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Did China ‘Accidentally’ Unveil Its Newest Stealth Submarine? A Picture In PLA Navy Report Gives Rise To Speculations

Recently, an image that appeared in an official report of the PLA Navy went viral on Chinese social media, appearing to show a new type of conventionally powered submarine, the state-run Global Times reported. 

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It has given rise to the speculations that the submarine could provide enhanced stealth capabilities because of its new sail design.

The official report, published on July 18 by the PLA Navy’s official WeChat account, detailed new improvements to sailors’ canteen services, the Chinese state media outlet reported.

However, military observers were particularly drawn to one of the images included in the report. In the background of that photo was a large screen that displayed a docked submarine with sailors lining up on its back in what appeared to be some ceremony. 

Eastday.com, a news outlet based in Shanghai, reported on July 18 that this is the first time the PLA Navy had made this particular type of conventionally powered submarine public.

The new submarine, considered a member of the Type 039 family and possibly known as the Type 039C, stands out from the Type 039A and Type 039B in terms of appearance thanks to its distinctive angled sail.

In April 2021, The EurAsian Times published a report on China’s new submarine, which was undergoing testing at the time. It is believed that the angled sail design might lower the radar cross-section, increase the submarine’s stealth above water, offer hydrodynamic benefits, and accommodate new systems. 

The new Chinese submarine’s angled sail design resembles the Swedish A26 class submarine. After Sweden’s A26-class submarine, China is now the second nation in the world to develop a submarine with an angled sail design.

Many defense experts believe that Beijing has copied the Swedish design.

A photo posted on the WeChat account shows a Type 039C submarine.

But even so, China’s state-run media made an effort to refute these claims. Eastday.com argued that the Chinese submarine has already entered service, while the first A26 only recently had its keel laying ceremony, meaning it still has a long way to go before commissioning. 

Despite having similar angled sail designs, China’s media outlet said the two submarines’ specifics are very different. An expert who wished to remain anonymous on July 19 told the Global Times that China’s shipbuilding sector has advanced quickly and is fully capable of producing independent, creative designs. 

An artist’s impression of the Swedish A26 submarine. (Image: Saab)

China’s New ‘Stealth’ Submarine

As previously mentioned, the new submarine is considered a diesel-electric Type 039C Yuan class vessel. On the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, pictures of the boat were first posted in 2021.

A short video that was simultaneously posted on the social media site showed the submarine being moved upriver from the shipyard in Wuhan. 

The Chinese fleet of conventional submarines is anchored by the Yuan-class submarines. These are considered to have Air Independent Power (AIP), which operates its electric motors while submerged by closed-circuit Stirling engines.

It is similar to the A-26 class engine, which allows the submarine to operate its diesel generators and recharge its batteries without needing a snorkel.

As a result, the batteries save much more power, enabling the submarine to stay underwater for an extended period.

The new Yuan-class submarine was sighted recently. (via Twitter)

Compared to Type-039A and Type-039B, the Type-039C Yuan has the most complex sail design. According to the experts, the angled sail of the new submarine might also signify those surface operations are the new platform’s primary focus

While speculative, the sail is similar to the stealth layering used in stealth ships and aircraft to sidestep incoming enemy radar and avoid detection.

However, despite having different sail shapes, the several Yuan classes appear to have relatively similar-sized sails that are fitted to the exact location in the hull. It could mean that all three Type-039 variants still primarily perform anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare missions. 

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

This new submarine is anticipated to be equipped with a range of weapons, including wire-guided torpedoes, anti-ship missiles, and mines, like its predecessors. It may also be equipped with torpedo tubes to launch land-attack cruise missiles. 

The submarine is envisioned to be about the same size as the Type 039A/B, with a length of about 250 feet and a displacement capacity of 3,600 tons. China may acquire at least 25 Yuan class submarines by 2025, according to a report titled “China Naval Modernization: Implications for US Navy Capabilities” submitted to the US Congress. 

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