Submarines: March 11, 2003

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Although most of the media attention the Chinese navy gets concentrates on surface ships and possible aircraft carriers, the Chinese are making their most serious reform efforts with their submarine force. China has about 70 subs in service, but most of them are 1960s era Russian Romeo class, or improved versions. All of these were built in China, but the Romeo itself is copied from late World War II German submarine technology. Good stuff half a century ago, but a bit dated today. However, the biggest problem the Chinese always had with subs was the low quality of the crews. Most of the sailors were conscripts, and few were willing to stay in the navy and make it a career. As a result, most of the subs only went to sea a few weeks, or a few days, a year. The subs were not in the best shape, and the crews so inexperienced that to go to sea more often would just risk losing boats to accidents. There was lots of training and drills aboard the subs sitting at pier side. The idea was that the crews would be skilled enough, if it came to a war, to go to sea and maybe get lucky, or least tie up American or Taiwanese anti-sub forces for a while. Noting the huge combat advantage professional sailors (like those in the U.S. Navy) possess, the Chinese have been trying to train more competent crews, while obtaining better subs. A dozen modern Kilo class subs have been bought from Russia. But more importantly, pay and living conditions have been increased for petty officers, making it more attractive for the brighter draftee sailors to choose a career in the navy. Although the Chinese economy is booming, there are still over a hundred million unemployed, many of them young men from the less developed interior provinces. Offer these lads enough incentives and you have the makings of professional submarine sailors. But that's only going to happen if the subs can spend more time at sea. So more money is being spent on maintenance for those subs that are in the best condition. These boats are going to sea more frequently and their crews are becoming more capable. New weapons are being bought as well, particularly Russian wake-homing and high speed (100 meters a second) Skval torpedoes. The newer subs are also equipped with a fire control system that allows the use of anti-ship missiles launched from torpedo tubes. If the Chinese keep this up, by the end of the decade, they will have several dozen very lethal Russian Kilo class diesel-electric subs. 

 


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