Submarines: China Upgrades Training


April 20, 2007: Several years of improved training is showing off for the Chinese submarine force. Foreign navies are increasingly encountering Chinese submarines at sea, and noting that the crews of these boats seem to know what they are doing.

Until about five years ago, Chinese submarine training was simplistic and inefficient, and it showed. Back then, sub crews trained by themselves. Subs would go to sea in the morning, and return by evening. Combat training concentrated on making attacks on enemy ships, to the exclusion of practically everything else. Chinese naval commanders finally updated their submarine doctrine (several subs operating together, and emphasis on defeating enemy anti-sub methods and weapons), and realized they had to update their training as well.

Changing decades old training methods wasn't easy. A lot of officers and NCOs had to be removed to make it work. The new training keeps groups of boats at sea for several days, or longer, at a time. Crews are trained on what to expect from enemy (mainly U.S. and Taiwanese) anti-submarine forces, and how to defeat it. Coordination and cooperation is emphasized. The crews are getting more computerized simulations, so they can do a lot of this training on land, or while their boats are tied up.

However, the new training puts the boats to sea longer, and on a more sustained basis.

On the down side, only about a third of China's diesel-electric subs are up to the rigors of a heavy training schedule at sea. No problem, Chinese submarine crews are training for the future, when most of their subs will be like the few current Kilo class, or better. Meanwhile, the crews in the older, harder to maintain, boats, spend more time using the simulators, and working on their subs, getting them ready for the next training cruise.

The improved training has been noted in the media by more frequent sightings of Chinese subs at sea. This was rare until a few years ago. It's rare no longer and will be rare no more.




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