Sunday, October 21, 2007

Thoughts on Chinese Nuclear Submarine Photography and Sources

The photography of the Type 094 nuclear submarines from Google Earth, and more recently the anonymously released close up for a pair of Type 094s has sparked several discussions about the Chinese nuclear submarine program.

Dealing with what we know, there are at least 3 Type 094s in the water, two Type 93s in the water, and in case you missed it, open source satellite imagery appears to show at least 1 more nuke being worked on in Huludea (check the update, there appears to be a tail sticking out of the rear of the yard). The satellite photo was taken on May 3, 2007, which means we will see in Dry Dock on a later date satellite photo to verify for certain which type of submarine it is. However, we agree with Sean O'Connor.

Further analysis of the Huludao shipyard appears to depict a third Type 094 hull in the area. What appears to be the rear end of a submarine hull can be seen jutting out of one of the main assembly halls. This object has a diameter of 11.8 meters, which would match up well with the 11.28 meter measurement taken from the visible hull of one of the two pierside 094s in the shipyard. A submarine out of water would obviously have a greater visible diameter as part of the hull is obscured from view under water when the vessel is seaborne. By employing Google Earth's overlay feature and adjusting the image opacity, it can also be seen that the hull contours of the unfinished hull match up nearly perfectly with the rear of the two 094 hulls pierside at Huludao. This hull would represent the fourth Type 094 SSBN, provided that the earlier analysis of the presence of three distinct hulls is accurate.

Based on analysis, the Type 094 appears to be a very similar design as the Type 093 with an extension for a missile bay, leaving open the possibility this submarine is a Type 093.

Based on previous build rates and strategies observed by the PLAN over the last decade, and using new data to verify credible sources, the information flow out of China tends to point to a total of 4 Type 093s and 4 Type 094s either built or under construction. Due to construction rate and what we are seeing based on analysis of facility improvements, one thing is clear, the production rate at Huludao is much higher than has been reported in the past.

We believe the release of photography of the Type 093 in various Chinese publications means the project is completed, and China has begun the Type 095 SSN. This pattern has been observed in previous submarine programs, and there is no reason to assume the pattern isn't valid at this time. This brings us back to the mystery of the nuclear submarine spotted that does not have planes on the sail. We believe the submarine photograph of the plane-less SSN represents a Type 093 mod, probably the 5th Type 093 as reported on Chinese bbs. This one class submarine photographed at sea in trials supports the theory that China has begun development of the Type 095.

Calculating the build rate at Huludao, this would put 4 Type 095s in the water by 2010, which is what is also being stated by sources on China bbs, by which time the Type 096 would be under construction.

Additionally, there is now speculation from various sources that China intends to upgrade the Type 092s by converting them into SSGNs. We do not know if this is true, but considering these sources appear to be "in the know" given the flood of photography evidence since July 2007 that has backed up their previous claims, we believe this information is worthy of note to watch for.

As we reached these conclusions this week, it was noted Feng also came to similar conclusions, likely from the same sources we are observing.

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