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China’s Type 095 Nuclear Attack Submarine: A Threat to the US Navy?

China Submarines

Despite many years as a strictly littoral force, the People’s Liberation Army Navy has made steady advances in submarine design — and maybe leaving the United States behind. Here’s why.

Party Over Proficiency

For many years, China was the subject of ridicule in naval circles. The Korean War put the brakes on Chinese naval innovations (all innovations really), and the Cultural Revolution also hindered naval advancement in the name of the party.

Despite these setback, China has steadily developed its naval capabilities. Though Chinese naval advancement was initially focused on near-shore capabilities like smaller diesel submarines, shore-based missile defense, or fast littoral boats, China is now possibly capable of fielding a true blue-water submarine force.

Speaking in 2019 at a Naval event, Captain Chester Parks, commanding officer of the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, said that foreign adversaries “are definitely catching up to us,” in the realm of submarine technology.

The Office of Naval Intelligence concurred, saying “the PLA(N) is currently transitioning from older, less reliable attack submarines like the Romeo SS, Ming SS and Han SSN to the more modern Kilo SS, Yuan SS, Shang SSN and the Type 095 SSN,” later calling the Type 095 “advanced.”

Marco

Submarines try to stay hidden when puttering around underwater. Put simply, there are two important variables at play when submarines play hide-and-seek: how loud a submarine is, and how good submarines are at detecting other submarines.

The naval expert H I Sutton detailed that ambient ocean noise is around 90 decibels, or roughly a motorcycle at 25 feet away. Submarines try to get to that noise level, or below there.

According to Sutton, western submarines made it to about the 90-decibel threshold twenty to thirty years ago. The U.S. Navy’s improved Los Angeles-class subs are near 110 decibels.

“Ten years ago the latest Chinese attack submarines were considered to be as quiet as the latest Russian Akula Class submarines” H I Sutton remarked. “Since these estimates were published in 2007, China has launched two improved variants of the Type-093 submarine. So it is a reasonable assumption that the latest Chinese boats will already be quieter.”

One commentator found it likely that the Type 095 would have electronic noise-cancellation technology, like your noise-canceling headphones, a shaftless drive, and a single hull. All of these would be a huge step forward for China’s submarine program.

The newer Type 095 submarines are just beginning to enter the water or will be able to in the near future. Would it be reasonable to assume the Type 095 would be even more advanced — that is quieter — than it’s predecessors? Absolutely.

Polo

The other factor, detection, is difficult to gauge.

Submarines use sonar to detect other subs. Sonar systems are typically trailed out behind submarines on lines. They can also be arrayed along the sides of the sub. Chinese submarines make use of both systems. How advanced are Chinese designs? Hard to say definitely — but almost certainly getting better and better.

Steady March into the Deep

While it is hard to estimate Chines submarine abilities with absolute certainty, submarine quietness trends are clear — they’re not getting any louder.

The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence may have said it best, “the PLA(N) will progress to the Type 095 SSN, which may provide a generational improvement in many areas such as quieting and weapon capacity.” Sailors beware.

Type 095 Submarine

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Images of different classes of Chinese submarines. Image Credit: Chinese Internet. 

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Jim

    September 22, 2021 at 11:11 am

    Caleb,
    You erred in the way you compared dB in air vs. dB in water. See https://dosits.org/decision-makers/tutorials/science/air-water/ for how to do it correctly.
    Jim

  2. Roy Sokolowski

    September 22, 2021 at 11:58 pm

    PRC submarines 10 years ago were no where near as quiet as an Akula class SSN. Yes it is true that Chinese nuclear submarines are not getting any louder but that is because the Han and Xia class subs are about as loud as a nuclear submarine can possibly be. The author of this article knows almost nothing about submarines quieting trend or the PRC submarine force in my opinion. In a previous career I was submarine ACINT specialist for the vast majority of my 24 years on active duty in the US Navy.

  3. Joe Bidet

    September 23, 2021 at 2:19 am

    We didn’t leave the Taliban any subs did we? I hope not.

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