Over the past years the Chinese Navy (PLAN) underwent a major change. As the Chinese economy rose, so did China’s standing in the world. In order to project China’s new power across the region the PLAN made a transition from a coastal defence force into a powerful navy. At the moment the PLAN is a green water navy centred around diesel-electric submarines, corvettes and frigates. The primary goal of the PLAN is to gain naval superiority within the First Island Chain, a line running from Japan over Taiwan and the Philippines towards Singapore.
As China keeps becoming a more important player on the global stage it finds the need to project its power and influence beyond the First Island Chain. In order to accomplish that China needs a blue water navy with a true global reach. The PLAN already made the first steps in this new transition. Aircraft carriers, a new cruiser design and destroyers are a part of the blue water navy that China needs. Now the PLAN made improvements in a field it ignored for a long time, its Type 093 Shang class nuclear attack submarines (SSN).
The SSNs that the PLAN operates are old and outdated. They are reported to be loud and noisy and are thus easy detected by other modern navies. The Type 093 Shang class is reported to have similar capabilities as Soviet Victor III class submarines. Still, these submarines are the only tools the PLAN can employ at the moment to project power on a global scale. Although China plans to build new modern nuclear attack submarines these projects are still far away from completion. The PLAN thus upgraded its existing Type 093 SSNs to increase its combat capabilities.
|Type 093 Shang class submarine before modernisation|
The upgrades done to the Type 093 SSNs focused on the instalment of a vertical launch systems as well as the capability to fire the YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missiles. The instalment of a vertical launch system on board of the Type 093 gives the PLAN the same capabilities as US Navy Los Angeles class submarines. In general, the new Type 093 SSNs are now comparable to the Los Angeles class submarines of the 1980s.
Aside from being an anti-ship missile, the YJ-18 is also capable of attacking land targets, making it an equivalent to the US Tomahawk missile.
The implications of these new submarines are important to notice. The PLAN now has a platform capable to station weapons everywhere around the globe. Given the fact that China is an assertive player on the world scale it is very likely that it will deploy these Type 093 on patrols in the areas it deemed vital to project force. China’s main areas of interests are the East and South China Seas but its green water navy assets are more than capable to project power in these areas. Beyond this area China needs to be able to project power further in the Pacific Ocean to confront the US Navy.
A second area where these new submarines will be deployed is the Indian Ocean. PLAN nuclear submarines already patrolled this area last year. China has several economic projects in Africa and relies on oil from the Middle East to support its economy. China has made trade agreements with several nations that are not liked by Western nations. This made sense as these countries had resources but were unable to trade them on western markets, an opening that China was happy to exploit.
China will at some point in time find the need to deploy military power in order to safeguard its economic projects. The new Type 093 SSNs will be in the forefront, capable and ready to intervene when the need arises, similar to how US Navy Los Angeles SSN supported US interventions in the past