Dr. Nair retired from the Indian Army in 1991 after 30 years service, having been awarded the VSM for distinguished service. Besides three tenures of combat duty, in service experience includes: instructor - Defence Services Staff College, command of an Independent Armoured Brigade; and, Deputy Director General Strategic Planning at the Directorate of Perspective Planning at Army.
Feburary 15 2004
“China's maritime strategy relies heavily on submarines to patrol the littorals, blockade the Taiwan Strait, and stalk aircraft carriers. The U.S. Navy should not underestimate China's ability to build a capable submarine force to challenge a superior maritime foe.” Dr. Lyle Goldstein and Lieutenant Commander Bill Murray, U.S. Navy.
China's National Defense In 2004, a White Paper promulgated in December 2004 provides valuable pointers elucidating Beijing’s national security concerns that drive its evolving strategic thought and policies – present and future – for the management of strategic forces. In the perceptions of the Communist Party of China, “The current international situation continues to undergo profound and complex changes ... New changes are occurring in the balance of power among the major international players, with the process of their realignment and the redistribution of their interests accelerated … Tendencies of hegemonism and unilateralism have gained new ground, as struggles for strategic points, strategic resources and strategic dominance crop up from time to time.”
As a consequence, the National Defense Paper has arrived at the conclusion that, “The military factor plays a greater role in international configuration and national security … The role played by military power in safeguarding national security is assuming greater prominence.” And, therefore, “The PLA [Peoples Liberation Army] will promote coordinated development of firepower, mobility and information capability, enhance the development of its operational strength with priority given to the Navy, Air Force and Second Artillery Force, and strengthen its comprehensive deterrence and warfighting capabilities.”
It is in this context that “The PLA Navy [PLAN] is responsible for safeguarding China's maritime security and maintaining the sovereignty of its territorial seas along with its maritime rights and interests. The Navy has expanded the space and extended the depth for offshore defensive operations. Preparation for maritime battlefield is intensified and improved while the integrated combat capabilities are enhanced in conducting offshore campaigns, and the capability of nuclear counter-attacks is also enhanced. In accordance with the principle of smaller but more efficient troops, the PLA Navy compresses the chain of command and reorganizes the combat forces in a more scientific way while giving prominence to the building of maritime combat forces, especially amphibious combat forces. It also speeds up the process of updating its weaponry and equipment with priority given to the development of new combat ships as well as various kinds of special-purpose aircraft and relevant equipment … and long-range precision strike capability raised.” [China’s National Defense 2004]
To compensate for the lack of air craft carriers for projection of maritime forces along the sea lines of communication [SLOC] and the necessity to enhance the survivability of China’s limited strategic forces to augment its nuclear deterrent, Chinese maritime strategy, has perforce, turned to the creation and deployment of a potent sub-surface force. This has resulted in the PLAN having acquired a large submarine fleet, which has – and continues to be – modernized to meet the challenge of holding its own in seas dominated by the navies of the Western powers.
East-Asia-Intel, a news service that focuses on East Asian affairs, reported on February 15, 2005; “China is building up its submarine forces as a key strategic element of its military power and a ‘trump card’ weapon in any future conflict.” The Report refers to an analysis dated December 16, 2004 by a Chinese specialist Kao Hsin-tao. He stated that “submarine forces are the main weapons to be used in a possible conflict across the Taiwan Strait. …” This has to be seen in the context of the strategic compulsion to deter US aircraft carrier task forces from approaching within 500 kilometres of Taiwan – leave alone the luxury of operating in the Taiwan Straits with impunity as was done in 1995-96.
Kao Hsin-tao is reported to have highlighted the potential of submarine mounted strategic forces to significantly offset the existing vulnerability of land-based strategic forces. He goes on to draw attention to the fact that, “fixed missile sites have a low survivability rate in conflict, with fixed sites having a 4 to 9 percent rate and mobile missiles a 30 percent ratio. Submarine based missiles, however, have an estimated survivability of 90 percent.” The report states, “The survival of a single nuclear submarine can launch destructive retaliatory attack against the other side." And notes "Based on historical experience and lessons, the Chinese leaders of the second and third generations have attached great importance to the development of strategic nuclear submarine (s)."
Having determined the nature of its tasking the PLAN put into place a development strategy that would eventually give it the types of submarines to fulfill its commitments in the larger framework of Beijing’s defense strategy. Alongside its efforts to develop diesel technology submarines the PLAN has been developing a range of nuclear submarines, which can launch ballistic missiles against the continental US; engage superior naval forces along its periphery; provide appropriate protection to its maritime assets at the far reaches of its strategic SLOC; and, deter air craft carrier Task Forces from intrusive action that could jeopardize Beijing’s territorial integrity. Patrick Devenny, National Security Fellow at the Center for Security Policy Washington recognizes this as “a highly developed stratagem which seeks to counter large American naval forces with advanced submarine capabilities.
The PLAN’s past, present and future inventory comprises of the following submarines:
Type 094, NEWCON SSBN – displacement 8,000 tons
Type 092 XIA SSBN – displacement 6,500 tons
Type 093 NEWCON – displacement 6,500 tons
Type 091 Han SSN – displacement 5,500 tons
Kilo Cla [Russian] – displacement 2,325 tons
Type 039-A Yuan – displacement not known
Type 039 Song – displacement 2,250 tons
Type 035 Ming – displacement 2,100 tons
Type 033 Romeo – displacement 1,710 tons
Type 032 Whisky – displacement 1,350 tons
Type 031 Golf SSB – displacement 2,700 tons
Wuhan – displacement 2,100 tons
China capitalized on Soviet assistance it received before relations between the two soured in 1960. Having acquired substantial design, technological and material capacities China created its submarine building competencies. After the Soviet withdrawal Chinese shipyards continued to produce submarines based on the Soviet Whiskey Type 03 and Romeo Type 33 class designs. By 1975 over 100 had been produced. This submarine force was configured into 3 fleets and was restricted to coastal operations only.
After the Sino-US reconciliation in 1972 Beijing gained access to comparatively modern equipment from western sources. Using Western systems China was able to design and produce a new series of modern diesel submarines resulting in the production of the Ming Type 035 classe – based on the hull design of its Romeo Type 033. The first two Ming submarines were launched in 1975. 19 boats were built but these suffered from serious safety problems resulting in two major accidents.
In the early 1990s China developed the Song 039 the first hull of which started sea trials in 1995. After the initial teething problems of integrating systems acquired from diverse sources the PLAN finally inducted the Song 039 which is the quietest indigenously produced diesel submarine in service. These have been successfully equipped with the submarine-launched version of the YJ-8 (C-801) series anti-ship sea-skimming missile in the 1990s. With five already in service it is reported by ‘Chinese Defence Today’ that at least another 5 indigenously developed Type 039 Song class are under construction at Wuhan and Jiangnan Shipyards.
The break through in its diesel operated submarine fleet came in 1996 when it contracted for four state of the art Kilo Class submarines from Russia. Two export type 877 and two upgraded 636s, that are in the Indian and Iranian Navies. In May 2002 China contracted for eight additional Kilo class submarines, which incorporate upgraded weapon systems including the versatile and potent Klub missile system. On delivery China would be fielding a total of 12 Kilo Class submarines, which in conjunction with the Song Class will provide the PLAN with a potent under-sea defense capability on its littoral.
On June 9, 2005, Bill Gertz reported in the Washington Times that the, “Deployment of a new attack submarine known as the Yuan class that was missed by U.S. intelligence until photos of the submarine appeared on the Internet.” This diesel-electric submarine appears to be a completely new design displaying some features of the Russian Kilo Class boat such as size, general performance and a tear-drop shaped hull with a raised hump on top. There is evidence of two boats being in existence each having been launched on May 31, 2004 and December 2004. These are possibly pre-production prototypes undergoing evaluation trials.
Parallel to the development of the diesel submarines China launched an ambitious programme to develop nuclear powered submarines as early as the 1950s. The first generation – Han SSN Type 091 class attack submarine started sea trials in 1971 and entered operational service in 1974. A total of five were produced and appear to be in service to date.
Having mastered the technology and design aspects of nuclear propulsion under water China proceeded to design and deploy its first generation of strategic submarines by which it could deploy nuclear armed ballistic missiles to enhance its nuclear deterrent. In 1981 the first of two Xia Type 092 SSBNs was launched and became fully operational in 1988. The original boat that was armed with 12 JL-1 SLBMs has since been retrofitted with the new JL-2 [CSS-NX-4] SLBM. According to newspaper reports one of two Xia SSBNs produced was lost during missile launching trials leaving one in service.
The Type 094 submarine scheduled to become operational in 2005, will form the primary component of China’s sub-surface nuclear deterrent. It is “designed to emulate the small acoustic signature of the most modern Russian Typhoon designs, able to infiltrate foreign waters quietly and launch nuclear tipped missiles.” This is the latest development that incorporates some Russian technology and is the replacement for the outdated Xia Class SSBN with a more reliable propulsion system. This SSBN will be armed with 16 JL-2 –DF-31 submarine launched ballistic missiles [SLBM] configured with 1, 3 or 6 warheads having a range of 8000 Kms. The JL-2-DF-31, having undergone successful tests has been retrofitted on the single Xia SSBN in service. While China is creating its submarine forces and support infrastructure the SSBN fleet is likely to restrict its operational radius to secured seas in proximity of the Chinese coastline giving them a potential to hold about three-fourths of the United States at risk. However, when suitably deployed in the Pacific and Indian Oceans it would threaten targets across the US on the East and all areas extending to and inclusive of the Middle East and parts of Europe to its West.
The PLAN has also begun to deploy a second generation nuclear attack submarine, the Type 093-SSN, similar to Russian second generation designs such as the Victor III. It has been compared to the US Los Angeles class submarine in terms of overall performance. This submarine is reported to have been undergoing sea trials since late 2002. 093-SSNs are being armed with the latest in Russian naval weaponry, such as the Type 65/DT/DST 92 torpedo, which was specifically developed to destroy American aircraft carriers. An even more disturbing development is the Chinese acquisition from Kazakhstan of the Shkval super-cavitating torpedo, which are reported to be three to four times faster than any torpedo fielded by Western naval forces. The PLAN’s expanded submarine fleet will also wield highly advanced anti-ship missiles, which could challenge and even defeat the U.S. Navy’s famed AEGIS defense system. It is expected to deploy submerged-launch anti-ship cruise missiles, possibly a follow-on to the C801s, as well as the projected Land Attack Cruise Missile. There is, however, no information about nuclear-armed torpedoes that were reportedly being developed and tested at Lop Nor in the late 1960s-70s – a potential that cannot be ignored in any analysis of China’s submarine strategy.
By 2010 the PLAN will be deploying 12 Kilo class, 10-15 Song class, and 2-5 Yuan class diesel-electric submarines, as well as 2-4 Type 093 SSN and 1-2 Type 094 SSBN.
Overcoming these challenges is a time consuming and resource heavy operation. An ability to produce and field combat platforms is one thing. But to manage these effectively is quite another. China will take at least a decade before it is in a position to exploit the full potential of the formidable submarine potential.
 Sources: (i) Federation of American Scientists “Weapons of Mass Destruction – China”. (ii) “Yuan Class Diesel-Electric Submarine.” Chinese Defence Today Updated: 9 February 2005.
 Patrick Devenny. China's Growing Military Might. FrontPageMagazine.com, June 3, 2005
 Source: Federation of American Scientists “Weapons of Mass Destruction – China”