China’s power in oceans’ depths | Daily News
People’s Liberation Army Navy Submarine Force:

China’s power in oceans’ depths

Type 093 Shang class submarine-Chinese submarine-Julang-3 missile fired from the sea
Type 093 Shang class submarine-Chinese submarine-Julang-3 missile fired from the sea

Cruising with stealth in the underwater realms, naval submarines have been at the centre of military mysteries and garner much attention. Their silent presence in the deep sea inspires public imagination. The quieter a submarine, the stealthier it is.

Over the decades, the bigger nations have invested to upgrade their fleet of conventional and nuclear-powered submarines. The People’s Liberation Army Navy Submarine Force (PLANSF) is the submarine service of the People’s Liberation Army Navy of China. It consists of all types of submarines in operational military service strategically organised to represent three fleets: the North Sea Fleet, the East Sea Fleet, and the South Sea Fleet.

Enhancing nuclear counterattack capability is described as one of the PLA Navies’ most important missions. China takes intense pride regarding Beijing’s naval nuclear propulsion programme which some might see as tangential. Submarines are the PLAN’s main long-distance sea force protecting China’s sea lines of communication, representing an important aspect of maritime security.

In order to grasp the Chinese military’s commitment to undersea warfare, consider that during 2002–2004, China’s Navy launched 13 submarines. China commissioned 31 new submarines between 1995 and 2005. Therefore, given this rapid evolution, an appraisal of China’s capability to field lethal diesel submarines in the littorals has garnered respect for the Chinese Navy. China’s potential for complex technological development is being taken seriously by other navies.

China’s first ballistic missile submarine, the Type 092 submarine (Xia-class), was laid down in 1978 and launched in 1981. It was commissioned into the fleet in 1983. Its primary weapon is the Julang-1 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM), with 12 launch tubes, as well as six 533mm tubes for self-defence. The Julang-1 missile (NATO name cssn-3) was not ready until the first successful test launch of the missile from the Xia in 1988. The missile’s short range only permits the Type 092 to launch its missiles against regional targets. Striking targets far away requires the submarine to travel dangerously closer to enemy waters.

The Type 094 submarine could take the survivability of China’s nuclear deterrent to a new level, potentially enabling more aggressive posturing by Beijing. The Type 094 submarine (Jin-class) is believed to have been influenced by Russian assistance. It features 12 launch tubes for the longer ranged Julang-2 missile, which has an 8,000km range that can carry three to four Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs). The Type 094 would be permitted to patrol nearer Chinese waters, with the ability to launch its missiles against continental targets. This Jin Class submarine has a displacement of 11,000 submerged tonnes. It has a length of 135 metres and a beam of 12.5 metres. Its Julang-2 is a second-generation ballistic missile. Its first sea launch took place in 2001. Once again it was fired from a Type 094 submarine in 2009.

Defence analysts believe China is considering modifying the missile to accommodate an anti-satellite warhead to give it a sea-based anti-satellite capability. The Chinese Navy Type 094 submarine deterrence patrols with JL-2 missiles began in December 2015. With a length of 13 metres, the Julang-2 is a solid fuelled three-stage missile which is able to carry a warhead of one megatonne. It has a range of 7,200 kilometres.

Respected as a pioneer in modernising China’s Navy, Admiral Liu Huaqing presided over a steady improvement and expansion of China’s submarine force as both Commander of the PLAN (1982–88) and Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (1989–97). In 1984, Admiral Liu emphasised: “We must place importance on submarines at all times. Nuclear-powered submarines should be further improved and used as a strategic task force.”

In general, nuclear submarines are credited with having significant advantages over conventional submarines such as a large cruising radius, strong self-power, high underwater speed, great diving depth, relative quietness and a large weapon payload capacity. Nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN) have the ability to undertake long-range missions of extended duration. Nuclear submarines are believed to be far superior to diesel-powered submarines in combat situations in which air cover is lacking. Chinese naval experts understood that noise reduction is one of the greatest challenges in building an effective nuclear submarine.

People’s Republic of China’s scientists have been conducting research concerning the fundamental sources of propeller noise. Usage of advanced composite materials is credited with the capability to absorb vibrations and sound. Interestingly, one Chinese researcher states that the Type 093 (Shang Class) is not as quiet as the U.S. Sea Wolf class or Virginia class but is on par with the improved Los Angeles class. The Chinese Navy has succeeded in developing a High-Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactor (HTGR) suitable for use in its new-generation nuclear submarines. The HTGR promises to give PLAN submarines unprecedented maximum speed. The Type 093 Shang class submarine may be equipped with “Eagle Strike” YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles. The YJ-12 has been developed as part of a larger Chinese quest for improved cruise missiles, particularly submarine-launched variants.

The Shang class submarine has an unlimited range and can reach 30 knots submerged. Covered with anechoic tiles, this submarine remains more silent underwater. The PLA Navy is working to equip their attack submarines with long-distance, supersonic, low-altitude missiles, augmented with high accuracy, and strong anti-interference anti-ship missiles, with the combat capability to attack enemy surface ships. The Type 94’s Julang-2 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile is projected to have a range of 8,000 kilometres, compared to 2,700 kilometres for the Julang-1.

How does a submerged naval vessel communicate from such depths? Most submarine communications are conducted across a range of frequencies, from very low frequency to extremely high frequency. Submarines receive messages through exposed antennas while at periscope depth, or via floating or slightly submerged antennas while near the surface. China might create a dedicated maritime aircraft squadron for communication with its submarine fleet.

Sea endurance is another element of submarine patrolling. It is recorded a Type 091 submarine (Han Class) 403 during a mid-1980s mission of 90 days successfully broke the 84-day undersea endurance record previously set by USS Nautilus. The Type 091 submarines had a submerged displacement of 5,500 tonnes and a crew of 75. This class was the first nuclear-powered submarines of the PLA Navy.

A submarine requires a highly skilled crew with the right attitudes and spirit of teamwork. The Chinese Navy has skilled technical operators; especially officers who have good nuclear reactor equipment maintenance and repair skills. Working and living on a submarine is different from a surface ship. Crews will not see sunlight for weeks depending on the assigned voyage. Families of sailors won’t be able to communicate like they do on surface ships. Crews must adapt to special menus, which still maintain high levels of nutrition. The PLA Navy Submarine Academy is located at Qingdao. This is the cradle of China’s underwater forces.

The Type 095 Tang Class submarine is another third-generation attack submarine of the PLAN fleet. It has a reduced acoustic signature. The Type 096 submarine is a projected class of ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Submarine Force. The submarine is expected to begin construction in the early 2020s and is to be armed with the Julang-3 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM). The new missile is solid-fueled and has a reported range of over 9,000 kilometres. The JL-3 is expected to carry multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles, warheads capable of targeting numerous separate locations. The PLA Navy submarines patrol the seas as an almost invisible force.

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