China’s PLA Navy could be developing a new Yuan-class submarine, an image surfaced on social media suggests.
According to the defense analyst H I Sutton, the image indicates that China could be developing a new Yuan-class submarine, but in a completely novel version.
The Yuan-class boats play a pivotal role in the Chinese PLA Navy’s ambitions to become a true blue water navy and dominate the Indo-Pacific. These are conventionally powered diesel-electric submarines.
Latest piece by @CovertShores on new Chinese sub variant (possible the Type-039C variant of the Yuan-class SSK).
— Franz-Stefan Gady (@HoansSolo) May 12, 2021
They are also China’s first conventional submarines with an AIP (Air Independent Propulsion) technology, making them some of the quietest diesel-electric classes in service.
According to an early assessment by the US Naval Institute, the Yuan class was primarily designed as “an anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) platform capable of being submerged for long periods of time in difficult to access shallow littorals.”
However, Sutton believes the new submarine isn’t a typical Yuan. He underlines that compared to the existing Yuan-class boats, the new submarine has a radically redesigned sail.
There are also many subtle changes, he claims. “The sail, which is partly obscured by the bridge, appears to have a chine running along the upper part, somewhat like the Swedish A-26 Blekinge class. It is also possible that the shadow is part of scaffolding around the sail, but this seems less likely,” Sutton maintains.
The submarine doesn’t appear to be much longer than the previous ones, indicating that it does not have a Vertical Launch System (VLS) for ballistic missiles. However the new boat appears generally cleaner and more modern than existing Yuans, at least on the outside, Sutton says.
With many additions like a new aircraft carrier, stealth frigates, and submarines, the PLA Navy is believed to be making rapid expansions of its military assets. These are also linked to Beijing’s growing aggression towards its neighbors as well as Taiwan, which China claims as its territory.
The PLA Navy has been in the news due to its actions in the disputed South China Sea. Most of the escalations in the Western Pacific have been linked to the PLA Navy. The service is undergoing the greatest expansion in its history and has become the largest Navy in terms of its fleet of warships, according to a US Congressional report published last year.