The Chinese Navy’s (PLAN) latest submarine, which was only commissioned in July, is based in their East Sea Fleet. This fleet faces off against Taiwan in a direct sense, being responsible for that area of operations.
The new boat represents the cutting edge of Chinese non-nuclear submarines.
The submarine, which was first reported by Naval News in May 2021, is a new variant of the Type-039A Yuan Class. It’s exact designation is not known (China does not feel the need to tell us!), but Western analysts believe that it is the Type-039C or -D. We know that it was built in Wuhan, and sailed to Shanghai for fitting out. It has now been commissioned as an operational boat, just over a year after launch. This is very fast for a new class of submarine.
The New Submarine
The new submarine features a distinctive faceted sail. This has a chine running along its length, like a stealth plane. It is reminiscent of the Swedish A-26 design, but it is not a direct copy. Possibly this is to reduce its radar signature while running on the surface.
There has been speculation that the sail may house a vertical launch system (VLS) for powerful new missiles. This is unlikely however as it is, overall, the same size as earlier Yuan class boats. The submarine can likely carry the same torpedoes and YJ-18 supersonic anti-ship missiles of the earlier boats.
The submarine also features a towed array sonar, which runs out through the upper rudder. This may be a significant improvement over the existing Yuans.
It’s propulsion almost certainly includes a form of AIP (air independent power). AIP allows submarines to cruise for longer periods before having to snorkel to run its diesel engines, which are needed to recharge its batteries. AIP does not make it similar to a nuclear boat, but they do make it more survivable than non-AIP boats.
The Chinese Navy (PLAN) already has the largest fleet of AIP submarines.
The commissioning ceremony was in Ningbo where the PLAN’s East Sea Fleet has its headquarters. NavalNews understands that the submarine is based at Daxie Dao Submarine Base, alongside older Yuan Class boats. This base is protected by a rocky archipelago and is near to several naval bases.
This places it directly opposing the Taiwanese Navy. The East Sea Fleet submarine bases are north of the main Taiwanese Island, about 500 km (310 miles) south. It also faces off against Japan’s island chain which act as a natural barrier to the open Pacific. China is increasingly operating east of this.
Taiwan, in comparison, has just four submarines. Two of these are World War Two vintage ex-US Navy fleet submarines. These have been modernized, first by America in the 1950s, and again for Taiwan. But they still represent the world’s oldest operational submarines. They are, as platforms, out matched by the Chinese submarines.
The other two Taiwanese submarines are much more modern, but still dated today. Designed in the 1960s, two Dutch Zwaardvis class boats were ordered, as the Hai Lung class, in the 1980s. Still considered relatively capable, these lack the AIP of the latest Chinese submarines.
Four submarines, however good they are, can easily be considered too few. Especially as the Chinese Navy increasingly operates assertively on both coasts of the island. But effective political pressure from China, over decades, has inhibited Taiwan from purchasing more submarines. Now finally Taiwan ius turning to an indigenous solution.
The new Taiwanese submarines will be home-built. The first Indigenous Defense Submarine (IDS) is already under construction. It is being assembled very quickly and could, if reports are correct, be launched in the coming months. The new boat is expected to be very similar to the Hai Lung class.
Overall China retains a numerical and technological edge in submarines. The addition of this new design adds to this, showing that China is continuing to evolve and improve its non-nuclear boats.