24 July 2017

Whither China’s Nuclear Submarine Production Capacity? Retired Naval Officer/Intelligence Analyst Offers Exquisite Assessment (Text, Photos, Open Source Lessons)

Christopher Carlson, “Why Everyone Is Wrong about China’s Next-Gen Submarines,” The National Interest, 23 July 2017.

Christopher Carlson is a retired naval officer and scientific and technical intelligence analyst specializing in naval warfare issues. He retired from the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2010 as a senior intelligence officer overseeing the production of technical intelligence products and presentations to national decision-makers and the acquisition community. He is also an award winning war-game designer who has numerous products in the Admiralty Trilogy series. Additionally, he has coauthored eight military thriller novels with New York Times bestselling author, Larry Bond.


Check out Carlson’s detailed 24-slide presentation with copious supporting photos and analysis:

Christopher Carlson, “Bohai Shipyard Expansion New Assembly Line or Nuclear Submarine Production?Admiralty Trilogy, 20 July 2017.


  • Since mid-August 2016, there have been numerous articles and webpage postings claiming the new assembly hall, built in record time at the Bohai Shipbuilding Heavy Industry Company (BSHIC) shipyard in Huludao, will produce the next generation of Chinese nuclear submarines – the Type 095 and 096.
  • Many Chinese and Western writers have been quick to uncritically echo this claim and have aggressively pushed the issue in their articles/postings – essentially accepting the speculative assumption as true without doing any basic legwork to verify whether or not the claim is legitimate.
  • This presentation will summarize the analysis of a review of Google Earth imagery taken over the course of the new assembly hall’s construction to see if it indeed has the physical capability to build nuclear submarines as claimed. … … …

Bohai Shipyard Expansion – Is this a Submarine Construction Hall?

  • The analysis of satellite imagery evidence available on Google Earth argues strongly against this new construction hall having a role in nuclear submarine production.
  • The foundation of the new building is insufficient to support the weight of a completed nuclear submarine
    • The foundation’s pile configuration is designed primarily to stabilize the newly placed dredged sand to improve its load bearing capability and to mitigate uneven settlement.
    • The foundation slab is also rather thin for supporting the weight of a large, heavy vessel. A thickness of a meter, or more, is usually needed to bear such a huge load.
    • The design of this foundation can support objects that weigh several hundred tons, but not several thousand tons.
  • The marine rail line foundation is constructed similarly to the assembly hall and would be unable to support the weight of a completed submarine.
  • The lack of access to the slipway at the other end of the marine rail line precludes a large completed vessel from being transferred to the graving dock – only hull sections, or grand blocks, up to a maximum of 600 tons can be moved by the gantry crane from the marine rail line to the construction graving dock.
    • The ≈6 meter thick reinforced concrete graving dock wall at the end of the marine rail line completely blocks direct access.
    • The lack of rails and the shallow depth of the slipway make it impossible to transfer a submarine to the graving dock.
    • BSHIC’s current submarine assembly hall across the bay has a 50,000 DWT capable liking dry dock that has been used to launch nuclear submarines since the first Type 091 Han class was launched in 1970. A similar arrangement would be necessary for the new assembly hall to produce submarines.



Google Earth images and Chinese-language sources show that it would be extremely difficult for Huludao’s new facility to build the next generation of Chinese nuclear submarines.

New Submarine Production Hall at Huludao: To be, or not to be.

There has been a plethora of Chinese-language blog posts and articles since mid-August 2016 concerning the new assembly hall at the Bohai Shipbuilding Heavy Industry Company’s (BSHIC) shipyard in Huludao. The English-language posts and articles that followed faithfully repeated the Chinese content, which claimed that the assembly hall is where the next generation of Chinese nuclear submarines would be built. Some Chinese and English articles even went so far as to say that production would proceed at a rapid pace given that the hall could build up to four submarines simultaneously. Subsequent blog posts speculated that a total of six submarines could be built at the same time because there are three production bays in the hall.

A constant hazard in relying on foreign open-source information is that a researcher could mistake circular reporting for independent confirmation of a claim. In this case, the majority of Chinese Internet posts and articles can be traced back to an August 18, 2016, blog post titled Construction of New Ship Assembly Line at Bohai Shipyard, Or Will Build New Nuclear Submarine (渤船新型总装生产线建设, 或将造新核潜艇), which highlighted BSHIC chairman Li Tianbao’s visit to the facility. Interestingly enough, the only place in the post where the characters 核 (nuclear) and 潜艇 (submarine) appear is at the end of the title. They are not used in the text at all—nor, as will be discussed later, anywhere in the most authoritative source available: the shipyard’s original August 17 announcement titled Chairman of the Board Li Tianbao Conducts an On-Site Inspection of the New Assembly Line Construction Project (李天宝董事长到新型总装生产线建设项目现场调研). Some of the derivative articles readily admit the nuclear submarine construction claim was speculative, but given that Huludao is the only shipyard that builds nuclear submarines in China, that seemed to be a reasonable assumption to many Chinese bloggers. Within several months, however, that speculative assumption had largely morphed into a definitive conclusion—with no evidence or analytical steps to support the transformation.

This article will examine the Google Earth imagery history of the new production facility at the BSHIC Huludao Shipyard through the lens of accepted civil-engineering standards and construction practices—including those used in China. For multiple reasons that will be shown, it is extremely difficult to support the claim that Huludao’s new facility will build the next generation of Chinese nuclear submarines. … … …


From a comprehensive review of Google Earth imagery and Chinese language sources, it is extremely difficult to support the claim that Huludao’s new facility will build the next generation of Chinese nuclear submarines. Analysis of the foundation of the new assembly hall indicates that it is insufficient to support the load of a completed nuclear submarine that weighs in excess of four thousand tons. Even if it could, the lack of direct access precludes a completed submarine from being transferred to the dry dock. This means that only grand blocks—prefabricated sections of a ship—can be physically moved into the dry dock; and only up to the six hundred ton weight limit of the gantry crane.

Together, these conclusions point toward the most likely explanation for Huludao Shipyard’s latest production facility: high value commercial ship construction. If China’s Medium and Long Term Development Plan for Shipbuilding Industry 2006–15 is the driving force behind the entire expansion effort at the Huludao Shipyard, then the goal of this plan is the more likely reason for this new assembly hall. And that goal is to be able to produce large, high-tech, high-value-added merchant ships, such as Very Large Crude Carriers, high-capacity twenty-foot equivalent unit container ships, and liquefied natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas tankers—not nuclear-powered submarines.