The China Central Television showed satellite pictures earlier this week of the three submarines anchored at an unidentified port claiming that the new submarines are China’s most advanced Type-093G attack submarines.
“The Type-093G is reported to be an upgraded version of Type-093, China's second-generation nuclear-powered attack submarine, which entered active service several years ago. With a teardrop hull, the submarine is longer than its predecessor and has a vertical launching system,” according to the China Daily report.
The Chinese navy’s website said the new variant is engineered to reduce noise, improve speed and mobility and fire China’s latest YJ-18 supersonic anti-ship missile, according to the report.
China established its nuclear-powered submarine force in the early 1970s but had never shown it to the outside world until 2009 when two nuclear submarines took part in a parade marking the 60th anniversary of the PLA navy's founding, the China Daily report said.
These recent developments involving Chinese submarine acquisition is not likely to surprise U.S. observers who have repeatedly been vocal about the pace of China’s naval and overall military modernization.
In fact, Navy leaders told lawmakers in February that the Chinese navy now operates a greater number of attack submarines than the U.S. military and is rapidly expanding the scope of their undersea missions and patrols.
“Their submarine force has grown over a tremendous rate. They now have more diesel and nuclear attack submarines than we have so they’ve past us in total quantity -- but in quality they are still not there,” said Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of Naval operations, integration of capabilities and resources.
Speaking before the House’s Seapower and Projections Forces subcommittee on the Navy budget, Mulloy also said the Chinese have rapidly expanded their undersea missions and patrols.
“They are producing some fairly amazing submarines. They’ve now had three deployments in the Indian Ocean. They are expanding where their submarines go,” Mulloy told the subcommittee. “We know they are out experimenting and working and operating and certainly want to be in the world of advanced submarines.”
Mulloy cited Chinese production and testing of submarine launched weapons and said that one SSBN – or ballistic missile submarine capable of launching nuclear weapons – went on a very long 95-day at sea patrol.
This development inspired many news reports and public commentary about the prospect that nuclear-armed Chinese ballistic missile submarines would have the ability to potentially strike parts of Alaska and Hawaii from various undersea locations in the Pacific Ocean.
The issue of Chinese naval and submarine development was addressed in detail in the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s annual report to Congress released last year.
The commission said Chinese modernization plans call for a sharp increase in attack submarines and nuclear-armed submarines or SSBNs. Chinese SSBNs are now able to patrol with nuclear-armed JL-2 missiles able to strike targets more than 4,500 nautical miles.
In addition, the Chinese are currently working on a new, modernized SSBN platform as well as a long-range missile, the JL-3, the commission said.
The commission also specifically addressed areas of Chinese-Russian military developmental cooperation, saying the two countries are working on a joint deal to build new attack submarines.
“China is pursuing joint-design and production of four to six Russian advanced diesel-electric attack submarines containing Russia’s latest submarine sonar, propulsion, and quieting technology. The deal would improve the PLA Navy’s capabilities and assist China’s development of quiet submarines, thus complicating future U.S. efforts to track and counter PLA submarines,” the commission writes.
The Commission also said that the Chinese have been working on the development of a land-attack cruise missile, something which appears to have come to fruition according to the China Daily report citing vertical launch tubes.
While the commission says the exact amount of Chinese military spending is difficult to identify, China’s projected defense spending for 2014 is cited at $131 billion, approximately 12.2 percent greater than 2013. This figure is about the sixth of what the U.S. spends annually.
The Chinese defense budget has increased by double digits since 1989, the commission states resulting in annual defense spending doubling since 2008, according to the report.
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Virginia, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee, cited the increase in submarine and surface navy patrols tripling since 2007 as an area of concern.
“What they are doing with patrols is just the tip of the iceberg. It is not just the number of the ships, but within five to eight years they will have about 82 submarines in the Asia Pacific area and we will have about 32 to 34,” he told Military.com last summer.
Although Mulloy made the point to lawmakers that the U.S. currently enjoys a technological advantage over China when it comes to submarines and undersea technologies, there is nevertheless much concern about this issue for the future.
-- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com