Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Type 093/094 updates

Recently, there was an article from Taiwanese magazine talking about newly launched hulls of the improved Type 093 program. Since I don't normally trust sources that I have not vetted, I decided to take a deeper look into my notes from the past year and also look through some satellite imagery.

My most recent update on Chinese nuclear submarines was posted here in Oct 2013. That update was the result of reading a 2013 report by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission that China began building first of 4 improved 093 SSN in 2012. I've since used the designation 093B on this improved variant. Based on my investigation at the time, it looked like the actual work probably started a few years earlier, but the sub first showed up on satellite images bye 2012. That's probably what they were referring to although I do not really know how they arrived at 4 as the projected number of builds. By the time the report came out, the public available satellite imagery already showed the first of the improved 093 SSNs launched at Huludao shipyard, so I was able to confirm it in my blog entry. Since nuclear submarine imagery is harder to come by than other Chinese naval ships due to their strategic nature, I find these DoD/Naval/US governmental reports to be very helpful as guidance since they have sources that I simply don't have access to.

From 2013 satellite images after the report came out, it appeared that 093B may have a hump and look to slightly wider than early 093s. Since that report came out, a 2014 update to the satellite photos showed the new 093B had left Huludao shipyard for sea trials. There was also a really blurry photo of 093B next to a pier that again showed it may have the hump. That Taiwanese magazine (and numerous people on internet forums) speculated that 093B will have a VLS installation, but I think that is very unlikely even if 093B design has a hump due to space limitations. If 093B is actually wider than 093, I would imagine they want to use that space for noise reduction technology. If 094 is up to 30 m longer than 093 with its 12 SLBM launchers, why would adding a 16 cell VLS to 093 not require a visibly longer hull? I think the biggest step from 091 to 093 was creating a submarine that had reliable reactor capable of sustaining top speed of 30 knots. Type 093 is still very loud so the biggest improvement would be reducing the noise level to a more acceptable level. It's possible that Type 095 will carry VLS, but I think it makes more sense to put that on a larger SSGN design.

The past couple of days, I've looked around the usual nuclear submarine locations in China to look for current states of nuclear attack subs. It appears that the Taiwanese photos of 2 side by side 093B submarine to be accurate and they are beside each other at the piers of Huludao shipyard. It's harder to determine with the newer pictures if 093B do indeed have the hump. Moreover, there is another 093B in advanced stage of construction in the dry dock. It is possible the first 093B has returned to the piers after sea trials in various underwater test center or maybe both of the launched ones are new 093Bs. The main support for returning 093B would be the unlikelihood of Huludao launching 2 093Bs so soon after the previous GE photos showing no submarines at the piers of Huludao shipyard. I think the latter case is more likely because sea trials for new attack subs normally take longer and they normally don't seem to return to Huludao after a year. Also, the 2 boats both look more surfaced vs active attack sub, which seems to me means that not all of the stuff inside have been installed yet.

If we go by US-China Economic and Security Review Commission report of 4 093B submarines, then all of the submarines will likely be launched by 2016. It looks like 5 094s have been launched already, so Huludao would be focusing on attack subs at this point. So, what do we know about this improved variant of 093? Based on satellite photos of the most surfaced 091 submarine, the first generation of Chinese attack sub is likely around 93 m in length and 9.5 to 10 m in beam. Of the first two 093s I spotted at Yulin submarine base, they are both around 101 m in length and 8.5 to 9 m in beam. Now, if we use the premise that these 093s are more submerged than the 091s, it's likely the 093s are about the same (or maybe slightly less than) in beam as 091, but up to 10 m longer. It would be hard for me to imagine that 093 would be 1 m less in beam than 091, since that would definitely result in smaller inner hull width. The newer 093Bs look to be around 106 m in length and 10.8 to 11 m in beam. Consider that one of them is in dry docks and the other 2 are more surfaced than the in service attack subs, these are likely to be accurate measurement of the boat's dimensions. So I think this improved variant of 093 submarine is wider and slightly longer than the early 093s. My guess is that with the larger submarine and newer technology becoming available, there is probably going to be real changes inside the submarine with newer reactor, engines and reduction gears in addition to more noise reduction gears. It looks like they are at least comfortable enough with the design to mass produce it since 3 or 4 093Bs are launched or close to launching. Until then, the only attack subs in service will be the 3 091s at JiangGeZhuang and 2 093s at Yulin submarine base.

The next part to look at is China's ballistic missile submarines. There is still the one 092 SSBN at Jianggezhuang submarine base which I think should be converted to SSGN at some point, since it cannot carry JL-2 SLBMs. On top of that, there is the old Type 031 Golf class that appears to still be at Jianggezhuang base even though it has retired already. The lone Type 032 submarine, which was built to replace Golf Class, is now at Xiaopingdao submarine base. It does make sense for Type 032 to be there, since Xiaopingdao is a naval testing center for submarines (and possibly other ships) rather than an active submarine flotilla. That's why no attack submarines are found in that base. It is also close enough within China's Bohai Sea where it would be more dangerous for foreign subs to follow. At the moment, there are 2 094s at Yulin submarine base and 1 094 at at Xiaopingdao. Last year, we had a photo of 3 094s at Yulin submarine base, but photos since have shown 2 there. At the same time, there were 2 094s at the piers of Huludao shipyard based on satellite photos. That would indicate a total of 5 094s have been launched. Based on previous ONI projections of 5 094s, it seems like all of the 094s have alredy been produced. This would corroborate the current satellite photos where the launched and under construction boats are all attack subs. So why do we only see 3 094s on the satellite photos at the moment. My guess is that the 2 094s currently at Yulin are both officially in service. The other 094 that was at Yulin base in 2014 could either be in service or not. If it is in service, then it could be out on a patrol. Otherwise, it is likely to be in Chinese navy's deep water testing center in South China Sea going through deep dive and long endurance testing. It seems like at least 3 094s will be operating out of the Yulin submarine base. The one in Xiaopingdao was probably launched in 2013 at Huludao along with the first 093B. It has likely finished the initial sea trials and is now going through more advanced weapon/sonar/combat system testing at Xiaopingdao. The other 094 that was at Huludao in 2014 is probably going through sea trials right now. There was a gap of about 3 to 4 years (2004 to 2007/8) from the launching of first 094 to the next 2. All 3 of them probably went through testing at Xiaopingdao around 2007 to 2009 range. I think it's likely that all 3 are commissioned by this point. Since there is a gap of about 5 years from the time the 3rd 094 to 4th 094, I think it's quite possible the last two have made some changes vs the earlier ones based on problems found in testing. Satellite photos show that even though the length of submarine are the same, the location of launch tubes may have moved. Overall, the changes in the newer 094s seem to be less than the change in the newer 093s, which would explain the longer time gap between the first 2 093s and the improved 093B submarines. That seems to indicate the flaws in the earlier Type 093s required more time and effort to overcome. It is also possible that greater urgency was placed on Type 094 program due to the need of having a true long range underwater nuclear deterrent.

At current time, the ratio of attack submarines to boomers in Chinese Navy is currently 5 (3 091s + 2 093s) to 4 (1 092 + 3 094s). If we factor in the the submarines that are under construction and in sea trials, it will become 9 (3 091s + 6 093s) to 6 (1 092 + 5 094s). That seems to insufficient number of attack subs protecting boomers. Moreover, the 3 091s are likely to be retired in the coming years, since they have already been in service for 25 to 30 years. The lone 092 seems to be more likely to be converted to a SSGN rather than be decomissioned with the 091s. So it seems like the first Type 095 submarine would needs to launch soon after the conclusion of Type 093B program in order to eventually establish a 2 to 1 ratio between attack subs and boomers. Based on everything I have seen, Huludao does seem to have started work on Type 095 program already.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Around Chinese shipyards

Recently, there was an overhead shot of the JiangNan shipyard showing all of the activity going on. From that picture, it became apparent that there were 2 new Type 726 LCAC that were under construction that we were previously unaware of. With that in mind, the following is a best effort attempt to show the building activities around the major naval shipbuilding yards.

First start off with JiangNan shipyard, which is known for building most of PLAN's destroyers and some MCM ships and diesel submarines.
The recent overhead photos shows 5 launched 052C/D around the ship. No. 151 has returned to the shipyard for maintenance and is currently parked next to No. 153, which has yet to be commissioned. It looks like the latter is ready to be commissioned any day now. Amongst the 052D, another one has just went on sea trials leaving 3 052Ds that are launched still in shipyard. At current time, there is one 052D that joined service last year with 2 other ones in sea trials. A 4th 052D looks to be ready for sea trials soon and the remaining 2 are probably 6 month to a year away from being ready for sea trial. There is at least 2 more 052Ds that are scheduled to be built at this shipyard. Works for 052D series has also started at Dalian shipyard, but the production there is limited compared to JN shipyard. The other notable ship is the 2nd 12000 ton cutter. This one is given the number Haijing-3901 (first one had Haijing-2901). Based on prior reports, only these 2 units should be built for this class of coast guard ships. They should be the 2 largest cutters in service with the Chinese Coast Guard. Now that the numerous civilian ministries have joined coast guard, many of the cutters are getting armed with naval guns (some even with 76 mm). I still have yet to see such gun on the 12000 ton, so it would be interesting to see if it will be armed. Finally, 2 new Type 726 LCAC appears to be under construction at JN shipyard. So far, 3 have been built for Type 071 LPDs. Since each LPD can fit 4 of them, I think more Type 726s are expected for the future. However, there are currently only gaps in PLAN's numbering system for 2 more Type 726s (3323 and 3324), so I wonder what kind of plans they have for this series. With the induction of Zubr hovercraft, they do not need Type 726 for solo missions to nearby islands. Do they intend to fit more Type 726s into Type 071's well deck in the future or do they intend to use it to hold amphibious vehicles? That could tell us about how PLA conducts amphibious assaults in the future.

Secondly, HuDong shipyard is as busy as it usually is. There are currently 3 larger ships launched and parked at the shipyard. One of which is the 4th Type 071 and the 2 others are both Type 815A AGI ship. Interestingly enough, there was a 3rd Type 815A which recently just departed the shipyard and entered NSF with pennant number 854. The first 2 Type 815s (one of which is Type 815A) both entered service with ESF. Given the overwhelming presence of JMSDF and USN nearby, it makes sense for these ships to first join ESF and NSF. It would be interesting to see if SSF will get any of the two that are under construction. The ships themselves are large enough to go past the immediate South China Sea area for longer ranged missions. I have already talked about Type 071 project in previous posts, so I will leave it alone here. The smaller surface combatants consist of 2 Type 054A(10th and 11th from HD) and 2 Type 056 (6th and 7th from HD), One of the 054As look ready to join service soon and the other one was just launched recently. One of the Type 056 should be going on sea trials soon if it has not already. There are definitely more 056 to be built here, but not sure if that applies to Type 054A. Finally, there are also 2 C28A frigates for the Algerian navy that are parked closely to the 2 Type 056s. The second one was just launched this past week and the modules for the 3rd one can also be seen. These 2800 ton ships are the largest export ships that the Chinese shipyards are currently building. Most of the export surface ships have been OPVs, FACs and smaller patrol boats. Since HD shipyard builds mostly frigates and larger ships, the next export contract it will likely work on is when Pakistan orders a follow-on to the F-22P series. At this point, I don't believe China has received any export orders based on Type 054A, which is a real shame considering how well it has served the Chinese Navy.

Next up, HuangPu shipyard also has a lot of activities for both naval and coast guard ships. It currently has 2 Type 056s (6th and 7th from HP) and 1 Type 054A (10th) parked outside. The 11th Type 054A is still in the construction hall and a few months away from launching. As usual, HP shipyard is swamped with ships for coast guard and other civilian ministries. In the past year, HP shipyard has built 1500, 3000 and 4000 ton cutters for different ministries. Even though they all fall under coast guard now, the cutters are still needed for the pre-merger ministries like CMS, FLEC and Customs. As mentioned earlier, one of the notable things is that these newer cutters now come with naval guns. HP and WC shipyard have both gotten similar orders for Type 056 and cutters, but HP have generally been building them much quicker. I think this just reflects the reality of Chinese shipbuilding industry where shipyards around Shanghai and Guangzhou simply are higher quality than the ones up north and further inland.

Right beside HuangPu shipyard is the GSI shipyard. Currently, there is one Type 904A and one Type 903A parked outside with a second Type 904A under construction. Another Type 903A AOR just went on sea trials a few days ago and these are the 5th and 6th ships of this class. Type 903/A AORs have been instrumental in all of China's recent Gulf of Aden flotillas and other blue water missions. Aside from the UNREP ships, each Type 903A also have hangar and helipad for one Z-8 helicopter for re-supplying other ships. The 2 new Type 904A with probably join No. 888 in supplying the islands of South China Sea. It is possible these ships are replacing No. 883 and 884 which are serving the same role. It is also possible that more are needed due to China's many reef reclamation and building projects down there.

Going further inland, we have the WC shipyard which has one launched Type 056 and another Type 072A LST, but also many export ships. Most recently, F91, which is the first P18N, was delivered to Nigeria. F92, the second P18N, is launched at WC shipyard and will also be delivered this year according to Nigerian Navy. The P18N OPVs are probably designed based on Type 056 class, but is slightly longer and displaces more at 1800 ton. They only cost $42 million each, so are not as heavily armed as Type 056s and also have lower speed requirement. We also heard recently that Argentina has agreed to buy 5 OPVs from China similar to P18N class with 2 built in China and 3 more in Argentina. Each ship is said to cost $50 million, so will probably be similar to Nigeria in armament. They will most likely be built at WC shipyard. WC shipyard also has launched 2 Type 056s for Bangladesh Navy numbered F111 and F112. Based on the recent photos, they look to have similar armament to the Chinese ones. More of these Type 056s will likely be built in Bangladesh. There are also discussions for exporting Type 056 to Pakistan and Kazakhstan, which may increase WC shipyard's export portofolio.

Aside from these more active ones, Dalian is building Type 052D right now and will likely also get orders for Type 055 program, but was previously mostly working on CV-16. From recent Google Earth photos, there looks to be no new submarines launched outside of Huludao shipyard. That could mean PLAN is evaluating the acoustic performance of the launched ones from 2013 GE photos, since they also don't appear to be at the nuclear sub naval bases. This wraps up the activities at the major shipyards. The smaller ones are tasked of building Type 056 (in the case of LiaoNan), patrol boats and cutters (in the case of Guijiang). They are harder to track due to lack of interest, but we do get photos of export versions of FACs and patrol boats. It's quite apparent that China is getting a lot more of these export contracts for building patrol boats, FACs, OPVs and frigates. Unlike 5 years ago, they are now beating out European and Russian competitions for export contracts. China has unveiled more advanced export designs the last couple of years. The next step up for them would be to win more lucrative contracts in submarines, large amphbious docking ships and 4000+ ton warships.