03 November 2007

China's nuclear subs, ratching up on the WEAPONS.

A picture of China’s second-generation nuclear-powered attack submarine was published online Sept. 18. Though the strategic publication in state-run media did not offer the first glimpse of the sub, the incident does offer insight into how Beijing hopes to mold perceptions of its naval power.

A picture of China’s Shang-class (Type 093) second-generation nuclear-powered attack China’s new nuke Shangsubmarine of the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) appeared in the state-run People’s Daily Online Sept. 18. Beijing is attempting to carefully manage perceptions of China’s armed forces to convey the appearance of both a nonthreatening posture and a technically capable and operationally proficient military.

One aspect of this dynamic is the slew of recent joint Chinese naval exercises internationally — with everyone from the United States and the United Kingdom to Pakistan and India. Much like China’s increasing emphasis on humanitarian and peacekeeping operations abroad, these exercises are intended to appear nonthreatening and to expand Beijing’s influence around the world.

Models and some hazy photographs of the Shang-class (Type 093) nuclear submarine were on display in an exhibition at the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution during the 80th anniversary of the founding of the PLA in late July.

Later, Modern Ships Magazine published the first clear photo of one of the submarines in August. The Type 093 nuclear submarine is China’s second generation nuclear-powered attack submarine. It will replace five first generation Han-class attack submarines (Type 091) - obsolete and tremendously noisy - that first launched between 1970 and 1990. The Type 093 submarine began construction in the mid-1990s. Two were launched in 2002 and 2003 respectively. China’s Type 093 nuclear submarine is known as the Shang-class nuclear submarine in Western countries.

{editor} Further coverage of this story comes from the Indian press where they seem to be paying a little more attention than in the US press and more than a little willing to talk up their own plans for an advanced sub fleet.

Faster, stealthier and exponentially lethal, the Shang (Type 093) class attack submarines are replacements for the first generation Han class boats that were famous for being the most noisy nuclear submarines in the world.

While China-watchers in the Indian Navy have known about the new class of submarines for the past few years - construction of the submarines began in the mid-1990s but officials say that they became fully operational only last year - these are the first set of visuals on the latest killer submarine in China’s inventory.

“As far as the navy and armed forces are concerned, we have known about them for a long time. It is no secret,” former Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash told The Indian Express.

Indian Navy officers say that till now, Chinese nuclear submarines have never been detected in the Indian Ocean region but the long-range Shang class will give People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) the capability and reach to project its presence in the area.

“Nuclear submarines are noisier than diesel submarines but trade off the handicap by having a longer range and being faster. However, the first generation of Chinese submarines were slow and noisy. It remains to be seen how they have tackled the problems,” said a senior Navy officer. China will gradually be replacing all five of its first generation Hans class nuclear submarines with the new machines.

Incidentally, the Indian Navy is also looking at inducting five indigenous ATV nuclear submarines. The first one, currently under production at Vizag, is likely to undergo sea trials by next year. Little is known about the new Shang Class but the over 6,000 tonne submarine is bigger than India’s indigenous ATV nuclear submarine that is projected to be in the 5,000 tonne category. Analysts say that outwardly, the Chinese design seems to be a cross between the Russian Victor III design and the American Los Angeles class submarines.

In contrast, the Akula II submarine being leased by India from Russia next year is in the 12,000-tonne category and a generation ahead of both the ATV and the Shang class submarines. However, the real threat will come from the Jin class of submarines being built by China. It will be capable of launching nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. The ATV, to be equipped by indigenous Sagarika submarine-launched missiles currently undergoing tests in the Bay of Bengal, will be India’s match to the Jin class, officials say.

While India is still ahead in the maritime game with greater presence and reach, analysts say that with the nuclear submarines and a new aircraft carrier currently under development, China is fast narrowing the gap and moving towards world class capabilities.

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