Sat, Jul 15, 2006 - Page 8 News List

PRC's new 'Type 094' submarine has no bite

By Cheng Ta-cheng 鄭大誠

Recent reports indicate that China's Type 094 Jin-class nuclear-powered guided ballistic missile submarine is already in service. Some of the media haven't been able to avoid buying into the hype surrounding its production, calling it "the complete equal of the American Ohio-class nuclear submarine."

The 094's construction process has been shrouded in mystery, even to the extent that authorities have cordoned off a restricted area extending several kilometers around the construction facilities on China's Hulu Island, strictly prohibiting outsiders from approaching or entering.

Despite the secrecy, sources have said that all of the 094's capabilities are more advanced than those of its predecessor (the Type 092 Xia-class), and that the Julang 2 long-range submarine-launched ballistic missile that it is capable of launching constitutes a more advanced and credible global nuclear deterrent.

However, when viewed from a comparative standpoint, it becomes clear that aside from their nuclear reactors, the next-generation nuclear weaponry that China has assembled (especially its missiles) has only reached the level of US technology from the 1960s, and it certainly cannot be compared to the Ohio-class submarines and Trident II D5 submarine-launched missiles currently deployed by the US Navy.

Furthermore, although its Julang 2 missiles are capable of reaching targets 8,000km away, there are doubts as to whether or not the Type 094 is capable of breaching another nation's anti-submarine blockade in particular that of the US seventh fleet.

The Chinese navy has not deployed an effective early warning system, or the necessary computer hardware and software to link communications between satellites and submarines. As a result, there is still some skepticism as to whether the Type 094 would be effective in combat.

In addition to these shortcomings, China currently docks its submarines in the open, making it difficult to prevent direct detection by other countries' radar and optical satellites. Although China may later construct large-scale submarine hangars to keep them from being spotted, the "Hyperspectrum Surveillance System" currently under research in the US will have the capability to find the subs through indirect means.

By observing changes in temperature and small gas emissions surrounding the hangar, the system can deduce whether or not there is a submarine inside. Less clear is whether or not China will be able to construct a number of self-guided decoy subs to trick enemies into thinking that there are subs in ports and surrounding waters when there are not. The cost to construct one basic Type 094 decoy submarine is several millions of dollars, and making it self-guided will increase the price.

Whether or not the Chinese navy gets the necessary funding to produce enough decoy subs to confuse its enemies will depend on how committed Beijing is to the program.

Cheng Ta-chen is an independent defense analyst.

Translated by Marc Langer

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