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Type 091 Han Class - ChangZheng / Long March

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.

Erickson and Goldstein noted that the "conventional wisdom in Chinas naval literature ... tends to credit Chinas Han submarines with a significant role in the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis. Thus, one report states that in mid-March 1996, U.S. military satellites were unable to detect the position of [certain] Chinese nuclear submarines; it was as if they . . . had vanished. This narrative continues, The U.S. carrier battle groups were unable to cope with the hidden, mobile, highspeed, undersea threat posed by the Chinese nuclear submarines, and thus were unable to approach the sea area within 200 nautical miles of Taiwan. Implying some uncertainty on this issue, the author asks, Why did the U.S. carrier group suddenly change its original plan? Was it that they feared Chinas nuclear submarines? Another PRC report also alleges that American military satellites lost track of Chinas SSNs and that the U.S. Navy was forced to retreat when confronted by the massive threat of Chinas nuclear submarine force. Given the Han-class SSNs reputation as a noisy vessel, these statements might well be viewed with suspicion".

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].

The 091 submarine is often cited as an example of Chinese engineering incompetence, since the submarine is viewed as one of the worst in the world. But when considered in the context of when it was built and the state of the Chinese economy and political system at that time, it is actually impressive that the submarine was ever finished. No one denies that the Chinese economy and industrial base made extraordinary strides since that time and that the level of technical expertise in China has risen dramatically.

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.

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