Type 091 Han Class
As early as 1956, even before China had produced its first diesel boat, nuclear propulsion for submarines was adopted as a national priority by Mao himself. The daunting challenge that this entailed only became fully clear after Moscow refused Beijing's explicit request to share nuclear propulsion technology, on the grounds that it would be premature for the PLAN. Foreshadowing the imminent souring of Sino-Soviet relations, Mao reacted indignantly: "We will have to build nuclear submarines even if it takes us 10,000 years." In July 1958, the Politburo approved an ambitious plan to develop nuclear propulsion and an SLBM simultaneously.
Type 091 Han-class Nomenclature
The Han ethnic group takes its name from the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220). Although the imperial government never directly controlled the villages, it did have a strong influence on popular values and culture. The average peasant could not read and was not familiar with the details of state administration or national geography, but he was aware of belonging to a group of subcontinental scope. Being Han, even for illiterate peasants, has meant conscious identification with a glorious history and a state of immense proportions. Peasant folklore and folk religion assumed that the imperial state, with an emperor and an administrative bureaucracy, was the normal order of society. The differences among regional and linguistic subgroups of Han Chinese are at least as great as those among many European nationalities. Han Chinese speak seven or eight mutually unintelligible dialects, each of which has many local subdialects. Cultural differences (cuisine, costume, and custom) are equally great.
Han ethnic unity is the result of two ancient and culturally central Chinese institutions, one of which is the written language. Chinese is written with ideographs (sometimes called characters) that represent meanings rather than sounds, and so written Chinese does not reflect the speech of its author. The disjunction between written and spoken Chinese means that a newspaper published in Beijing can be read in Shanghai or Guangzhou, although the residents of the three cities would not understand each other's speech. The other major force contributing to Han ethnic unity has been the centralized imperial state.
Much of what came to constitute China Proper was unified for the first time in 221 BC. In that year the western frontier state of Qin, the most aggressive of the Contending States, subjugated the last of its rival states. (Qin in Wade-Giles romanization is Ch'in, from which the English China probably derived.) Once the king of Qin consolidated his power, he took the title Shi Huangdi (First Emperor). Revolts broke out as soon as the first Qin emperor died in 210 BC. After a short civil war, a new dynasty, called Han (206 B.C.- A.D. 220), emerged with its capital at Chang'an. After 200 years, Han rule was interrupted briefly (in A.D. 9-24 by Wang Mang, a reformer), and then restored for another 200 years. The Han rulers, however, were unable to adjust to what centralization had wrought: a growing population, increasing wealth and resultant financial difficulties and rivalries, and ever-more complex political institutions. Riddled with the corruption characteristic of the dynastic cycle, by A.D. 220 the Han empire collapsed.
Type 091 Han-class Design
In March 2007 Seapower Magazine published an article based on information supplied in December 2006 by the US Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), and subsequently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. According to ONI, The HAN-class SSNs, of which retirement of the lead units has already begun. are relatively noisy submarines based on 1950s and 1960s technology. Although the class has benefited from several upgrade programs, it remains limited by short range weapons and noise.
With a fully loaded displacement of 5000 tons, this class is armed with six 533mm torpedoe tubes. Given that China's first-generation nuclear submarines were developed against this backdrop, it is hardly surprising that their operational performance was considerably inferior to that of contemporary American or Russian vessels. The Han-class SSNs are noted for problems, including high internal radiation levels and an inability to fire missiles while submerged, which compromise their operational effectiveness and their wartime utility against ASW-competent adversaries. The lead boats (401 & 402?) suffered radiation problems which were thought to have been solved after extensive refit. But since the late 1990s they appeared to have become inoperational. According to some reports, as of 2000 only two of its Han-class SSNs remained operational, despite the extended re-fits to the units of this class.
From 403 onwards the hull was extended 8 meters aft of the sail. These three boats were erroneously reported to have been lengthened to accommodate tubes for six YJ-1 SSM launchers to the rear of the sail. The upgraded design was thought by some sources to include the ability to launch YJ-8 SSMs from the 533mm torpedo tube [it is unclear whether this capability has been demonstrated in practice].
Type 091 Han-class Program
The Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s dealt a major shock to the Chinese submarine force during its troubled adolescence. Due to its reliance on technically skilled personnel and foreign assistance, the Navy was much more vulnerable to this crusade against intellectuals and foreign influence than the dominant army.
The troubled nuclear propulsion program was also affected by the resulting chaos. In 1966, the lead designer for the PLAN's prospective nuclear submarines, Huang Xuhua, was tried and retried by mobs of Red Guards, who accused him of being an enemy agent; only the intervention of Premier Zhou Enlai saved him from serving a sentence raising pigs. Additionally, factional violence broke out during January 1967 at the nuclear fuel plant in Baotou, interrupting research on fuel rods for submarine reactors.
Work started on the Type 09-1 Han class nuclear powered attack submarine in the late 1950s, though the first unit was not completed until 1974. All five units of this class were deployed with the North Sea Fleet, and according to some reports they were homeported at Lushan.
Over the course of a three-day encounter that began on 27 October 1994 about 100 km west of Kyushu, Japan, a Han-class submarine shadowed the USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) battle group in the Sea of Japan.
The submarine was tracked by a US Navy S-3B ASW aircraft from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk off the Korean coast. This prompted a several [reports say two or three] Chinese J-6 fighters to intercept the "hostile" American S-3 ASW aircraft on 28 October. No communications took place between the aircraft. The submarine eventually approached within about 30-km of the Kitty Hawk, rather closer than normally envisioned by carrier battlegroup operational procedures.
Five Han's had been in the PLAN inventory since the early 1990s, though the operational status of the individual submarines tended to fluctuate as boats undergo refits. The first two submarines of the class underwent their mid-life refits in the late 1980s. 403 and 404 began their refits in 1998 and returned to service in 2000. The 405 submarine began its mid-life refit in 2000 which was believed to have been completed in 2002.
On 10 November 2004 a submarine, believed to be a Han-class nuclear powered vessel, spent two hours submerged in Japanese waters, near Taiwan. The submarine entered the Pacific Ocean region of Japan's territorial waters in the southwestern sector of Okinawa prefecture, about 400 kilometers southwest of Okinawa island. It slipped between the remote Miyako and Ishigaki islands at a speed of about 10 knots before returning to Chinese waters. It was cruising in shallow waters about 300 meters below the surface, making it relatively easy for the MSDF to locate. The incursion prompted Japan's maritime forces to go on alert for only the second time since the end of World War Two. Japan mobilized its maritime forces and chased the sub with destroyers and a patrol plane as it zigzagged submerged toward Chinese waters. Tokyo followed the fleeing intruder using its P-3C Orion aircraft and two MSDF destroyers. Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) had apparently detected the submarine several days earlier as it cruised submerged near Japan's maritime border.
On 16 November 2004 Japan said China admitted the mystery submarine was one of its own, and expressed regrets. Japan's Foreign Ministry said the message was conveyed by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei to Japanese Ambassador Koreshige Anami in Beijing. Tokyo said Beijing told it the submarine was on a training mission, and for "technical reasons," it ventured into Japanese waters. Foreign Ministry Assistant Press Secretary Akira Chiba says China's official response also contained an apology. "We take it as an official apology since the word 'sorry' was used. On the other hand, we have asked them to prevent such incidents from happening again and for that we have haven't gotten any response yet." China's Foreign Ministry was more circumspect about the matter. At a regular briefing in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue would only say that China had passed on information to Tokyo.
Japan's trade minister says he believed that a Chinese submarine was linked to gas exploration by China in a remote island area claimed by both countries. Japan, China and Taiwan all claim possession of a speck of islands called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. They are about 500 kilometers from Japan's Okinawa Island and 140 kilometers from Taiwan.
The first unit of this class  had certainly been withdrawn from service, possibly in 2000, the next newest boat  appears to have witdrawn from service soon thereafter, while the three newest boats (403, 404, and 405) remained in service in 2007. The US Department of Defense's Annual Report to Congress on The Military Power of the People's Republic of China for 2006 and 2007 reported that the PLA Navy had 5 nuclear submarines, which might be taken to mean 1 SSBN, 1 new Type 093 Shang SSN, and three Type 091 Han boats.
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