Military analysts have spotted a vessel at a Chinese shipyard using satellite images and have opined that it could be a new or upgraded class of nuclear-powered attack submarine.
The development comes in the wake of a report from the Pentagon stating that the Chinese navy is likely to build a new attack submarine with vertical launch tubes for cruise missiles.
Images shared on social media show the submarine in a dry dock in Huludao Port in the Chinese province of Liaoning.
According to analysts, the submarine is likely to be equipped with a quieter propulsion system and could house missile launch tubes. Greenish covers have been spread behind its superstructure and stern.
The sighting assumes significance since such clear images of submarines in a dry dock are not common phenomenon. Between April 24 and May 4, the submarine was out of the water; it was seen mostly submerged in the same place after the dry dock was flooded.
Singapore-based security scholar Collin Koh opined, there was has been a great deal of interest in the prospect of a new class of Chinese Type 093 “hunter-killer” submarine featuring vertical launch tubes for guided missiles, but the recent satellite images were too limited to definitively identify the vessel.
The images “are very interesting but it is still very hard to be sure yet whether we are looking at some kind of refit for testing or a whole new class of submarine,” said Koh, of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
He went on to add, he and others were closely watching to see whether new Chinese submarines would shift to quieter pump-jets instead of conventional propellers for propulsion. Since the stern is shrouded, it was not possible to tell what sort of propulsion system the submarine is equipped with.
Vertical launch tubes would add considerable flexibility to China’s “hunter killer” submarine fleet, arming the vessels with more guided missiles.
“The latest images raised more questions than answers as to whether they revealed a new class of vessel”, said Jeffrey Lewis, a professor in arms control at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
“It’s plausible, but there are questions I’d want answered. It wasn’t in dry dock very long and it is unclear how they may have reconfigured this submarine,” he said. “Given the Pentagon report, there is certainly a lot of interest.”