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Having been stuck with the obsolete Romeo and Ming class sub for three decades, Chinese navy is now slowly modernizing its conventional submarine fleet, with the introduction of Russian Kilo class SSK and the indigenous Song class SSG. Meanwhile, Chinese are also starting to build their next generation SSNsand SSBNs, as nuclear submarine fleet has always been enjoying higher priority than conventional submarine fleet. Alarmed by the presence of American CVBG during the crisis of Taiwan Strait in 1996, it is expected that Chinese will accelerate the pace to modernize their nuclear and conventional submarine fleet.
Han 404 Chang Zheng Si Hao
Han 404 SSN (Type 091/09 I, 5,500t dived) is one of the last two nuclear attack submarines which entered the service in the early 90s. As the first generation Chinese SSN (401 to 405), the leading boats (401 & 402?) had suffered radiation problems which appeared to be solved later after extensive refit. But since late 90s they have become more or less inoperational. From 403 onwards the hull has been extended 8m aft the fin, and the improvement may include carrying a new type of wire-guided torpedo and the capability to launch YJ-8 SSMs from 533mm torpedo tube. A new anechoic tile coating is believed to have been applied to the hull. In October 1994 one of Han class was tracked by a USN S-3B ASW aircraft from aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk off the North Korea coast which prompted two Chinese J-6 fighters to intercept the "hostile" US S-3 ASW aircraft. Recently the remaining boats of Han class were given a new black paint which is more popular among navies of other countries than the original green-blue color. Their hull numbers have also become significantly smaller. The follow-on of Han class called Type 093/09 III (8,000t dived, comparable to Russian Victor III class in the late 70s) is now believed to be under construction and could haven been launched by the end of 2000. A total number of 6-8 093 SSNs are projected.
Xia 406
The single Xia class SSBN (Type 092G/09II, 6,500t dived) was back into the sea after a 3-year long refit. This modernization project included a new black paint, a new bow mounted sonar (similar to the one installed on Song SSG, comparable to French DUUX-5), a redesigned casing housing longer missile launch tubes, plus upgraded combat control systems for launching new SLBMs. Initially armed with 12 JL-1 (CSS-N-3) SLBMs (inertial guidance to 1,700km with a single 1.25MT nuclear warhead), it is now believed to carry improved JL-1A SLBMs with a longer range of 2,800km (may even be JL-2/CSS-NX-4, with 3 or 4 MIRV at 90kT each, range 8,000km). For years Xia 406 has been PLAN's sole nuclear deterrence force, which appears limited and ineffective (although it was rumored that a 2nd boat was built but this was never confirmed). This reality suggests serious problems of the 092/JL-1 design and the submarine never entered series production. Instead it has become a valuable testbed for PLAN to shape its tactics and strategies for modern SSBN warfare since the first successful test fire of JL-1 SLBM in 1988. A new design (Type 094/09 IV, 12,000t dived) was planned and the construction of the first 094 SSBN was believed to have started in 1999 and launched by 2002. A total number of 3-4 094s are projected, each carries 16 JL-2 SLBMs.
The crews of a Kilo class SSK (Type 636, 3,730t dived) were getting ready for the inspection by PLAN top brass. Although it could be inferior to its counterpart in the Russian Navy, these Kilos does represent a major step forward in PLAN's conventional submarine capabilities in terms of propulsion, fire control and weapon systems. The submarine can carry up to 18 TEST-71, TEST-96 or 53-65KE wire-guided torpedoes to be fired by 6 torpedo tubes, it may also be fitted with SA-N-8 SAM system as well. More significantly, the third and the fourth boats (366 & 367) are the latest Project 636 model, one of the quietest conventional submarines in the world (~117db). The first 636 Kilo was shipped back to China in November 1997 and the second one in late 1998. Currently all four Kilos were based at Xiangshan in the East Sea Fleat. However the first two 877EKM (364, 365) subs were reportedly to have suffered mechanical problems (damaged batteries and generators) caused by the inexperienced crew, and were inoperational for several months. The latest report claimed that China ordered 8 Type 636s to be armed with the new Club-S series (3M54E, range 300km at Mach 0.8) SLCMs from Russia in May 2002, a move considered as China's response to Taiwan's order of 8 diesel subs from US. The contract worths $1.5b and will be fulfilled within 5 years, reflecting PLAN's urgency to build a credible submarine force against potential threats from US and Japanese naval forces.
Song 320
This new class of SSG (Type 039, 2,250t dived) was launched in May 1994 but not commissioned until 1998. Although it still retains the stepped conning tower similar to the old Ming/Romeo class, the overall design represents a major step forward compared with the obsolete Ming class. The improvement includes a hydrodynamically sleek profile, new cylindrical bow mounted sonars and German MTU 12V 493 diesel engine. With a large asymmetrical seven-bladed skew propeller, the Song class is much quieter than its predecessor. It has been speculated that Song class is capable of launching modified YJ-8/C-801 ASMs as well as new wire-guided torpedos (Yu-6/Mk-48?) from its 533mm torpedo tubes. However, the construction of Type 039 appeared to have ended after the launch of the first boat due to serious problems encountered onboard. As the result, all future boats being constructed are the improved Type 039A, the first of which (321) just finished the sea trial and entered the PLAN service at the end of 2001. The 2nd 039A (322?) was believed to be undergoing sea trial in late 2002. This version features a more modern fin and has the stepped conning tower removed making it similar to French Agosta-90B in external appearance. It might be fitted with an AIP system believed to have been tested onboard a Ming class SS.