The Chinese military gave its state-run television broadcaster a tour of its nuclear submarine fleet recently, a loosening of censorship that indicated to some defense analysts that the military may soon deploy its next-generation nuclear submarines.
A video from state-run CCTV Network News has a Chinese military officer explaining the basic functions of China’s nuclear submarines, and it includes footage of the interior and exterior of the subs.
Rumors are spreading around the Chinese blogosphere, and Taiwanese media, that the video shows China’s second-generation Type 094 Jin Class nuclear submarines. Defense analysts, however, say the subs are older models.
“The submarine programs mentioned are from the first generation, the Type 091 or Han class nuclear attack sub and the Type 092 or Xia class nuclear ballistic missile submarine,” said Richard Fisher, Jr., a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, in an email interview.
The “probably deeper meaning” of the tour, Fisher said, “is that China has made enough progress on the second generation Type 093 attack SSN and Type 094 SSBN so that it can at long last relax censorship regarding the first generation nuclear submarines.”
SSN submarines are nuclear-powered, general-purpase attack submarines. SSBN submarines are nuclear-powered submarines armed with ballistic missiles.
The intent of the newscast is clear, however: China’s state-run CCTV flagship news program, Xinwen Lianbo, or Network News, played the subs in light of rising tensions in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, stating “a real confrontation of sea offense and defense in a certain area expanded.”
The Chinese military has been developing its second-generation 094 nuclear submarines since the late 1980s, and they are expected to become fully operational next year. It is then expected to begin focusing on its next-generation submarines. Fisher said, “China’s third generation Type 095 SSN and Type 096 SSBN are expected to emerge in the early 2020s.”
Additional reporting by Matthew Robertson.