Submarines: China Returns To Golf

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August 8, 2011: China recently revealed the first of a new submarine class, which was seen moving under its own power near Shanghai. The new boat is a Type 43 Qing class SSB (ballistic missile diesel-electric submarine) and is apparently being readied for sea trials. The Qing class boats have an elongated sail, similar to that found in the Russian Golf class boats, which contain vertical silos for ballistic missiles. Russia built 23 of these 2,800 ton diesel-electric boats. Each had three launch tubes in its elongated sail. The Golfs were in service from 1958-1990, and the last of them carried the 16 ton R-21 (SS-N-5) ballistic missile, which had a max range of 1,600 kilometers and carried a single nuclear warhead. North Korea received ten decommissioned Golf class boats in 1993, to be turned into scrap.

China bought the plans for the Golf class SSBs in 1959, and built one. This boat was believed retired, but it was seen restored to service last year, apparently for testing China’s only two sub launched ballistic missiles (the Jl-1 and Jl-2). But the Chinese Golf was probably testing the missile silo design for the new Qings.

China had lots of problems with its JL (Julang) 2 SLBM (Sea Launched Ballistic Missile), and the SSBNs that carried them. The 42 ton 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 class SSBN (ballistic missile carrying nuclear subs) cruising off Hawaii or Alaska. Each 094 boat can carry twelve of these missiles, which are naval versions of the existing land based 42 ton DF-31 ICBM.

The JL-2 was supposed to have entered service three years ago, but kept failing test launches. No Chinese SSBN has ever gone on a combat cruise, because these boats have been very unreliable. The Qing class eliminates the troublesome nuclear power plant, and appears to have AIP (Air Independent Propulsion). This means a Qing could submerge west of Hawaii and approach close to the West Coast of the U.S. and fire two or three JL-1 or JL-2 missiles, or maybe not. It’s unclear what the Qing class subs are for. They might be carrying new, longer range cruise missiles. Over the next few months, more details will emerge, now that one of these new subs is in the water.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, the last of four Chinese Yuan diesel-electric submarine has appeared. The Qing boats appear to be variants of the successful Yuan design. The latest Yuan appears to be another development in China's taking Russian submarine technology and adapting it for Chinese designs. China has been doing this for as long as it has been building subs (since the 1960s). But this latest version of what appears to be the Type 41 design, shows Chinese naval engineers getting more creative. Two or more Yuans are believed to have an AIP (air independent propulsion system) that would allow them to cruise underwater for two weeks or more.

The Type 41A, or Yuan class, looks a lot like the Russian Kilo class. In the late 1990s, the Chinese began ordering Russian Kilo class subs, then one of the latest diesel-electric designs available. Russia was selling new Kilos for about $200 million each, which is about half the price of similar Western boats. The Kilos weigh 2,300 tons (surface displacement), have six torpedo tubes and a crew of 57. They are quiet, and can travel about 700 kilometers under water at a quiet speed of about five kilometers an hour. Kilos carry 18 torpedoes or SS-N-27 anti-ship missiles (with a range of 300 kilometers and launched underwater from the torpedo tubes.) The combination of quietness and cruise missiles makes Kilo very dangerous to American carriers. North Korea and Iran have also bought Kilos.

The last two Yuans appear to be an improvement on the first two. The first two Yuans appeared to be a copy of the early model Kilo (the model 877), while the second Yuan (referred to as a Type 41B) appeared to copy the late Kilos (model 636). The last two Yuans may end up being a further evolution, or Type 41C. The objective of all this evolution may be a sub that appears similar to the Russian successor to the Kilo, the Lada. The first Lada boat was finally completed in 2005. A less complex version, called the Amur, is being offered for export. The new Chinese Yuan class boat is larger than the Kilos or Ladas, but has similar external design features. It will be a while before more details can be uncovered.

Preceding the Yuans was the Type 39, or Song class. This was the first Chinese sub to have the teardrop shaped hull, and was based on the predecessor of the Kilo, the Romeo class. The Type 41 was thought to be just an improved Song, but on closer examination, especially by the Russians, it looked like a clone of the Kilos. China currently has 13 Song class, 12 Kilo class, five Yuan class, one Qing class and eight Romeo class boats. There are only five Han class and two Shang class SSNs, as the Chinese are still having a lot of problems with nuclear power in subs. This is especially the case with their four SSBNs, which have not been sent to sea on a combat cruise (loaded with nuclear missiles ready to fire).

 

 


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