In 1994 China bought four Russian Kilo-class diesel subs. The first vessel delivered to China arrived aboard a Chinese freighter on 27 February 1995, and all four had been delivered as of 1998. By March 2006 China fielded a total of 9 Russian-built KILO SSKs, with 3 more on order.
The first two are the standard export 877 type, which are deployed to the East Sea Fleet. The other two are the newer 636 type, with quieter propulsion. The Kilo-class submarines are the primary export class of Russian-made submarine, with other units having been sold to Iran and India. Because of its diesel-electric propulsion system it features quiet operations well suited for narrow water lanes and shallow sea areas. The submarine is equiped with radars and sonar to search for targets.
China negotiated with Russia to transfer the technology to permit Chinese construction of submarines of this class. The acquisition of Kilo attack submarines from Russia provided the PLAN with access to technology in quieting and sonar development, as well as weapons systems. China incorporated some aspects of these technologies into its new domestic Yuan-class submarine construction programs.
The Kilo-class submarine utilizes the water-drop shape and a T-shaped stern rudder. The 636 type are 72.6 meters long, and 9.9 meters wide, giving a length-breadth ratio of 7.45. They can dive to 300 meters and have a water displacement of 3,076 tons. Underwater, they have a speed of 17 knots. The personnel on board total 52, and the submarine has am endurance at sea of 45 days. It has reserve buoyancy of 32 percent, and a dual-level hull structure. It has six 533 mm torpedo tubes, 18 53-system homing or wire-guided torpedoes, 24 AM-1 underwater mines or eight SA-N-5 "Arrow" standby anti-aircraft missiles. It has passive infra-red guidance and is equipped with boat hull active/passive search sonar and active attack sonar.
The 877EKM-type submarines are 73.8 meters long. The main engine is equipped with a shock-absorbing base and drives a large single-shaft, slanted seven-blade propeller (the 877- type has a six-blade propeller). The submarine's hull is covered with sound damping tiles, further reducing noise. It is equipped with six modified SA-N-8 "Needle"-model anti-aircraft missiles, and an MVU-110EM automatic digital command and control system. It can track five targets concurrently, and this class of submarine is generally considered to be extremely quiet.
The Kilo class submarines are a significant improvement over the Romeo class, of which the PRC has about 30 in service. The Kilo class is well suited for operations in the East Sea and South Sea, and it will remain one of China's main conventional submarines. Reportedly, however, the two Kilo submarines have engaged in only limited sea operations due to engine problems. When their crews are fully trained, these new diesel submarines will provide a substantial improvement in China's attack submarine capability. They will enhance China's capability to interdict commercial or naval shipping, and hence to deny sea control to potentially hostile forces operating in China's coastal seas.
Because China has access to the entire family of Russian CLUB missiles, the new KILO submarines that began arriving in 2005 could have the 300km-range 3M-14 land attack cruise missile (LACM), the 220km-range 3M-54E anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM), and the 91RE1 rocket. This is an extremely lethal weapons suite that allows the KILO to support a number of PLA campaign requirements.
In the beginning of March 1995, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported that China had agreed to buy six more submarines from Russia, and had held discussions with the Russians to buy another 12 Russian submarines, bringing the total purchase to 22 submarines. But in view of the price of these submarines, it was doubtful the Chinese Navy can afford to buy that many.
On 28 June 2000 a delegation of the Zvezda dockyard has returned from talks in China. The talks with the Chinese navy reached an agreement on the terms and conditions of medium repair of the Russian-built Varshavyanka class submarine, known by the NATO designation of Kilo. The contract details are not disclosed. The Chinese submarine was to enter Russian docks already in autumn 2000.
No further developments had been reported for the possible local construction of an additional 6 Kilo class subs, but instead Russia offered to supply an additional 2-3 units. As of early 2001 negotiations were making no visible progress, though the Chinese navy was reportedly planning to buy as many as eight more of the vessels.
By mid-2002 it appeared that China was having problems maintaining the Kilo-class submarines, although planning to buy more. Two of the four submarines were apparently taken out of service in 2000 after developing battery problems, and may have been returned to Russia for repairs.
In the summer of 2002, the PLAN finalized a contract with Russia for the construction of eight Project 636 KILO SS submarines equipped with the 3M-54E Novator Alpha ASCM. This $1.6 billion agreement to take delivery of 636 Kilo submarines fitted with the Klub-S antiship cruise missile system [its 300 kilometer range comparable to a carrier battle group's defense radius] would move the PLAN's projection capabilities well beyond what its troubled Song (Type 039) program promised alone. The first delivery was scheduled for 2005-07, and all eight submarines were scheduled to be delivered to the PLAN before 2010.
Five of the submarines in the 2002 order were built at the St Petersburg-based Admiralteyskie Verfi shipbuilding plant, which had recently finished repairing two Project 877EKM submarines for the Indian Navy. The construction of two diesel-electric submarines for the Chinese navy began in St Petersburg at the state enterprise Admiralteyskiye Verfi [Admiralty Wharf] in 21 October 2002. The cost of the two submarines came to about 400m dollars. The two submarines built under this new program were launched in 2004 - the first vessel was launched in June 2004. The signing of the acceptance certificate on completion of work on the second Kilo class project 636 submarine built to an order from China took place at Admiralteyskiye Verfi Federal State Unitary Enterprise [FSUE] (St Petersburg) on 05 May 2005. By late 2005 these two new Kilo-class fleet attack submarines were ready to be sent from the St. Petersburg Admiralty Shipyard to China. By October 2005 two new Kilo-class submarines were on ships sailing from a St. Petersburg shipyard to China, joining four already delivered. The third diesel-electric submarine for China's navy was launched in St Petersburg on 26 August 2005. It was built at the Admiralty Shipyard as part of the Russian-Chinese contract, concluded in 2002. On 01 June 2006 the Admiralteyskiye Verfi [Admiralty Shipyard] federal state unitary enterprise handed over a diesel-electric submarine of the Varshavyanka 636 project to the Chinese navy. This was Admiralty Shipyard's last submarine to be sent to China. The first submarine was transferred to China in 2004. Overall, the shipyard built five submarines for China under the 2002 contract.
On 15 January 2003 the Sevmashpredpriyatiye [Northern Machines Plant] production association located in Severodvinsk (Arkhangelsk Region) started to build two Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines for the Chinese navy. Having completed preparations, the plant launched the construction of two submarine hulls. The hulls were built simultaneously. The first of multipurpose diesel-electric submarines (DESM) which was being built at the Sevmashpredpriyatiye yard on China's order was taken out of the construction shop to the slip dock on 21 May 2005. After the sub was taken to the slip dock outfitting work would start. First dockside trials were scheduled for the summer of 2005. By November 2005 preparations for two Project 636 diesel-electric submarines to be handed over to the Chinese navy were near completion at Sevmashpredpriyatiye. The submarines were expected to leave for their home port yet on December 25, 2005, but the floating dock arrived for them only in mid- January 2006. On 24 January 2006 a special transport dock for ship loading and transportation arrived at the sea area adjacent to the Sevmashpredpriyatie shipyard. Two diesel-electric submarines, built by the Sevmashpredpriyatie production association for the Chinese Navy under a contract with the Rosoboronexport state-owned arms trader, were loaded and send off for their home port on 05 June 2006. The Eide Transporter floating dock, owned by a Norwegian shipping company, arrived at the association on 20 May 2006, and the loading of the submarine ended on 30 May 2006. It took a few days to prepare the ship for putting out to sea with the submarines aboard. Control over the work involved specialists of the Rubin central naval hardware design bureau, which developed the subs.
When the 2002 contract was signed, the Krasnoye Sormovo yard in Nizhniy Novgorod already had a hull nearly two-thirds completed, which was the first ready for the installation of equipment and weapons. On 17 May 2004 the Krasnoye Sormovo plant launched a diesel submarine built for the Chinese navy. The submarine now awaits additional equipment and running tests in the northern seas, as well as delivery to and acceptance by Chinese military representatives. On 05 August 2005 a state acceptance certificate was signed in St Petersburg for a diesel-powered Kilo (Varshavyanka) class submarine built for China at the Krasnoye Sormovo shipyard in Nizhniy Novgorod. Chinese experts came to Russia in mid-August 2005 and spent a month and a half carrying out acceptance inspections.
Many of the milestones for the delivery of the second batch of eight submarines are poorly attested, and there are a variety of conflicting accounts and dates. By 2007, all eight submarines had been delivered from Russia to China.
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