China's exported submarines are relatively cheap but offer advanced technology, and designs for some of their features could be modified to meet customers' requirements, making them more competitive in the global market, an expert said Thursday.
The comments came after media reports said that Thailand's cabinet had approved the first of three submarine purchases from China. Thai government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd was quoted in a Reuters' report on Monday as saying that the purchase had been approved on April 18, and a budget of $393 million has been earmarked for the first Yuan Class S26T submarine over a six-year period.
It's the latest purchase from a foreign buyer, after China's State-owned shipbuilder China Shipbuilding Industry Corp (CSIC) officially confirmed on October 12, 2016 the sale of a fleet of submarines to Pakistan. According to previous media reports, Pakistan will acquire eight modified diesel-electric attack submarines from China by 2028, and the deal was estimated to be worth about $5 billion.
In November, the Bangladesh Navy took delivery of two refurbished Type 035 (Ming)-class diesel-electric submarines, IHS Jane's Defence Weekly reported on November 15.
In recent years, China has been exporting more conventional submarines thanks to their good quality and relatively low prices, which is also in line with the development of China's military sector and with numerous achievements related to weaponry and equipment, Li Jie, a naval military expert, told the Global Times on Thursday.
"For example, the electronic system and combat platform have both been developing very rapidly in recent years. However, some components may still lag behind the first-class equipment worldwide," he said.
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is currently operating a submarine fleet that is one of the fastest-growing and most modern forces in the world, according to a post published by the US-based nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) in July 2016. China possesses both nuclear-powered and diesel-electric submarines, and the Type 041 Yuan-class is the PLA Navy's first class of diesel-electric submarines to be equipped with an air-independent propulsion (AIP) system, the NTI post noted.
Overall, China has been climbing the global rankings in terms of submarine technology in recent years, and one of the major breakthroughs has been the application of AIP, an industry insider who did not wish to be named told the Global Times on Wednesday night.
"Some technologies are on the same level as those mastered by Germany. More importantly, we can provide financial support for potential foreign buyers," he said.
The submarines that the PLA Navy uses itself are more advanced than those that are being sold, the source noted.
Satisfy customer demand
China could sell some of its submarine technologies to foreign buyers, especially those with good relationships with the country like Pakistan, Li noted. "We are not like some countries whose main purpose is weapon sales and trading to earn more dollars. We provide technology support for foreign buyers to help them enhance their military industry," he said.
The AIP technology helps submarines stay submerged for much longer, sometimes over half a month, which is a big difference from previously exported submarines, Li noted.
"This type of technology has become a key requirement for Pakistan, which is unlikely to pay for more expensive technology like nuclear-powered submarines. But the country needs to strengthen its navy in the event that a confrontation with India does occur," Li said. The submarines used in the Asia Pacific region are mainly produced by Germany, the US and France, the source noted.
China could modify some of the features of its submarines to be in line with customers' requirements, which would also make its fleet more popular in the global market, according to Li. "For example, a change to withstand different water depths or heat dissipation is not a challenging task for Chinese manufacturers."