A new nuclear submarine has been turned over to the People's Liberation Army Navy, one of the largest State-owned naval shipbuilding enterprises revealed on Tuesday, but experts believe that this submarine is not the most advanced Type 096, which is China's next generation strategic nuclear submarine.
China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), which also manufactures China's aircraft carrier, posted the information on its WeChat account Tuesday in an article reviewing its achievements since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 2012.
"The past five years since the 18th National Congress of the CPC has been an extraordinary period for the CSIC, with the handover of China's first aircraft carrier Liaoning to the PLA Navy, the launch of the first homegrown aircraft carrier, the completion of the new nuclear submarine and the deep-sea-exploration submersible Jiaolong…"the article said.
However, the article did not reveal the submarine's name and type. But some Net users and military enthusiasts speculated the submarine is Type 096, China's most advanced nuclear submarine, and the successor of the current Type 094, which first appeared on China Central Television in 2013.
The submarine the CSIC mentioned could be Type 094 or Type 093, but not the next generation nuclear-powered ballistic submarine Type 096, since Type 096 is too advanced and not to be completed soon, Song Zhongping, a military expert who served in the PLA Rocket Force, told the Global Times.
The strategic nuclear submarine, also called a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, is capable of launching nuclear warheads from the sea, and can provide "a second strike" to a country in nuclear warfare.
That means when the enemy has completely destroyed land-based launch positions, the submarines take over.
The 2017 Annual Report to the U.S. Congress on China's military power by the U.S. Defense Department claims that China's next-generation nuclear submarine, Type 096, will likely begin construction in the early 2020s, and will reportedly be armed with the JL-3, a submarine-based ballistic missile.
"Pentagon's prediction about Type 096 could be correct to some extent, but the submarine could be completed ahead of schedule. The submarine is a key weapon to the country's nuclear warfare capability. Only the US and Russia have the real 'nuclear triad' (consisting of ballistic missiles, strategic nuclear submarines and strategic bombers), but sooner or later, China will have it as well," said Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert.
The U.S. report also predicts that in the next decade, China will probably develop a new variant of the SHANG class (NATO code) Type 093B, which would not only improve the PLA's anti-surface warfare capability but also provide it with a more clandestine land-attack option.