than expected, but it's really hard to tell when a boat will be finished, given that they're always built under a shed. As for its capabilities, well, a lot is being said, but while the new boat seems to be different from the previous class, it's not clear that she's a major leap forward.-- Sid Trevethan