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Yuan Type 039A

China has designed a new 039A submarine based on the related technology of Kilo on the 039 Song class submarine. Air independent propulsion (AIP) is a closed off propulsion system, like a gas compression Stirling engine or fuel cells, that doesn't require a separate oxygen supply It is a must have for modern SSKs, allowing them to stay underwater for up to four weeks without using noisy snorkels to recharge batteries (often SSK batteries have enough charge to last several days at most).

The YUAN-class SSP is armed similarly to the SONG-class SS, but also includes an air-independent power system. The Yuan Type 039A [by 2007 some sources designated this class as the Type 041] is a non-nuclear powered attack submarine. As early as 1994 there were indications that China appeared to be attempting to build the Kilo in its own ship-yards [Richard Sharpe, Jane's Fighting Ships, 1994-1995 (Coulsdon, Surrey, Eng.: Jane's Information Group, 1994), p. 541].

The 2002 edition of Chinese Military Power noted that "the KILO provides Beijing with access to previously unavailable quieting and weapons technology. China most likely will try to incorporate aspects of this submarine into its domestic programs, although it will take several years before these technologies could be used effectively ..... China will continue using Russian technology to improve quieting, propulsion, and submarine design; it also is incorporating foreign technology into its existing submarines. China also will benefit from the maturation of its domestic submarine research and development (R&D) infrastructure to achieve a capability to design and manufacture modern submarines domestically."

The new Yuan Class attack submarine is part of a more general Chinese naval buildup. With the risk of armed conflict over Taiwan always present, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has invested heavily in submarines, with the goal of converting them into a first-line of attack vis-a-vis carriers.

It's existence was first noted in mid-2004 when a photograph of the completed submarine at China's Wuhan Shipyard was posted on a Chinese website. The Wuhan Shipyard had also built the Type 039/G (Song class), Type 035 (Yuan class), Type 033G (Wuhan-A class) and Type 033 (Romeo class) diesel-electric submarines for the PLA Navy. The first 039A completed sea trials in 2005. The second Yuan was said to have been launched in December 2004. While this second boat was rumored to be under construction, as of 2007 this was not confirmed. The delay in the construction of the second 039A suggests that the design might have suffered certain technical problems.

The precise role the Yuan will play in the future of the PLAN remained obscure as of 2007. With the earlier Song class remaining in production at a rate of two per year, it was unclear whether the Yuan design would remain an experimental side show, or form the prototypes for serial production after the year 2010.

By 2013 it had become clear that production of the Song had ceased, with the Yuan taking up the slack, with at least 8 [Combart Fleets says 9] units in service by 2013. China may plan to construct up to 20 YUAN-class SSPs. 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].

Type 039A Yuan-class Nomenclature

The original design (Type 39A) first appeared in 2001, and 13 were built. But in 2008, a noticeably different Type 39 appeared. This was called Type 39B. In 2018, the US DOD reported that "Since the mid-1990s ... Chinese shipyards have delivered 13 SONG-class SS units (Type 039) and 17 YUAN-class diesel-electric air-independent power attack submarines (SSP) (Type 039A), with a total of 20 YUANs projected for production by 2020".

There serious, almost complete, confusion over the nomenclature of Chinese submarines.

  • Type 039 - Song-class cigar-nosed with a step sail
  • Type 039G - Song-class [not PLAN designation]
  • Type 039A - Yuan-class with teardrop-hull, CCDAIP (1st-gen AIP)
  • Type 039AG - revised conning tower with additional sensors
  • Type 039B - S-20 export Yuan-class, no AIP
  • Type 039B - Yuan-class with SEAIP (Current China AIP tech)
  • Type 039BG - Dec 2013 - revised conning tower w/hydrodynamic base extrusions, side-mounted sonar + additional sensors.
  • Type 039C - Yuan-class with AIP capability, launched in 2014
  • Type 041 - [mis-label by NATO] Yuan with teardrop-hull + different AIP
  • Type 041 - Type 032 testbed submarine, wrongly termed Type 041

There is no such designation as 041 or any type 04X conventional submarines, since all conventioal submarines (SSK) are designated 03X, as all nuclear submarines are designated 09X. The letter "G" stands for "gai" meaning "Modify", normally used after initials such as the A, B, C etc. Examples are seen in the 053 series PLAN Frigates and the 051 series destroyers. The first batch 053 is known as 053H, then followed by 053H1, 053H2 and 053H3. When a new ship is built based on upgrade of a 053H1, it will be designated 053H1G.

The US DoD does not seem to recognize this multitude of variants, simply reporting on Type 039A Yuan. Too many of the reported variants are differentiated by minor differences which are difficult to obseerve. Until matters are sorted out in some dispositive fashion, GlobalSecurity.org will use:

  • Type 039 - Song-class 1,800 ton cigar-nosed with a step sail
  • Type 039A - Yuan-class 2,800 ton with teardrop-hull, CCDAIP (China 1st-gen AIP)
  • Type 039B - Yuan-class with revised sail, launched in 2014
  • Type 039C - Yuan-class with Li-batteries

Khubilai Khan (1215-94) was a grandson of Genghis Khan (1167?-1227) and the supreme leader of all Mongol tribes. After the Song Dynasty had been destroyed in 1279, Khubilai Khan declared himself emperor of a united China with its capital at Dadu, and he established the Yuan ("first," "beginning") Dynasty (1279-1368). A rich cultural diversity evolved in China during the Yuan Dynasty, as it had in other periods of foreign dynastic rule. Major achievements included the development of drama and the novel and the increased use of the written vernacular. The introduction of foreign musical instruments enriched the Chinese performing arts. The conversion to Islam of growing numbers of people in northwestern and southwestern China dates from this period. The Mongols undertook extensive public works. Land and water communications were reorganized and improved. In time, Khubilai's successors became sinicized, and they then lost all influence on other Mongol lands across Asia. Rivalry among the Mongol imperial heirs, natural disasters, and numerous peasant uprisings led to the collapse of the Yuan dynasty. The last of the nine successors of Khubilai was expelled from Dadu in 1368 by Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).




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