Submarines: Chinese Boomers Googled Again

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October 7, 2007: Google earth pictures appear to show a second and third Chinese Type 094 class SSBN (Ballistic Missile Nuclear Submarines, or "boomer") being completed in a shipyard. The Google Earth satellite photos were taken last May, using commercial photo satellites. Monitoring military bases via Google Earth has become a competitive, as science and military affairs geeks seek to be the first to catch some new revelation via updated Google Earth satellite photos. Google doesn't provide a schedule for such updates. New images are put online as they become available. There may be only two Type 94s in the water, as the first one, which was undergoing sea trials earlier this year, may have returned to the ship yard for repairs or upgrades.

The Type 094 SSBNs are based on the Type 093 SSN (nuclear attack sub.) Having already sent the first two new, 7,000 ton, 093 class SSNs to sea, China was apparently underwhelmed by their performance. Not much more is expected from the 094s. 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 Type 093 and Type 094 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.

The Type 093 class SSN looks a lot like the three decade old Russian Victor III class SSN design. And the Type 94 looks like a Victor III with a missile compartment added. 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. With the first 094 undergoing sea trials, that means this SSBN could enter service next year. But only if its missiles are ready.

The 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 12 of these missiles, which are naval versions of the existing land based DF-31 ICBM.

U.S. intelligence experts believe that China is building a class of five Type 94s.

 


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