Did China Lose a Nuclear Submarine? Rumors circulated early last week that a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine crashed in the Taiwan Strait, with the loss of all hands, during major exercises by the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
While nothing is certain when it comes to such matters, at least for now, the rumors seem to point this being untrue.
By the end of the week, the Taiwanese government released a statement declaring no knowledge of a submarine incident in the waters separating the island from China.
With no acknowledgement by the Chinese government and no statements by Western intelligence services, it seems clear the rumor has no substance.
Chinese Military Drills
While the origin of the rumor is unknown, it is doubtless connected to the major military drills Beijing launched around Taiwan following a visit by the island’s vice president to the United States. The exercises were an expected response to the visit. They involved eight ships and over 40 aircraft, many of which penetrated Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone.
China’s Eastern Army Command released a statement describing the drills as “a serious warning against Taiwan independence separatist forces colluding with external forces to provoke.” The U.S. condemned the exercises as needless provocation.
Introducing China’s Type 93
It is unclear what prompted speculation on the crash of the sub. Most nations that use nuclear-powered submarines spend a great deal of time keeping an eye on everyone else with these vehicles. Furthermore, submarine crashes usually produce major disturbances that can be picked up by civilian and military monitoring stations. When the Russian submarine Kursk tragically sank in 2000 in a similar situation, the detonations that took her down were detected by a seismographic monitoring station in Norway.
The submarine in question was a Type 093 Shang-class attack boat. These are some of the newest subs in the Chinese fleet, and the loss would have been a major blow. The first Shang-class vessel was commissioned in 2006, and while it may not yet rival U.S. or Russian designs for silence, it is still a remarkable step up for the Chinese navy.
Specs and capabilities
There is not much open-source intelligence on the capabilities of the Type 093, but it is believed to carry 22 torpedoes and missiles, including the YJ-18 land attack cruise missile, and rocket propelled mines. Some submarine experts consider this China’s first attempt to build a more ‘stealth’ sort of submarine like those of Russia and the U.S. Navy.
Some later variants include a hump behind the sail that was initially believed to be a vertical launch system (VLS), but is more likely a towed sonar array. According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Beijing possesses six of these Shang-class submarines, which are “110 meters long with a 11-meter-wide beam and can travel up to 30 knots when submerged.” The upcoming Type 095 has been designed with a VLS in mind.
As tensions between Washington and Beijing continue to tighten, China will undoubtedly be working hard to enhance its submarine force capabilities.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.
Note: Image is of a Chinese SSBN nuclear submarine.
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