07 February 2007

China’s Future Nuclear Submarine Force: Insights from Chinese Writings

Andrew S. Erickson and Lyle J. Goldstein, “China’s Future Nuclear Submarine Force: Insights from Chinese Writings,” Naval War College Review 60.1 (Winter 2007): 54-79.

Cited in the following Wikipedia entries: Nuclear Submarine,” Submarines of the People’s Liberation Army Navy,” Type 091 Submarine,” Type 092 Submarine,” Type 093 Submarine,” Type 095 Submarine,” and Peng Pai.”

On 26 October 2006, a Chinese Song-class attack submarine reportedly surfaced in close proximity to the USS Kitty Hawk carrier battle group in international waters near Okinawa. This was not the first time that Chinese submarines have attracted extensive media attention. The advent of the Yuan-class SSK in mid-2004 seems to have had a major impact in transforming the assessments of Western naval analysts, and also of the broader community of analysts studying China’s military modernization.

In order to grasp the energy that China is now committing to undersea warfare, consider that during 2002–2004 China’s navy launched thirteen submarines while simultaneously undertaking the purchase of submarines from Russia on an unprecedented scale. Indeed, China commissioned thirty-one new submarines between 1995 and 2005. Given this rapid evolution, appraisals of China’s capability to field competent and lethal diesel submarines in the littorals have slowly changed from ridicule to grudging respect of late. China’s potential for complex technological development is finally being taken seriously abroad.

This article begins with a brief survey of relevant elements from Chinese writings concerning the PLAN’s nuclear submarine history. A second section examines how PLAN analysts appraise developments among foreign nuclear submarine forces: What lessons do they glean from these other experiences? The third section concerns mission imperatives: What strategic and operational objectives are China’s 093 and 094 submarines designed to achieve? The potential capabilities of these submarines are addressed in this article’s fourth and final section.