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Submarine building under the country's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) may have paused before the end of the plan, with construction slated to resume under the country's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25). Correlation with the Five Year planning cycle is tenuous, since planning covers inputs such as the start of production with greater fidelity than it can predict outcomes, such as a boat entering service.
The world's largest nuclear submarine factory will provide a great leap forward in China's nuclear submarine construction ability. This plant was completed in 2017, meaning that from 2017 onwards, the Chinese Navy had the potential to accelerate its own nuclear submarine construction program and production speed. The plant, which is specially prepared for the new production of nuclear submarines is about two nuclear submarines in length, and has three parallel construciton bays. From the length and breadth, it can accommodate a total of six SSN or SSBN nuclear submarines. Nuclear submarine construction sequence at the plant is first completed module are built, then sectional construction takes place, with sections finally entering the Assembly hall. The plant seems designed to produce at least three boats per year, and possibly as many as six boats per year. Presumably these would be next-generation Type 095 attack submarines and Type 096 ballistic missile submarines.
As of 2005, there were three shipyards involved in building submarines for the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), Bohai, Wuchang, and Jiangnan. The Bohai yard is involved with the construction of all nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs and SSBNs) while Wuchang and Jiangnan produce conventional-powered (diesel) submarines (SS).
By 2006 China was building modern diesel SS Type 039 Song at an average rate of 2 per/year, according to Vice Admiral Albert H. Konetzni, Jr. USN (Retired), former Deputy Commander and Chief of Fleet Forces Command. Konetzni predicted that China might have 75 modern submarines by 2020 [Statement of Before the Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee 28 March 2006].
By 2007 there was some uncertainty as to whether the SONG would continue in serial production, or whether it would be replaced by the SS Type 041 Yuan, of which only one or two examples had been produced to date. Since the 1990s China has produced an average of two new conventional attack submarines annually, and has a demonstrated industrial capacity to produce at twice that rate, if required. Future force levels are also influenced by decisions on the pace of retirement of the SS Type 039 Song. The total number of diesel submarines in the Chinese inventory has actually declined since the 1980s, when the "People's War at Sea" concept called for high numbers of low echnology combatants. The number of submarines has declined by about one-half. The large submarine force of that period, dominated by the 1950s-era ROMEO SS class, was drawn down during the 1990s and has been replaced by a smaller but more technologically advanced force of KILO SS, SONG SS, and YUAN SS. Each of these submarine classes, which are quiet platforms with anti-ship cruise missiles is an integral part of China's regional anti-access strategy.
China purchased Russian-built Kilo-class submarines and reportedly wanted to purchase associated technology to replace its aging, obsolete diesel-electric submarine force. The quieting incorporated into these submarines is required for successful operations in the open ocean operating areas which could facilitate the PLAN's wartime mission of keeping enemy combatants outside of strike range of the theater of operation. Long-range weapons are the means by which each individual submarine can influence a larger body of ocean, which is required with the expansion of the geographic scope of the maritime battlefield.
Including the late 2006 surfacing of SONG-class SS near USS KITTY HAWK, Chinese submarines seem to be operating beyond their familiar operating areas. China claims that its submarines have conducted long-range patrols almost since the inception of the Chinese submarine force. According to Chinese press reports, PLAN submarines have occasionally ventured into the Pacific Ocean and, with some degree of regulaIity, continue to conduct these "cruises of long duration." Although China has apparently been satisfied with only a handful of these deployments every year, the growing technological capabilities of the PLAN submarine force and China's evolving maritime strategy, which calls for an operational capability beyond the littoral in support of an anti-access mission, create the conditions for Beijing to opt for an increased submarine presence in the Western Pacific Ocean east of the Ryukyu Island chain.
The US Department of Defense's Annual Report to Congress on "The Military Power of the People's Republic of China" for 2006 reported that the PLA Navy had 55 submarines, of which 50 were diesel and 5 nuclear. By the end of 2006 the Chinese Navy operated about 55 attack submarines the majority of which are diesel-electric powered. In May 2007, the "Annual Report" noted that the PLAN had 58 submarines, of which 53 were diesel and and 5 nuclear. These US Defense Department order of battle estimates appear to include only active operational units that are currently in commission, and do not units in reserve, or recently launched pre-comissioning units. China's next generation nuclear attack submarine, the Type 093 Shang-class, was expected to enter service in 2005. The new Type 094 Jin-class SSBN was launched in July 2004, but is not expected to be operational until around 2008-2010 [and thus does not appear to be included in the DOD total count]. Trends in nuclear submarines would suggest that priority is being given to modernizing a constant size force structure, rather than building up a larger force structure.
The August 2009 US Office of Naval Intelligence report "The People's Liberation Army Navy: A Modern Navy With Chinese Characteristics" stated "The PLA(N) is currently transitioning from older, less reliable attack submarines like the Romeo SS, Ming SS and Han SSN to the more modern Kilo SS, Yuan SS, Shang SSN and the Type 095 SSN. These more advanced platforms include larger weapons loadouts, better weaponry, improved quieting, and more advanced computer processing. The Song SS, Yuan SS, and Shang SSN are the PLA(N)'s newest indigenous submarines, and the first to be designed to employ the YJ-82 ASCM in addition to the traditional weapons loadout of torpedoes and mines. ... China is further expanding its current force of nuclear attack submarines by adding five advanced Type 095 SSNs to the current inventory ofSSNs in the coming years."
PLAN submarines are assessed to incorporate a wide range of quieting technologies, most of which are imported. China nonetheless desires to develop the capability to produce indigenously quiet submarines. The main submarine quieting technologies are machinery mounts, hull coatings, and propellers. Future PLA Navy submarine designs are expected to incorporate lower propeller rotational rates and more advanced propeller designs, machinery mounts, and hull coatings. China's apparent goal is to design and construct quiet submarines independently of other countries. This effort is evident in China's large investment in research, development and manufacturing.
During the 1990s most PLAN submarines were believed to have obsolete sonar systems based on older analog designs. A limited number of Chinese submarines have more modern digital sonar systems based probably on 1980s Western technology. The Chinese have an extensive research and development infrastructure in shallow-water acoustics and have experience using modern commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer processing technology. It is likely that current Chinese sonar designs are similar to commercially available Western submarine sonar systems and feature modern COTS processors and displays.
China's maxitime strategy is evolving along two paths. First, China is focused on a regional anti-access capability, which is ptincipally applicable in preventing third-party intervention in a Taiwan scenarto. Second, China is simultaneously expanding its maritime strategy to include a mission to protect China's growing dependence on maritime commerce for economic development. From China's perspective, the lessons of warfare from the mid to late 1990s -namely, that modem navies such as the USN can conduct warfare at long ranges - expanded the geographic scope of the maritime battlefield. In order to counter long-range cruise missile strikes or carrier-based aviation strtkes, the Chinese Navy sought ways to extend its reach beyond the littoral regions in a manner that offered the potential to counter a modem navy's advanced assets. Limitations in air defense capabilities for surface combatants as well as the inherent challenges of anti-submarine warlare compelled the Chinese leadership to focus much of its military modernization effort on the submarine force.
The Bohai shipyard was established in 1954 and is located in Huludao, on the northern coast of the Bohai Gulf. The first submarine to be commissioned from this yard in 1987 was the PLAN's first nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), the Type 092 Xia-class. This boat is a modified version of the PLAN's first-generational design of a nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN), the Type 091 Han-class. In 1997-98 the Bohai shipyard began construction of a new class of SSN, the Type 093 Shang-class. It has been reported that by late July or early August of 2004 the Bohai shipyard began construction on a replacement for the SSBN Xia-class; the improved SSBN being built is labeled the Jin-class. According to estimates by the US Department of Defense, the SSN Shang-class became operational in 2005-06, and the SSBN Jin-class will become operational 2010 [possibly as soon as 2080] respectively.
This shipyard is in the process of building two new nuclear submarines for PLAN and based on very limited recent production experience, it is projected that the Bohai shipyard is producing approximately one SSN every three years and one SSBN every two years [this seems a bit rapid]. Once various problems get worked out and sea trials prove the operational capability of these submarines, the production levels could be further increased, producing more boats in less time, according to PLAN requirements.
The Wuchang shipyard was founded in 1934 and is located in Wuhan. It is the largest, modern shipyard in inland China, which would explain why it is the most productive of all the conventional-powered submarine shipyards. The first submarines constructed here were the Type 035 SS Ming-class and the Type 091 SSN Han-class; in 1974 one of each class was completed.
A total of twenty Ming-class submarines were built between 1974 and 2001, but by the end of the 1980s the first three Ming-classes had been scraped.
A total of five Han-class submarines were built between 1974 and 1991; these five ended the production of the Han-class SSNs. Further, these were the only nuclear-powered submarines produced at the Wuchang shipyard, any future construction of SSN or SSBN style submarines would be constructed at the Bohai shipyard in Huludao, China.
In 1974 the Wuchang shipyard produced two submarines, the SS Ming-class and the SSN Han-class. From 1975 through 1995 this shipyard produced only one submarine per year with the exception of the years 1988 and 1991 when two were produced in those years. The two aforementioned years is when one Han-class was added to the ongoing Ming-class build-up. The year 1994 was when the yard began to lay the ground work for producing two submarines per year. During the years 1994 and 1995 the shipyard produced only one operational Ming-class submarine per year; however, a new class of SS was launched during 1994 and began sea trials in 1995, the new class of submarine is the Type 039 SS Song-class. While this new class was going through sea trials, two more Ming-classes were produced in 1996. In 1997 the shipyard did not put forth any operational boats; however, according to some reports an improved variant of the Song-class, Type 039G was launched that year.
From 1994 through 1998 the Wuchang shipyard has been constructing two submarines per year, all while incorporating new classes and improved variants. The year 1999 saw record breaking submarine production when two Ming-class and one Song-class submarines were completed. In 2000 the shipyard produced one Ming-class while working on two more Song-classes, which consequently were delivered in 2001 for a record tying three boats that year, this time it was the last of the Ming-class to be produced along with two more Song-class submarines. The three years following 2001 saw the shipyard produce one Song-class per year, but if history teaches us anything about this shipyard, it is that when there is a lull in production there is a possibility of a new submarine class being produced. This assumption proves correct when in 2005 another record tying production year when three ships are completed. The submarines completed are one Song-class and two new, Type 039A / Type 041 SS Yuan-class.
This shipyard has consistently averaged approximately two submarines per year form 1994 through 2005. Given China's ongoing modernization of its naval forces in general and the belief that submarines are the People's Republic of China (PRC) first line of defense against carrier strike groups, it is projected that the Wuchang shipyard can produce approximately two SS submarines every year as meets PLAN's requirements.
The Jiangnan shipyard was established in 1865 and is located near Shanghai. This shipyard, although regarded as the cradle of China's national industry, has a very limited submarine production history. In 1974 it completed production on one of the first three Ming class submarines produced, which was later to be scrapped during the 1980s. Two Song-class submarines were launched in 2004 at this shipyard and were to be completed by 2005. Although not very active in submarine production, this shipyard is very active in the production of destroyers and frigates which we will discuss in another section. This shipyard has also proven, in relation to submarine building, that if necessary, it can produce two boats per year.
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