China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has deployed a Type 039A Yuan-class diesel-electric attack submarine (SSK) and a Type 926 submarine support ship to the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) earlier this month, sources within Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD) told India Today on October 15.
The PLAN last dispatched one of its submarines, also a Type 039A Yuan-class SSK, plus a sub support vessel to the Indian Ocean on a five-month “anti-piracy” patrol in June 2017. This month’s deployment marks the eighth time that the PLAN has dispatched a submarine to the IOR since 2013.
Neither the Chinese nor Indian defense ministries have publicly confirmed the dispatch of a PLAN submarine to the IOR.
Type 039A Yuan-class (also designated Type 041) SSKs made their first public debut in 2006. The boats are replacing older Type 039 Song-class conventionally-powered submarines. The Yuan-class is allegedly one of the quietest sub classes currently in service with the PLAN, although Chinese SSKs remain noisier and easier detectable than SSKs of Western-equipped navies.
A total of four different Yuan-class variants, all heavily influenced by Russian submarine design, have been identified by naval analysts.
The latest variant of the SSK class has been designated Type 039B. Production of this latest iteration of the Yuan-class has reportedly resumed in early 2017 after a three-year hiatus. Overall, the PLAN currently operates somewhere from 13 to 16 Yuan-class boats of all variants and plans to field at least an additional four to six boats in the coming decade.
Yuan-class boats are thought to be equipped with with German-made diesel engines — the 396 SE84 series — designed and manufactured by MTU Friedrichshafen with the Type 039B variant to be fitted with the Swedish-made Kockums Stirling air-independent propulsion (AIP) technology to increases the sub’s submerged endurance from days to weeks. (Type 039A boats are reportedly equipped with indigenous AIP technology.) As I wrote elsewhere:
It is unclear what combat control systems are installed aboard the latest Yuan-class boats. Fitted with six 533-millimeter torpedo tubes, the sub can reportedly launch YJ-2 (YJ-82) anti-ship cruise missiles, launched in a buoyant capsule, and a combination of Yu-4 (SAET-50) passive homing and Yu-3 (SET-65E) active/passive homing torpedoes.
There has also been speculation that some boats of the class will be fitted with a vertical launch system for newer anti-ship cruise missiles such as the YJ-18, China’s most modern supersonic anti-ship missile specifically designed to defeat the Aegis Combat System. The YJ-18 has allegedly already been deployed on PLAN surface warships.
Notably, a Type 039A Yuan class SSK made a port call in Karachi, Pakistan in 2015. China is expected to supply the Pakistan Navy with eight modified Yuan-class SSKs by 2028 for an estimated $4 to $5 billion. The first four boats are expected to be delivered by the end of 2023; the remaining four will be locally assembled in Karachi by 2028. Neither China nor Pakistan have revealed the exact submarine type, but it appears likely that the submarines are a scaled-down 2,300-ton export version, designated S20, of the Type 039A variant.