Type 039D AIP conventional submarine
A further development from the Type 039C, the new Type 039D was first seen in 2021, characterized by a notable notch in the forward edge of the sail. The function of the novel sail arrangement was unclear, as were whatever other design advances might be incorporated in a new submarine variant. Speculation centered on further developing the lithium-ion battery propulsion system. An upgrade to the propulsion system could increase the top speed, and other improvements could increase the test depth. Apart from a speed increase, another focus could be improved efficiency to increase the submerged range of the Type 039D as well as reduce the noise of the boat. With this development, conventional powered submarines that are currently in service will be replaced.
Starting with the Type 039B, domestic conventional submarines began to adopt AIP power in batches, while the domestic self-developed AIP system initially used an old Type 035 conventional submarine as the experimental mothership. As the 039B and 039C achieve mass production and installation, it shows that the performance of the domestic AIP system meets the demand for use, but this does not mean that there is no room for further development. an AIP submarine can continuously dive underwater for about 2 weeks at most. However, this has reached its limit. To further extend the endurance of conventional submarines, designers may want to adopt a new method, that is, small nuclear power.
The Type 039 series submarine has developed to the current 039C type, and the hull exterior optimization is close to the extreme. The next improvement direction is likely to be the power system inside the hull. How to further enhance the performance of the AIP system? Perhaps when the 039D submarine appears, it will be equipped with this new AIP power.
Once small reactors become the standard configuration of domestic AIP submarines and can be mass-produced, from a certain perspective, the all-nuclear underwater fleet is not a dream. As early as the early 1960s, the Soviet Navy tried to install a compact nuclear reactor on a Project 651 JULIETT-class conventionally powered submarine. Although this small reactor was not enough to increase the speed of a submarine, it can greatly extend the battery life and mileage of a conventional submarine, and does not require the submarine to pay too much structural and weight changes. The mass of this system is only over 100 tons and is suitable for conventional submarines of 3000 to 4000 tons. Because it is only used as auxiliary power, this submarine is still classified as a conventional submarine.
But the Type 039D may simply represent a major development for lithium-ion based propulsion as a huge upgrade to the fleet.
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