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Monday, November 30, 2009

China's Subs Getting Quieter

But Still Louder Than Older Russian Submarines
30 November 2009

The Chinese Navy appears to be stressing quality over quantity as it modernizes its submarine force, according to a U.S. Navy intelligence report. But China still has a way to go on quality. Some of its newest submarines are as noisy as subs built decades ago.
Nuclear-powered Jin-class ballistic missile submarines are designed to give China's naval force, known as the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), "a credible second-strike capability," the U.S. Navy said in an August intelligence report that surfaced briefly on the Office of Naval Intelligence Web site, then vanished. The report was captured and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
The Jins - there are two in service - are more advanced than China's first-generation Xia ballistic missile submarines, but they're not exactly stealth machines.
According to a chart in the U.S. Navy report, Jins are louder than Soviet Delta III submarines built 30 years ago.

That raises questions about just how useful the submarines might be as a deterrent, said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.
Second-strike capability is intended to cause adversaries to refrain from attacking because whoever has second-strike capability can counterattack. But putting ballistic missiles on noisy submarines might not be an effective second-strike strategy.
"If these are clunkers that you can hear all the way to Hawaii," they are likely to be quickly found and sunk in any conflict with the U.S. or Russian navies, Kristensen said. "With this noise level, they're very detectable."
A new Chinese nuclear attack submarine called a Type 095 rates better on the U.S. Navy's noise scale, but it is still louder than a 20-year-old Soviet-designed Akula attack sub, according to the Navy chart. The 095 submarines are expected to begin entering the Chinese fleet in 2015.
Even if they are noisy, they are not as noisy as the Han- and Shang-class nuclear attack submarines that came before them, the intelligence chart shows.

This is apparently the first time a U.S. Navy description of the noise levels of modern Chinese and Russian nuclear submarines has been made public, Kristensen said. The report is titled "The People's Liberation Army Navy: A Modern Navy With Chinese Characteristics."
Threat or Not?
There are two ways to interpret the U.S. Navy's data, a U.S. government naval expert said. One is that China's noisy submarines are inferior to any in the U.S. fleet, and therefore not much of a threat. The other is that the new subs demonstrate that Chinese submarine technology is getting better, and loud though they might be, Chinese submarines are getting quieter.
And real performance in the ocean is "not quite as one-dimensional as the Navy's chart depicts," he said. China's submarines can be quieter under certain operating conditions.
On the whole, however, the new Chinese submarines are "not anything at this point that we should panic over in terms of detecting and tracking them," he said.
According to the U.S. Navy, China currently has three nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, six nuclear-powered attack submarines and 53 diesel-electric attack submarines.
This 62-sub fleet is expected to grow to about 75 by 2020 or 2025 as new submarines, including non-nuclear air independent propulsion vessels, are added to the fleet.
The intelligence report also predicts that all of China's new attack submarines will probably be armed with advanced cruise missiles. Today's attack submarines are armed with anti-ship cruise missiles, wake-homing torpedoes and mines, according to a Nov. 23 report by the Congressional Research Service.
China's Jins are designed to carry 12 JL-2 nuclear-armed ballistic missiles with a range of 3,888 nautical miles, according to the U.S. Defense Department's annual Chinese Military Power report.
The Naval Intelligence report said that with Jin-class submarines and JL-2 ballistic missiles, "China is developing a near-continuous at-sea strategic deterrent." The missiles are "capable of reaching the continental United States from Chinese littorals," giving the PLAN "its first credible second-strike nuclear capability."
Kristensen said he's not convinced.
Citing other Defense Department numbers, he said missiles fired from Jin-class submarines in Chinese waters "would fall into the sea about 800 kilometers [about 500 miles] from Seattle."
"With the range this system has, it is not a system that can target the United States unless they sail well into the Pacific," Kristensen said. "I'm very puzzled about why the Chinese would be putting their crown jewels - JL-2 missiles - on submarines that are that vulnerable."
Using Jin submarines only makes sense as a deterrent "if they survive. And a blunt claim would be that they would not survive in a war with the United States," he said.
The Jin and its missiles appear to be "a regional weapon," that could threaten Japan or U.S. military assets on Guam, he said.
Perhaps the Jins are not intended to be a deterrent against the United States. Their missiles might be intended to deter Russia, which has a history of border tensions with China, Kristensen said.
India also may be a target for Chinese deterrence. India has nuclear weapons, but as yet, none that can strike as far as China, he said.
Or perhaps the submarines and their missiles are intended as a display of national pride, he said. When nations become military powers, one of the things they do is build ballistic missile submarines, Kristensen said.
Lt. Cmdr. Billy Ray Davis, a U.S. Navy spokesman, said no one was available to answer questions about the report.
Original News