Chinese Submarines An “Underwater Orchestra”

The above statement is hyperbolic but still valid as many Chinese Submarines are called an “Underwater Orchestra” because they actually make a lot of noise. Earlier we showed how Chinese Engines are actually “Chinese”. Where we busted some issues and told how they are inferior. This time we are going to look at the Submarine fleet of PLA-N.

China currently operates the Fleet of 66 submarines. This number is very threatening. This number includes both conventionally powered and nuclear-powered submarines. Submarines are for different roles. Both have their pros and cons. Here, we would not be looking at that aspect. But seeing the aspect of why submarines are important and what is important in them.

The submarine is a military asset that can silently get very near to any waters. And get covered there, without notice. And can get out whenever required, striking the enemy by being under their nose. This all can happen if you have a stealth submarine. In Submarine, stealth plays a main role in making them noise-free. Lesser the noise, the stealthier the submarine. This is just one aspect that was are going to cover here. To induce stealth other aspects are also there like hull design. sonar, propellor design, paint, etc.

China’s Submarines

Like said, China actually has a big fleet of 66+ (A report from September claimed about 70+ ) submarines operational. Many are in construction as well. Well, this fleet is as big as the US one which is 71 submarines. India is lagging much behind with a fleet of just 16 submarines. Here, only talking about operational ones. The submarine is one of the factors where India Lags actually. Herein, India at the same time, we got better ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare) which we will discuss later on here.

But 70+ submarines are good in number no doubt. But what’s the help of this big fleet, if they can be traced. The submarine is like a secret formula of major companies

Secret बंद मुट्ठी में लाख का, खुली में खाक का.

Noise from a submarine or heat signature of a submarine can be easily traced if the Anti-Submarine warfare is good. A submarine-like as said if hidden and be disastrous to the enemy. But once found, it is of no use. An enemy can take down a submarine very easily. This is because a submarine cannot outrun any helicopter or missile. Along with that, a torpedo fired correctly, very few defensive measures are present to save the submarine. As it is not a fighter jet that can maneuver and also water is a dense medium.

A submarine fleet of China Like said as per the latest reports there are more than 70+ operational submarines in PLA-N.
1) 7 SSBN (Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear)
2) 12 SSN (Ship Submersible Nuclear)
3) 50+ Deisel Electric Ones

Diesel Electric submarines or Conventional Powered submarines

We all know these type of submarines is particularly noisy compared to Nuclear ones. But some latest techniques also make these submarine quieter. The only restriction of this submarine is the fuel it can carry. So, they cannot be in the water for a long time. They have to get refilled after some period of time

China has total 4 types of Conventional submarines this are as follows:-

Type 035 Ming Class

The type 035 i.e. Ming Class submarines actually were built-in era to 1960 to 1990s. It is actually the design of Russia where they passed the details of China and totally they were built in China. This was known as Romeo’s class. But later were called Ming class(Type 035) where the hull was improved. In total from 1962 to 1984, 84 Submarines were built of this type. These are now very old and actually quite noisy. So they can be detected easily and eliminated.

Kilo Class

Then came the Kilo Class submarines. This is actually well-known submarines from Russia. Till 2006, China imported 12 Kilos were operational. What thought is mainly they started the reverse engineering from these and started learning more to make their submarine Quieter. This is currently Quite but still can be detected.

Then came type 039 which were based on Western influence like the German propulsion system, seven-blade skewed propeller, and noise-reduction rubber tiles. Chances are about 13 of this type are made. They did carry AIP(Air Independent Propulsion) now but could be equipped with them in the future. They are quite a potent one but still noisy.

Type 039A/041 Yuan class

Then came the latest type 039A or some also call type 041, The Yuan Class. They are similar to Kilo class as many aspects of them both are matching. This shows that indeed the Kilo Class of Russia was reverse-engineered. Possibly least 17 are confirmed to be present while 3 in making. This same submarine is going to be sold to out debt-ridden Pakistan. These are equipped with AIP. Since this engine uses Stirling Engine, chances are that it is actually quite Quieter than others. This poses a threat to India.

SSN Submarines

The China has following SSN submarines:-

Type 091 Han Class

Talking first about 091 submarines. Also called Han class submarine which is a first-generation nuclear submarine made in China. The Type 091 is extremely noisy and has poor radiation shielding poor, a result of being based on 1950s technology. It cannot launch missiles while submerged. Overall, the submarine’s tactical utility is limited against modern combatants. Modern fitting is done but still is noisy and PLAN has probably 3 of them operational.

Talking about 093 submarines called Shang Class. Well, they were made so to replace 091 ones. They incorporated many design aspects of Russia as well. Working started in 1980 and commissioned in 2002. 6 of them are currently operational. Here, a gas-cooled reactor is used and chances are technology is immature so could be detected by heat signatures. The noise currently of typical 093 is around 110 decibels. Which is actually very high and with this noise, one can easily detect it.

Above all this China is also developing a 095 class submarine called Sui Class Submarine. It is said to have advanced techniques for noise reduction and is said to be stealth one than previous ones. It could be a highly potent submarine and the future of the Chinese PLAN. The submarine is not yet made and far from the commission as of current reports. But China is something that can make many things overnight. But quality is again a question. One has already seen “Super Stealth” J-20 Aircraft.

SSBN Submarines

These are actually the most potent ones, as they carry live Nuclear warheads and are ballistic in nature. These submarines are actually nuclear fueled.

There are actually 2 types of SSBN present in PLAN

Type 092 Xia Class

The Type 092, actually derived from 091 but with the extended hull. It started making in 1978 and launched in 1981 but came fully operational in 1987. Since derived from 091 it was again quite noisy, It is said at times it even suffered radiation leakage and also is nosiest among all Russian, American, and Chinese SSBN. Reports claim that 2 of these subs have been even lost or totally sank. This subs actually never went out of Chinese waters questioning its capabilities.

Type 094 Jin Class

Since 092 was highly questionable, type 094 came to fulfill the needs. It is said that by 2020 6 of them are told to be operational. It is said it’s quite potent because of its many capabilities. But at the same time reports of the US in 2009 claimed that they are noisy than Delta-III class of Russian subs( Made around 1970). So they can be even detected and eliminated. However, claims are made of 094A submarine which is better and has some noise-reducing techniques.

Type 096 submarine is said to be the future of PLAN. It is said that the construction of these submarines will start in 2020. Very few details are available in the public domain but it is said to have very advanced technologies in very terms.

So Why Orchestra?

Till now, we just learned the whole arsenal of the Chinese submarine fleet. Also, the stealth feature like said of the submarine is mainly the noise made by it. Here, it is to be also known that the design of the hull, communications, propellor issues, type of engine, noise by the engine are also part of stealth. If any of these fails, well then the submarine is detectable. Like said, once detected, a submarine is just easy to kill.

Although China Manufactures the submarine at a rate one cannot even imagine, but the quality has remained an issue. Each of the above submarines is said to have problems. The noise of many submarines is found much more than Russian ones. We all know Russia is actually good at making submarines. But seems like, just like aircraft and jet engines, the Submarine reverse engineering didn’t work also.

The noise is actually quite high compared to other submarines of the world. So, these submarines are called the orchestra. The noise level of some submarines is found a resemblance to the noise level produced by submarines of 1970-1980. And this noise is actually dangerous, as it gives a clear opening for the enemy to detect them. Although in China all of the things operate beyond radar, many claims prove that to date China hasn’t matured the submarine tech. For a submarine to hide by noise, it has to bring the noise to the level of Sea around it i.e. Around 90 Hz. Till made, claims are made most of the Chinese subs have noise around 100Hz and some even at 110Hz.

All Incidents Proving Noise Levels

We all know, conventional submarines are noisy, to date, many PLAN conventional Submarines were detected by the American underground network.

On 12 January 2018, Japan forced a Chinese submarine to Surface which was patrolling near Senkaku Islands. This submarine is said to be forced to resurface by Japan. They said they detected the submarine 48 hours before the submarine was detected. This shows that indeed due to noise they were detected. And if they didn’t resurface they could be destroyed by Japan if found as a threat. Many say that it was really a shame for the Chinese navy.

Last year, the Type 094 submarine had to surface near Vietnam. Speculations are made of this incident as it was a nuclear sub and chances for them to resurface in the middle sea are quite rare as it compromises the missions allotted. Analyst says that either it was saving themselves from Fishnets or a major glitch would have happed due to which it had to resurface. It is said that it was indeed an improved Type 094 class submarine. But actual variant is yet unknown (Means 094 basic, type 094A, Type 094B, or any other).

Along with this, whenever, any Chinese submarine enters the Indian Ocean, we have found many reports that they are followed by the Indian Navy. We don’t know about the reports when they weren’t detected but in news several times the Chinese submarines are detected by the navy. India actually takes care of these subs detection.

Where India Stands & What Is To Be Taken Care Of?

INS Arihant SSBN

One study estimates the average growth of Chinese submarines per year between 1995 and 2016 to be 2.6 submarines per year. Most countries pale in comparison. In a numerically sobering comparison to China’s submarine fleet, India has 1 SSN, 1 SSBN, and 14 conventionally powered attack submarines functional. An even fewer number is on active duty at a given time.

Poseidon 8I aircrafts

Even if one of the Submarines goes undetected, then it can have catastrophic consequences. India actually needs to see to its P-75I plan where we want to achieve the size of a submarine fleet of 24 – with 18 conventional and 6 Nuclear. At the current progress rate, this seems unachievable.

India is increasing its ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare) capabilities so that it can tackle the submarines of China. Here, a recent test of SMART is actually useful, and along with that purchase of MH-60 Romeo helicopters and Boeing P-8 Poseidon and Kamorta class Corvettes are actually proving its capabilities. Overall, Pacts with the USA on intelligence sharing will also grow knowledge of Chinese Subs in the Indian Ocean.

Another side, China is also upgrading the current fleet for making it less noisy. A fleet of 70+ submarines is actually deadly in any terms. The upgraded version of 093 and 094 are said to be really less noisy making them harder to detect. Which means that the current fleet might have some advanced quiet submarines. With increasing docking points in the Indian Ocean Region, such as Djibouti, Gwadar, and Hambantota, the frequency of Chinese submarines in the region is expected to grow. This could be also added as an advantage as India has a chance to study them closely and find a way to exploit a loophole if found.


Its high time India got its act together in building up the Subramine fleet in order to tackle both adversaries. India can currently tackle these submarines but in the future, if 095 and 096 which are said to be super stealth came then India has to either get better ASW or better submarines to detect them. Here, since the Indian ocean is a vast area but has many Indian Islands, so underground secret facilities can also be set up for detecting these submarines.


Nirav Kotak

A Mechanical Engineer and a Defense Enthusiast wanting to share knowledge and learn more from others as well.

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