Submarines: Yes, We Did It Again


October 10, 2009: During the October 1 celebrations (of 60 years of communist rule) in China, the commentary on the big military parade included some interesting tidbits. One was confirmation that China did, as many suspected, put its first Type 093 class SSN (nuclear attack sub) into service in December, 2006. Officially, that was a secret, and Chinese nuclear subs don't go to sea at much, so it's difficult to tell if new ones are actually in service,  and not just tied up at a pier for further work after launching.

The Type 093 class SSN looks a lot like the three decade old Russian Victor III class SSN design. And the subsequent Type 94 SSBN (ballistic missile carrying nuclear powered boat) 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. The first 094 entered service about a year ago.

The Type 094 SSBNs are based on the Type 093 SSN. 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 2-3 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. U.S. intelligence experts believe that China is building a class of five Type 94s.

The JL-2 SLBM (sea launched ballistic missile) carried by the 094s has a range of 8,000 kilometers, and enables 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.