Recently, there was an article from Taiwanese magazine talking about newly launched hulls of the improved Type 093 program. Since I don’t normally trust sources that I have not vetted, I decided to take a deeper look into my notes from the past year and also look through some satellite imagery.
That update was the result of reading a 2013 report by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission that China began building first of 4 improved 093 SSN in 2012. I’ve since used the designation 093B on this improved variant. Based on my investigation at the time, it looked like the actual work probably started a few years earlier, but the sub first showed up on satellite images bye 2012. That’s probably what they were referring to although I do not really know how they arrived at 4 as the projected number of builds. By the time the report came out, the public available satellite imagery already showed the first of the improved 093 SSNs launched at Huludao shipyard, so I was able to confirm it in my blog entry. Since nuclear submarine imagery is harder to come by than other Chinese naval ships due to their strategic nature, I find these DoD/Naval/US governmental reports to be very helpful as guidance since they have sources that I simply don’t have access to.
From 2013 satellite images after the report came out, it appeared that 093B may have a hump and look to slightly wider than early 093s. Since that report came out, a 2014 update to the satellite photos showed the new 093B had left Huludao shipyard for sea trials. There was also a really blurry photo of 093B next to a pier that again showed it may have the hump. That Taiwanese magazine (and numerous people on internet forums) speculated that 093B will have a VLS installation, but I think that is very unlikely even if 093B design has a hump due to space limitations. If 093B is actually wider than 093, I would imagine they want to use that space for noise reduction technology. If 094 is up to 30 m longer than 093 with its 12 SLBM launchers, why would adding a 16 cell VLS to 093 not require a visibly longer hull? I think the biggest step from 091 to 093 was creating a submarine that had reliable reactor capable of sustaining top speed of 30 knots. Type 093 is still very loud so the biggest improvement would be reducing the noise level to a more acceptable level. It’s possible that Type 095 will carry VLS, but I think it makes more sense to put that on a larger SSGN design.
The past couple of days, I’ve looked around the usual nuclear submarine locations in China to look for current states of nuclear attack subs. It appears that the Taiwanese photos of 2 side by side 093B submarine to be accurate and they are beside each other at the piers of Huludao shipyard. It’s harder to determine with the newer pictures if 093B do indeed have the hump. Moreover, there is another 093B in advanced stage of construction in the dry dock. It is possible the first 093B has returned to the piers after sea trials in various underwater test center or maybe both of the launched ones are new 093Bs. The main support for returning 093B would be the unlikelihood of Huludao launching 2 093Bs so soon after the previous GE photos showing no submarines at the piers of Huludao shipyard. I think the latter case is more likely because sea trials for new attack subs normally take longer and they normally don’t seem to return to Huludao after a year. Also, the 2 boats both look more surfaced vs active attack sub, which seems to me means that not all of the stuff inside have been installed yet.
If we go by US-China Economic and Security Review Commission report of 4 093B submarines, then all of the submarines will likely be launched by 2016. It looks like 5 094s have been launched already, so Huludao would be focusing on attack subs at this point. So, what do we know about this improved variant of 093? Based on satellite photos of the most surfaced 091 submarine, the first generation of Chinese attack sub is likely around 93 m in length and 9.5 to 10 m in beam. Of the first two 093s I spotted at Yulin submarine base, they are both around 101 m in length and 8.5 to 9 m in beam. Now, if we use the premise that these 093s are more submerged than the 091s, it’s likely the 093s are about the same (or maybe slightly less than) in beam as 091, but up to 10 m longer. It would be hard for me to imagine that 093 would be 1 m less in beam than 091, since that would definitely result in smaller inner hull width. The newer 093Bs look to be around 106 m in length and 10.8 to 11 m in beam. Consider that one of them is in dry docks and the other 2 are more surfaced than the in service attack subs, these are likely to be accurate measurement of the boat’s dimensions. So I think this improved variant of 093 submarine is wider and slightly longer than the early 093s. My guess is that with the larger submarine and newer technology becoming available, there is probably going to be real changes inside the submarine with newer reactor, engines and reduction gears in addition to more noise reduction gears. It looks like they are at least comfortable enough with the design to mass produce it since 3 or 4 093Bs are launched or close to launching. Until then, the only attack subs in service will be the 3 091s at JiangGeZhuang and 2 093s at Yulin submarine base.
The next part to look at is China’s ballistic missile submarines. There is still the one 092 SSBN at Jianggezhuang submarine base which I think should be converted to SSGN at some point, since it cannot carry JL-2 SLBMs. On top of that, there is the old Type 031 Golf class that appears to still be at Jianggezhuang base even though it has retired already. The lone Type 032 submarine, which was built to replace Golf Class, is now at Xiaopingdao submarine base. It does make sense for Type 032 to be there, since Xiaopingdao is a naval testing center for submarines (and possibly other ships) rather than an active submarine flotilla. That’s why no attack submarines are found in that base. It is also close enough within China’s Bohai Sea where it would be more dangerous for foreign subs to follow. At the moment, there are 2 094s at Yulin submarine base and 1 094 at at Xiaopingdao. Last year, we had a photo of 3 094s at Yulin submarine base, but photos since have shown 2 there. At the same time, there were 2 094s at the piers of Huludao shipyard based on satellite photos. That would indicate a total of 5 094s have been launched. Based on previous ONI projections of 5 094s, it seems like all of the 094s have alredy been produced. This would corroborate the current satellite photos where the launched and under construction boats are all attack subs. So why do we only see 3 094s on the satellite photos at the moment. My guess is that the 2 094s currently at Yulin are both officially in service. The other 094 that was at Yulin base in 2014 could either be in service or not. If it is in service, then it could be out on a patrol. Otherwise, it is likely to be in Chinese navy’s deep water testing center in South China Sea going through deep dive and long endurance testing. It seems like at least 3 094s will be operating out of the Yulin submarine base. The one in Xiaopingdao was probably launched in 2013 at Huludao along with the first 093B. It has likely finished the initial sea trials and is now going through more advanced weapon/sonar/combat system testing at Xiaopingdao. The other 094 that was at Huludao in 2014 is probably going through sea trials right now. There was a gap of about 3 to 4 years (2004 to 2007/8) from the launching of first 094 to the next 2. All 3 of them probably went through testing at Xiaopingdao around 2007 to 2009 range. I think it’s likely that all 3 are commissioned by this point. Since there is a gap of about 5 years from the time the 3rd 094 to 4th 094, I think it’s quite possible the last two have made some changes vs the earlier ones based on problems found in testing. Satellite photos show that even though the length of submarine are the same, the location of launch tubes may have moved. Overall, the changes in the newer 094s seem to be less than the change in the newer 093s, which would explain the longer time gap between the first 2 093s and the improved 093B submarines. That seems to indicate the flaws in the earlier Type 093s required more time and effort to overcome. It is also possible that greater urgency was placed on Type 094 program due to the need of having a true long range underwater nuclear deterrent.
At current time, the ratio of attack submarines to boomers in Chinese Navy is currently 5 (3 091s + 2 093s) to 4 (1 092 + 3 094s). If we factor in the the submarines that are under construction and in sea trials, it will become 9 (3 091s + 6 093s) to 6 (1 092 + 5 094s). That seems to insufficient number of attack subs protecting boomers. Moreover, the 3 091s are likely to be retired in the coming years, since they have already been in service for 25 to 30 years. The lone 092 seems to be more likely to be converted to a SSGN rather than be decomissioned with the 091s. So it seems like the first Type 095 submarine would needs to launch soon after the conclusion of Type 093B program in order to eventually establish a 2 to 1 ratio between attack subs and boomers. Based on everything I have seen, Huludao does seem to have started work on Type 095 program already.