22 September 2010

Mystery Chinese SSK Fuels Asia's Submarine Race

22 september 2010

New type China SSK (photo : pakdef forum)

The China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation has launched an unidentified new-type conventional submarine (SSK) at its Wuhan shipyard, according to Chinese reports on 9 September.

It is the third new SSK design revealed by China since 1994 and is likely to exacerbate regional anxieties that are propelling many Asian states to increase or establish submarine fleets.

Vague or altered internet images of this new SSK, which first appeared on the popular Chinese CALF web page on 10 September, led observers to think that it may be yet another Chinese internet hoax, but the submarine's existence was confirmed by much clearer images on 13 September.

While not much larger than the 3,000- to 4,000-ton Type 041 Yuan class, the new boat appears to incorporate Russian design influences, including a stouter hull with a reduced aft taper similar to the Project 667 Lada/Amur class, plus an elongated sail and hull-mounted retractable hydroplanes similar to the Project 636 'Kilo' class. However, in contrast to the sail of the 'Kilo', the new Chinese SSK incorporates hydrodynamic elements such as an intricately-faired leading edge with concave and convex curves.

While there remains a possibility that China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has engaged Russia's Rubin submarine design bureau to aid future submarine designs during previous encounters, Rubin representatives, while ready to confirm their willingness to sell new submarines to China, have refused to comment on possible co-operation with China. From late 1994 to 2006, the PLAN took delivery of eight Project 636 boats and four of the older Project 877 design Rubin-designed 'Kilo'-class SSKs.

Beyond what can be seen from the initial images, not much else is known about the size, features, main mission or capabilities of this new SSK. There is ample speculation on Chinese websites that the larger sail may house anti-ship cruise missiles, anti-aircraft missiles or a new crew-rescue capsule. At the 2008 Zhuhai Airshow the China Aerospace Science and Industries Corporation revealed its C-705: a new smaller anti-ship cruise missile that could fit in the sail of this new SSK. There is also speculation that the new SSK uses a new double-hull design to improve combat survivability.

The Yuan-class is reported to use a new air-independent propulsion (AIP) system based on the concept of the Swedish Stirling engine, and it is known that Chinese naval research institutes have been investigating fuel cell and exhaust recycling AIP designs similar to the French MESMA (Module d'Energie Sous-Marine Autonome), so this new SSK may well utilise some form of AIP. There is also speculation that it may use a new propulsor pump, but this is considered unlikely as it would not be optimal for a slow-speed patrol profile. Early images of the aft area of the new SSK do not reveal a towed-array housing above the waterline, so it cannot be concluded that the new boat may have a greater anti-submarine capability.

Already China's growing submarine fleet is prompting regional reactions. China launched 13 Type 039 Song-class SSKs from 1994 to 2004 and, in addition to the 12 Russian-sourced 'Kilos' now in service, the US Department of Defense expects the PLAN will build up to 15 Yuan-class SSKs; five had been launched by mid-2010. In July it was revealed that Japan would revise its Defense Guidelines to allow for an increase from 16 to 20 submarines. However, some Japanese sources have told Jane's that a submarine life extension is being considered to allow this fleet to increase up to 25.

In addition to its nine licence-produced German Type 209/1200 SSKs, South Korea plans to build nine KSS-2 (licence-produced Type 214) SSKs by 2020, after which it may build up to six KSS-3 follow on SSKs. In late 2009 Vietnam completed a deal to purchase six 'Kilo' Project 636 SSKs with expected delivery between 2013 and 2019. Australia's Sea 1000 programme aims to replace its current six Collins-class submarines with 12 new SSKs starting in 2025. In 2005 Singapore purchased two AIP-equipped Archer-class (Västergötland) SSKs from Sweden, the first of which was completed in 2009. This year Malaysia has taken delivery of the second of two French and Spanish-built Scorpene-class SSKs while Indonesia is planning to acquire submarines by the end of the decade. While proposed for sale by the United States in 2001, Taiwan and the US have yet to finalise a programme by which Taiwan can acquire up to eight new SSKs.


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