Key point: The older Type 093 submarine was not very good. However, with enough time, learning, and changes, the newer Type 093A is a much better (and lethal) boat.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is now the largest naval force in the world, and a lot of attention has been paid to its two aircraft carriers, while a third flattop is reportedly on the way. This is in addition to its naval expansion, which includes assault carriers, cruisers and destroyers.
This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.
However, the more significant threat from Beijing may not be the carriers or other surface vessels, or even its aircraft carrier “killer” missiles—but rather its Type 093A attack submarine.
The first iteration of the Type 093 dates all the way back to 2005, but it was not without problems—and it offered little improvement over its problem-plagued, noisy predecessor, the Type 091. However, the Type 093 has been steadily improved.
It now seems that with the enhancements the Type 093 is well on its way to being a world-class attack submarine.
According to submarine expert H I Sutton, writing for Naval News, the Type 093A Shang-II class is the most powerful attack submarine in China’s arsenal today. The roughly 7,000 ton nuclear-powered submarine is roughly the same size as the Royal Navy’s Astute-class, which puts it in between the French Navy Suffren-class and the U.S. Navy’s Virginia-class.
While nuclear-powered submarines tend to be louder than their diesel-electric counterparts, the Type 093A reportedly uses some of its larger size for noise-reducing features including acoustic stealth. Improvements in reactor coolant pump design may have helped reduce the Shang-class’ acoustic signature.
Beijing hasn’t shared any specific details, but Chinese sources have reported that its teardrop hull with a wing-shaped cross-section provides both improved speed and stealth. A 2009 U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) report listed the Chinese Type 093 as being noisier than the Russian Navy’s Project 671RTM submarines, which entered service with the Soviet Navy in 1979. However, the Type 093A could be far quieter due to its altered hull form.
The Type 093A is also reported to be quite well armed, and is capable of carrying the YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missiles. It is a solid-fuelled rocket that can be launched from a buoyant launch canister. The missile lacks a solid booster and has an operational range of only about forty-two kilometers, but it is still a serious threat to enemy warships.
The submarine can also carry the YJ-82 anti-ship missile, rocket mines and torpedoes including the Yu-6 thermal torpedoes. The heavyweight thermal torpedo, which is essentially the Chinese counterpart of the American Mark 48 torpedo, is wire-guided and has active/passive acoustic-homing and wake-homing sensors.
The Type 093A Shang-II isn’t the world’s best attack submarine, but it should highlight the fact that Beijing continues to make progress on all fronts. Just as China’s PLAN is becoming a force to be reckoned with in terms of carriers, so too could it be a serious submarine force.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.
This article is being republished due to reader interest.