If high levels of stealth are desired in PLAN's Type-096 submarine, then the new subs will likely have a similar hull diameter to Russia's improved Akula class, shown above. Credit: National Interest.

Has the Chinese Navy moved a step closer to the next generation of powerful nuclear submarines, matching the US and the Russians in the global game of deadly deterrence?

According to a report in Forbes magazine, new evidence at the Bohai shipyard in China points to big things ahead for the Chinese Navy (PLAN).

While some have speculated that the new Type 095 and 096 subs will be built there, it is only now that the infrastructure is largely ready for such a task, Forbes reported.

Analysis of commercial imagery shows a new launch barge has recently been completed at the site — an important indicator.

In an unclassified analysis, the US Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) says it expects China’s submarine fleet to grow from around 66 boats today to at least 76 by 2030, Forbes reported.

This will include six more nuclear-powered attack submarines, which just happens to be what the Bohai yard at Huludao builds.

The new submarines will be important if the PLAN wishes to patrol the open Pacific and challenge US naval power, or routinely venture into the Indian Ocean, Forbes reported.

Work on the Huludao expansion started in 2014 with large new construction halls built on reclaimed land. The hall has three construction bays, each large enough to house two submarines.

The buildings themselves were complete by 2017, but it is only recently that they have been connected to the dry dock where the submarines will be launched. So China now has the facilities lined up to start launching advanced Type-095 Tang Class submarines (China’s answer to the US Virginia Class), Forbes reported.

However, according to Captain Chris Carlson, a former senior US intelligence officer, the driver for the new construction facility may not be as it seems.

Instead he sees the next generation ballistic missile submarine, the Type-096, as benefiting more.

“The original construction hall is probably too small to house both new submarines, but this assumes the submarines’ beam (width) is the constraining issue – the Type 096’s expected greater length is a definite problem. The original launch barge also likely has inadequate lifting capacity to get a much larger Type 096 submarine into the water.”

Carlson believes that the new submarines will be wider than the current generation, Forbes reported.

“Despite all the blog blustering, the current Type 093 attack submarine is a noisy boat. And the 093A, while better, isn’t the equivalent of a 688 (Los Angeles Class).”

Carlson continues, “The pressure hull diameter of a Type-093 is just too small for a full entablature raft along with compound isolation to house the entire propulsion plant and the necessary auxiliaries. This is the same constraint the Russian’s experienced with the Victor III Class that has a less effective ring raft.”

In layperson’s terms, the pressure hull needs to be bigger to provide space to insulate the submarine’s steel hull from the vibrations of the machinery, Forbes reported.

If high levels of stealth are desired, then the new submarines will likely have a similar hull diameter to the Russian Improved Akula class.

According to GlobalSecurity.org, the Type-096 submarine will be the quietest, most heavily-armed submarine the Chinese Navy has ever built.

The design will incorporate technological advancements to provide improvement in ship quieting; improved acoustic sensors; more capable combat systems; greater weapon capacity and capability; improved performance machinery program; and enhanced survivability.

The past few decades of submarine hydrodynamic evolution have resulted in a ship of teardrop shape with unobstructed skin. The fact that a modern submarine resembles an airplane is not a coincidence, Global Security reported.

Underwater the submarine maneuvers much like an aircraft. It dives, climbs, banks and turns by manipulating control surfaces. These control surfaces are a vertical rudder aft and horizontal diving planes forward and aft.

There is a fixed fin forward, commonly referred to as fairwater, or simply the sail. The outer hull at the bow houses major sonar equipment and forms the nose of the teardrop, Global Security reported.

The parallel middle body houses all the equipment required for control, stability, propulsion, and weapon systems. The after end of the outer hull tapers to a point, providing a hydrodynamically effective flow path to the stern control planes and the propeller.

All Chinese [and US] submarines are powered by a pressurized water reactor (PWR) coupled to a steam turbine.

Although, it may no longer be the most efficient and compact system technology, the PWR design has a long history of safe, reliable operation. Torque generated by the steam turbine is transmitted to the screw by the propulsion train (reduction gear and shafting). 

Weapons include the ability to carry 24 nuclear missiles (MIRVed JL-3 SLBMs with multiple warheads) plus six bow torpedo tubes capable of firing 24 passive acoustic homing torpedoes (533-mm Thunderbolt).