December 20, 2010

China's New Submarines and Deployment Patte

(Asian Defense) : Images and media reports about new types of submarines appearing in recent months have generated a lot of interest in China's evolving submarine force. While the magnitude of such developments remains to be seen, since much depends on the submarines' tested capabilities, these rare glimpses provide important clues about the development of China's subsurface force structure and its orientation.

The reports include the recent deployment of a new Type 093 submarine to Hainan Island in the South China Sea (The Mainichi Daily News [Japan], October 20). Whereas the development and deployment of the Chinese navy's surface fleet have been prominently displayed in unprecedented scale in recent naval exercises both in the South and East China Sea, the expansion of China's subsurface fleet appears to have been slowed in recent years. In fact, overall People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) submarine totals remained almost flat from 2007-2010 (rising from 62 to 63 boats) (The Diplomat, September 29). In this context, these reports raise interesting questions about what is known regarding the pace of investments that China has undertaken to increase stealth, missile capacity, survivability and the capability to project its submarine force both regionally and globally.

In early October, a Hong Kong-media ran a story covering a photo image of a new type of Chinese submarine that has been circulating on the web for several weeks. The submarine was developed by the state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), which is the country's largest shipbuilder. The company reportedly had double-digit growth in output, revenue and profit in 2009 despite the global recession (People's Daily Online, February 23). The image of the SSK submarine surfaced several weeks before a CSIC statement, which indicated that the company had successfully launched a 'new' conventionally powered attack submarine in early September from its shipyard in Wuhan, central China. While the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has not officially acknowledged that the 'new' ship was a stealth submarine, many military analysts believe that the submarine is such a vessel (South China Morning Post, October 3).

The South China Morning Post noted a September 1 PLA Daily article covering an award ceremony hosted by the PLAN Deputy Political Commissar Xu Jianzhong for Da Lianglong, a professor at the PLA Navy's Submarine Academy. Professor Da received an award from the Central Military Commission for his successful research on submarine stealth technology (PLA Daily, September 1; South China Morning Post, October 3).

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