China’s state-run media is reporting that Beijing publicly displayed what is believed to be the largest conventional submarine in the world last week.
According to Want China Times, which cited a Chinese-language report in the state-run Guangming Daily, China’s new Type 032 Qing-class test submarine was on display last week at the Sixth Shipping Expo held in Guangdong province in southern China from June 6 to June 8. IHS Jane’s also noted the report was carried in China’s state media outlets.
The Type 032 submarine first came to foreign analysts’ attention in 2010 when pictures emerged on the Chinese internet of the vessel in a Wuhan-based shipyard (at that time, some began calling it a Type 043 submarine, causing some confusion).
According to Global Security, development of the submarine began in early 2005 followed by construction in 2008. Construction was completed in 2010, and sea trials ended in the fall of 2012. It entered PLA service in October of that same year, and testing commenced in 2013.
For some time now, defense analysts have believed that the Type 032 has a surfaced displacement of 3,797 tonnes and a submerged displacement of 6,628 tonnes. The new reports in China’s state media confirm this. According to IHS Jane’s, the new reports say that the Type 032 is “a 3,797 tonne vessel that can carry a crew of 200 sailors and researchers. It is said to be 92.6 m long with a height of 17.2 m.” This displacement makes it the world’s largest diesel-electric submarine.
From the initial images in 2010, analysts noted that the vessel possessed a large sail and under-hull extension. From this, they speculated that the Type 032 was being developed to eventually replace China’s Type 031 test submarine, which was built in the 1960’s based off the Soviet-designed Golf-class submarines. This was later confirmed.
The Type 031 never reached operational capacity but has been used by China to test its submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM): the JL-1 and more recently the JL-2. Because of this, many believe that the Type 032 submarine will carry China’s new JL-2 SLBMs, and therefore could contribute to China’s nascent undersea nuclear deterrent. According to the U.S. military, China is on the verge of fielding its first credible undersea deterrent in the form of the Type-094 (Jin-Class) nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), which will also be equipped with the JL-2 SLBM.
At this point, the Type 032 would be utilized merely to continue testing the SLBMs, as well as other sea-launched missiles. However, if China orders more additional units — which some claim it already has — this would indicate that Beijing may intend to use the new diesel-electric subs to augment the Type 094 SSBNs in providing China with a sea-based deterrent.
At the same time, the Type 032 could be used for a variety of different missions. The IHS Jane’s story cited unspecified reports as saying that the new subs could be configured to deploy underwater drones as well as PLA special forces. The Type 032’s two vertical launching systems could also be used to launch a number of different missiles. Besides the JL-2 SLBM, these other missiles could include the CJ-20A anti-ship cruise missile and YJ-18 anti-ship missile. Indeed, some analysts believe that China will use the Type 032 subs, at least in part, as another “carrier killer” weapon. The Type 032 also carry torpedoes and could therefore be used to harass surface vessels and other submarines.