Having got its first two new, 7,000 ton, 093 class SSNs (nuclear
attack subs) to sea, China is apparently underwhelmed by their performance. The
093s are too noisy, and have a long list of more minor defects as well. This
may mean only two 093s will be built, while more resources will be diverted to
the next SSN class; the 095. The 093 and 094 (the new SSBN, carrying ballistic
missiles) were both over a decade in development and construction. Work began
on the 094 class in the 1990s. For years, all that was known was that the
Chinese were having technical problems with the new design. The 094 is a modern
SSBN, using technology bought from Russia, plus what was developed by the
Chinese in their earlier nuclear submarine building efforts. The Chinese have
had a hard time building reliable nuclear subs, but they are determined to acquire
the needed skills. You do that by doing it, and eating your mistakes.
094 is similar to the 093 class SSN, which looks a lot like the three decade
old Russian Victor III class SSN design. Taking a SSN design and adding extra
compartments to hold the ballistic missiles is an old trick, pioneered by the
United States in the 1950s to produce the first SSBNs. The Chinese appear to
have done the same thing with their new SSN, creating a larger SSBN boat of
9,000 tons displacement. Priority was apparently given to construction of the
094, as having nuclear missiles able to reach the United States gives China
more diplomatic clout than some new SSNs.
JL-2 ballistic missile for the 094 is still in development, even though the
first 094 class SSBN to carry it was launched two years ago. The JL-2 has a
range of 8,000 kilometers, and would enable China to aim missiles at any target
in the United States from a 094 sub cruising off Hawaii or Alaska. Each 094
boat will carry 16 of these missiles, which are naval versions of the existing
land based DF-31 ICBM.
first 094 boat should be ready for service in two years, or less. It all
depends on how soon the JL-2 missiles are ready for deployment. Things can go
wrong with these new missiles, as the Russians learned with their latest SSBN
design. The planned Russian missile did not work, and a new one, based on a
successful land based ICBM (the Topol series) was used instead. But this
required rebuilding of the new subs missile tubes, thus delaying the new subs
construction. If the Chinese are lucky, they will have two or three 094s in
service by the end of the decade, and as many 093 SSNs as well.
095 class SSNs are still in the design stage, and Russia is apparently offering
some excellent SSN technology, at a price. China is still learning when it
comes to building nuclear subs, so they may be forced to pay the Russians what
they want, if the 095 is to be ready for service in the next decade.