New satellite analysis has found that China has expanded its capacity for building nuclear-powered submarines at one of its largest shipyards.
The US Naval Institute (USNI) news site reported this week that commercial satellite imagery has revealed work on a new construction hall at the Bohai shipyard – a major site for China’s nuclear submarine programme – that could make room for two additional submarines to be built simultaneously.
The latest hall resembles another one built there in 2015, which is believed to be intended for construction of a new generation of nuclear submarines, according to the report.
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This could mean the shipyard will have capacity for four or five submarines in the sheds at one time, including room for two more at the new hall and potentially another one at a third, older construction hall.
Chinese state media have previously said that the Bohai shipyard, located at the Huludao port off the coast of northeastern Liaoning province, was the site where China constructed its Type 096 nuclear ballistic missile submarine and the Type 095 nuclear attack submarine.
The USNI report said there were three new classes of submarine that may be built at Bohai, the Type 095, Type 096, and the upgraded Type 093B nuclear-powered attack submarine, which has an increased capacity for cruise missiles. It added that details of the new construction hall at the shipyard were still not fully clear and no new submarines had yet been seen, so it was still possible that it could be designated for some other purpose.
China has worked towards building a blue-water navy, including by delivering a number of new vessels over the past year such as the country’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, the Shandong, as well as the J-15, a mass-produced carrier-based fighter jet. The upgraded capabilities of China’s navy have raised concerns for the United States and other regional powers over Beijing’s ability to defend its claims to most of the South China Sea and within the Indo-Pacific region.
US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper in early October outlined a plan for the US Navy to have over 500 manned and unmanned ships by 2045, and raised concerns about Beijing’s stated goal of fielding a world-class military by 2049. Esper said China had invested in weaponry such as long-range missiles and autonomous unmanned submarines that it believed would be “cost-effective counters to conventional American naval power”, and that Beijing sought control over critical waterways such as the South China Sea.
For China’s submarine fleet in particular, the US Office of Naval Intelligence projected in a report in March that its nuclear-powered attack submarines would grow from seven in 2020 to 13 by 2030. The number of nuclear submarines had grown from just five in 2000.
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