China’s Newest ‘Stealth Submarine’ Deployed Near Taiwan As PLA Builds Pressure On ‘Breakaway Province’

Amid intense regional tensions, China appears to have stationed a new type of submarine close to Taiwan that may have stealth capabilities.

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The newest attack submarine of the Chinese Navy (PLAN) is said to be commissioned in July 2022. A picture of what appeared to be a commissioning ceremony for this new type of submarine was published in a PLA Navy report in July.

NavalNews reported that the submarine had been introduced to China’s East Sea Fleet, located next to Taiwan. The fleet directly competes with Taiwan having operational control over that region. 

The boat stands out from others currently in use due to its dramatically angled sail. Also, the new submarine represents the leading edge of Chinese non-nuclear submarine technology. 

The new submarine, regarded as a Type 039 Yuan Class member and possibly designated as the Type 039C, differs visually from the Type 039A and Type 039B due to its unique angled sail. 

The new Yuan-class submarine was first sighted in 2021. (via Twitter)

The angled sail design is thought to reduce the radar cross-section, improve the submarine’s stealth above water and provide hydrodynamic advantages. 

According to the report, the submarine was shipped to Shanghai for fitting out after it was built in Wuhan. It has now received certification as an operational boat after being launched more than a year ago.

The PLAN’s East Sea Fleet’s headquarters, Ningbo, hosted the commissioning ceremony. According to NavalNews, the submarine is stationed at the Daxie Dao Submarine Base with older Yuan Class vessels. A rocky archipelago protects this base, which is close to several naval bases. 

The new submarine squares off against the Taiwanese Navy at this base. The East Sea Fleet’s submarine bases are roughly 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of the main Taiwanese Island. It also has to contend with the Japanese island chain, a natural divider between the open Pacific. 

China’s New Submarine

The new submarine is categorized as a Type 039C Yuan class diesel-electric submarine. The first boat images appeared on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo in 2021. 

The Yuan-class submarines are the backbone of China’s fleet of conventional submarines. These are thought to have air-independent power (AIP), which uses closed-circuit Stirling engines to drive their electric motors underwater. 

The design is similar to the Swedish A-26 but is not a replica. This may lessen its radar signature while moving over the surface.

According to unconfirmed reports, the sail may contain a vertical launch system (VLS) for powerful new missiles. However, this is highly improbable given that it is roughly the same size as earlier Yuan-class vessels.

A submarine attached to a submarine flotilla with the navy under the PLA Northern Theater Command bears off a port and heads out for maritime training on May 6, 2022. Photo:China Military
A submarine attached to a submarine flotilla with the navy under the PLA Northern Theater Command bears off a port and heads out for maritime training on May 6, 2022. Photo: China Military

The submarine is probably capable of hauling the same YJ-18 supersonic anti-ship missiles and torpedoes as the earlier vessels.

Nevertheless, the Type-039C Yuan has a more complex sail design than the Type-039A and Type-039B. In the opinion of the experts, the new submarine’s angled sail may also indicate that surface operation are the platform’s primary objective. 

The submarine is anticipated to be roughly the same size as the Type 039A/B, measuring about 250 feet in length and having a 3,600-ton displacement capacity.

According to a report titled “China Naval Modernization: Implications for US Navy Capabilities” presented to the US Congress, China may procure at least 25 Yuan class submarines by 2025. 

Taiwan’s Submarine Force

Currently, the Taiwanese Navy maintains two Hai Shih class submarines and two of the Chien Lung class at the Tsoying Naval Base in Kaohsiung. For the past 20 years, Taiwan has been trying to increase the size of its small submarine fleet.

Initially, the country tried to buy submarines from the US and Europe, but those efforts were unsuccessful. Now, it appears that Taiwan is building its submarines. In November 2020, Taiwan revealed that work had started on the nation’s first diesel-electric submarine at a brand-new facility in Kaohsiung.

Taiwan submarine
File Photo: Taiwan submarine

Beginning in 2001, it tried to buy eight of these submarines from the US. However, those attempts were unsuccessful because the US Navy had long since stopped producing conventionally powered submarines in favor of nuclear propulsion.

Due to Chinese opposition, European suppliers were reluctant to do business with Taiwan. 

According to the current plan for Taiwan’s so-called Indigenous Defense Submarine (IDS) program, eight new submarines will be built at a potential cost of up to US$16 billion, increasing the size of its fleet from roughly two today to ten in the coming years. Before 2025, the first new indigenous submarine is expected to be finished. 

However, the updated designs of Chinese submarines demonstrate the nation’s significant advancements in submarine technology.