Satellite images raise prospect of new class of Chinese submarine

Published May 11, 2022
A satellite image taken by Planet Labs show a dry dock in Huludao Port in Liaoning province, China.—Reuters
A satellite image taken by Planet Labs show a dry dock in Huludao Port in Liaoning province, China.—Reuters

HONG KONG: Military analysts say a vessel spotted in a Chinese shipyard in rare, recent satellite images could be a new or upgraded class of nuclear-powered attack submarine.

It is not clear whether the submarine is a new model, an upgrade of an existing vessel or something else. But diplomats and analysts have been watching closely after a Pentagon report in November said the Chinese navy was likely in the next few years to build a new attack submarine with vertical launch tubes for cruise missiles.

Images from private satellite imagery provider Planet Labs and others circulating on social media show the submarine in a dry dock in Huludao port in Liaoning province.

Greenish covers shroud areas behind its superstructure and stern _ parts of the vessel that could house missile launch tubes and a new, quieter propulsion system, analysts said. Such clear images of submarines in dry dock are seldom seen.

The submarine was out of the water between April 24 and May 4, and was later seen mostly submerged in the same place after the dry dock was flooded. Singapore-based security scholar Collin Koh said there was a great deal of interest in the prospect of a new class of Chinese Type 093 “hunter-killer” submarine with vertical launch tubes for guided missiles. But he said the recent satellite images were too limited to definitively identify the vessel.

The images “are very interesting, but it is still very hard to be sure yet whether we are looking at some kind of refit for testing or a whole new class of submarine”, said Koh, of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Koh said he and others were watching closely to see whether new Chinese submarines would shift to quieter pump-jets instead of conventional propellers for propulsion. Because the stern is shrouded, it is not possible to tell what sort of propulsion the ship in the image uses.

Vertical launch tubes would add considerable flexibility to China’s “hunter killer” submarine fleet, arming the vessels with more guided missiles.

China’s attack submarines are evolving to tackle a growing range of potential demands, from protecting ballistic missile submarines and the navy’s aircraft carrier battle groups to tracking enemy ships.

Jeffrey Lewis, a professor in arms control at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said the latest images raised more questions than answers as to whether they revealed a new class of vessel.

“It’s plausible, but there are questions I’d want answered. It wasn’t in dry dock very long and it is unclear how they may have reconfigured this submarine,” he said. “Given the Pentagon report, there is certainly a lot of interest.”

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2022


A velvet glove

A velvet glove

The general didn’t have an easy task when he took over, but in retrospect, he managed it rather well.


Updated 24 May, 2022

Marching in May

MORE unrest. That is the forecast for the weeks ahead as the PTI formally proceeds with its planned march on...
24 May, 2022

Policy rate hike

THE State Bank has raised its policy rate by 150bps to 13.75pc, hoping that its latest monetary-tightening action...
24 May, 2022

Questionable campaign

OVER the past couple of days, a number of cases have been registered in different parts of the country against...
23 May, 2022

Defection rulings

By setting aside the existing law to prescribe their own solutions, the institutions haven't really solved the crisis at hand.
23 May, 2022

Spirit of the law

WOMEN’S right to inheritance is often galling for their male relatives in our patriarchal society. However, with...
23 May, 2022

Blaming others

BLAMING the nebulous ‘foreign hand’ for creating trouble within our borders is an age-old method used by the...