Satellite images open up the prospect of a new class of Chinese submarines


HONG KONG, May 10 (Reuters) – Military analysts say a vessel spotted at a Chinese shipyard in rare recent satellite images could be a new or improved class of nuclear-powered attack submarine.

It’s unclear if the submarine is a new model, an upgrade to an existing ship, or something else. But diplomats and analysts watched closely after a Pentagon report in November said China’s navy was likely to build a new attack submarine with vertical launch tubes for missiles in the next few years. cruising.

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

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Satellite images from April 24 to May 4, 2022 confirm that a probable nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) was in drydock at a shipyard in the port of Huludao in northeast China, in about 430 km east of Beijing.

The greenish covers the fairing areas behind her superstructure and stern – parts of the ship that could house missile launch tubes and a new, quieter propulsion system, analysts said. Such clear images of submarines in drydock are rarely seen.

The submarine was out of the water between April 24 and May 4, and was later seen largely submerged in the same spot after the drydock flooded.

Singapore-based security specialist Collin Koh said there was a lot of interest in the prospect of a new class of Chinese Type 093 “hunter-killer” submarines with vertical missile launch tubes guided. But he said recent satellite images were too limited to definitively identify the ship.

The images “are very interesting but it’s still very unclear whether we’re looking at some sort of refit for testing or an all-new class of submarines,” said Koh, of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Koh said he and others are watching closely to see if new Chinese submarines will switch to quieter pump jets instead of conventional propellers for propulsion. Because the stern is shrouded it is not possible to tell what type of propulsion the vessel in the image is using.

Vertical launch tubes would add considerable flexibility to China’s fleet of “hunter-killer” submarines, arming ships with more guided missiles.

China’s Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

China’s attack submarines are evolving to meet a growing range of potential demands, from protecting People’s Liberation Army Navy ballistic missile submarines and aircraft carrier battle groups to tracking enemy ships.

Jeffrey Lewis, a professor of arms control at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, said the latest images raise more questions than answers about whether they reveal a new class of ships.

“It’s plausible, but there are questions I would like answered. It didn’t stay in drydock very long and it’s not clear how they were able to reconfigure this submarine,” he said. declared. “Given the Pentagon report, there is certainly a lot of interest.”

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Reporting by Greg Torode. Editing by Gerry Doyle

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