Chinese PLA soldiers at a naval ship for a voyage to some 20 countries wave to the public on the Huangpu river in Shanghai. Photo: AFP
Chinese PLA soldiers at a naval ship for a voyage to some 20 countries wave to the public on the Huangpu river in Shanghai. Photo: AFP

Future modernization plans for China’s Navy have been disclosed in unprecedented detail in a lecture by a former Chinese rear admiral, according to an analysis by the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC).

The Washington DC-based think tank says retired Rear Admiral Zhao Dengping of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) revealed key programs such as a new medium-size nuclear attack submarine; a small nuclear auxiliary engine for conventional submarines; ship-based use of anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs); next-generation destroyer capabilities; and goals for PLAN Air Force modernization.

Author  Richard D. Fisher, Jr. said collections of PowerPoint slides from Zhao’s lecture appeared on multiple Chinese military-issue webpages on August 21 and 22 of this year — apparently from an undated lecture delivered at China’s Northwestern Polytechnical University.

Sub with new powerplant

Most interestingly, Zhao described “a new unidentified 7,000-ton nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) that will feature a ‘new type of powerplant … new weapon system [and] electronic information system.’” A slide showed an image of the sub with a sound isolation raft and propulsor that’s apparently designed to reduce its acoustic signature. The vessel is also armed with 12 cruise missile tubes.

“This design appears to have a single hull, which would be a departure from current PLAN submarine design practice, but the 7,000 ton weight suggests it may reflect the lower-cost weight and capability balance seen in current US and British SSNs,” Fisher added.

Zhao further disclosed that China may be working on a unique low power/low pressure auxiliary nuclear power plant for electricity generation that can be fitted on conventional submarine designs.

On future destroyers, Zhao’s slides showed a ship with “a tall stealthy superstructure” with integrated electronic systems — possibly pointing to an advanced destroyer with the air defense and eventual railgun/laser weapons of the US Zumwalt-class destroyers. Zhao also mentioned the development of a new type carrier-borne fighter, ASBMs and energy weapons.

Airships to work with carriers, ASBMs

Another interesting detail from Zhao is that PLAN is developing its own “near space” long-range targeting capabilities in the form of a “stratospheric long-endurance” unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and a “stratospheric airship.” Fisher says the development of such aerial craft makes it likely that PLAN is developing synergies between its future ASBMs and its advanced aircraft carriers.

Fisher says it’s hard to date the lecture which may have been given in the last 2-3 years. But he noted that Zhao is a former Director of the Equipment Department of the PLAN. One online biography notes Zhao is currently a Deputy Minister of the General Armaments Department of the Science and Technology Commission and Chairman of the Navy Informatization Committee. “So he likely remains involved in Navy modernization programs,” Fisher wrote.

Fisher believes the rare insights into Chinese naval planning could have been an inadvertent leak by Zhao or a university student. At the same time, he cautioned that Zhao’s revelations might be part of a “deception exercise” on the part of China’s military to mislead Western analysts, though some details are consistent with what is known of Chinese naval programs.

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