Wednesday, July 25, 2007

China Media unveils one Han class Submarine's out of commission

July 3rd,Qingdao local media said that a retired nuclear submarine was going to be exhibited in Qingdao Naval Museum. It means that the type 091 nuclear submarine (NATO called as "Han" class) starts to quit its service in PLA Navy 33 years later and to be replaced by Type 093 submarine.

The report did not say the detail information of the retired submarine. But it is usually believed that the first one is Type 091 SSN-401 submarine, which is called as "Long March No.1" in China. Several years before, some western analyzers have judged that the SSN-401 and SSN-402 submarines have been no longer operational in duty because of technological malfunction and reactor radiation pollution. However PLA never admitted it and the secret-keeping fog on the nuclear submarine fleet close its door to all foreign and domestic civilian news media.

Except the No.401 submarine, the SSN-402 submarine (serviced in 1980) and SSN-403(serviced in 1984) have been operational in PLA navy for over 20 years. The newest one, SSN-405, is over 17 years. Since the years of 2000, the main players in exercises are usually SSN-404 and SSN-405.

There is an unconfirmed event that a Type 091 nuclear submarine collided with a Russian Victor-III nuclear submarine (K-234). According to the service time, SSN-401 and SSN-402 may be the sufferer involved in the accident. Actually after entering 21st century, PLA intentionally decreased the size of the original huge number on submarine superstructure to cover the exact active status of Type 091 nuclear submarine.

Now it can be asserted that SSN 401 has been retired from PLA navy, because 33-year service time is not completely unacceptable. USS Los Angeles SSN-688 is still active for 31 years since its commission in 13 November 1976. Since the SSN-401 has been playing a valuable testing platform of PLA, SSN-402 has possibility of being out.

The limited number of PLA navy nuclear submarine kept a special position of Type 091 submarine. In PLA navy, Type 091 was called as “Strategic” Attack Nuclear submarine. In fact, type 091 submarines often carry strategic tasks, like breaking through the second island chain to show PLA’s power in high seas or executing deterrent to U.S. carrier striking group, although the real aftermath is unclear.
Considering PLA Navy’s strategic position in western pacific, the nuclear submarine amount needs to be expanded. So the total retirement of Han class family can not be seen in next 6-8 years.

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