China has built a massive new yard for building nuclear submarines. The site, near to the legacy Bohai shipyard where all of China’s nuclear submarines are currently built, is still being developed. But the main constriction halls have been complete for some time. New commercial satellite imagery, available to anyone via Google Earth, appears to show the first hull section of a new submarine.
The exact class of submarine has not yet been confirmed. But it is possibly either the first Type-095 Tang-class attack submarine (SSN) or the first Type-096 ballistic missile sub (SSBN).
The section is the tail of the submarine. This is to be expected as most submarines are assembled such that the nose (bow) comes out of the construction hall first. Witness US Navy and Royal Navy nuclear submarines for example.
The new submarine will be part of the Chinese Navy’s (PLAN) massive expansion. Nuclear powered submarines will be critical to its ambition of becoming a true blue-water Navy. New Type-095 (more properly written Type-09V) is an attack submarine which is expected to be more closely comparable to the US Navy’s Virginia-class. And the Type-096 (Type-09VI) which increase the survivability and reach of China’s at sea nuclear deterrent.
I first spotted the hull section in Sentinel-2 low-resolution commercial satellite imagery in early November 2020. That was before this high-resolution imagery became available.
The hull section is approximately 30-32 meters long and roughly 11-12 meters across. This points to the new Type-095 and Type-096 boats. The other possibility is an improved version of the current Type-093 Shang-class. This would logically be the Type-093B cruise-missile optimized version. This is expected to feature vertical launch tubes similar to the Russian Yasen-class. These will allow it to carry more YJ-18 cruise missiles.
However the approximate measurements are making the completely new classes a safer bet at this stage.
These new classes will be more advanced than the Type-093, with increased levels of stealth. The Type-095 in particular may become very relevant if the PLAN increases its prescience in the Indian Ocean.
Analysts using commercial satellite imagery, often Open Source, will be watching the submarine modules as they make their way to the construction hall. The next one should be the machinery compartment, followed by the reactor compartment. We will literally see the submarine in parts before it is assembled. However careful analysis will be needed to interpret what we are seeing.