August 15, 2011: A year after it commissioned its first ASR (submarine support and rescue ship), China recently launched a second one. These Dalao (Type 926 Submarine Tender) class ASRs displace 9,500 tons each and have a winch aft (in the rear of the ship) that can lower a rescue capsule 300 meters (930 feet) to rescue 18 sailors at a time from a submarine. The winch can also handle a new LR7 rescue mini-sub. China is buying at least one LR7 rescue submarine from Britain. The LR7 can go down to 500 meters (1,550 feet) and stay submerged for four days. The 25 ton LR7 is an improved version of the 21 ton LR5.
The Chinese are investing more in submarine rescue because they are sending their subs to sea more often. The Chinese know that their sub crews are largely inexperienced, and that inexperienced crews have more accidents. The Chinese also accept that the only way to get experience is to send subs out a lot, and deal with the problems as they arise. The worse problems are those that involve a submarine losing power, ending up on the ocean bottom and in need of rescue before the air runs out. This is where the ASRs and their rescue equipment come in. The ASRs are also very useful in helping with repairing subs that are far at sea. In short, investing in ASRs means China is serious about building a blue water (way beyond “brown” coastal waters) submarine fleet.