The PRC began to develop its second-generation nuclear submarines in the mid-1980s, but little progress was made before the mid-1990s. It was widely speculated that Rubin Central Design Bureau for Marine Engineering in St. Petersburg, one of main Russian centres of submarine design, has been assisting the PRC in developing its new generation nuclear submarines. Exactly how much help China has received from Rubin Design Bureau is unknown, but it could potentially include a range of critical assistance, including overall hull design, engine and machinery quieting, combat system design, and weapon system and countermeasures outfit. Construction of the Type 093 began in 1995~96 at the Bohai Shipyard under tight security and high secrecy. The first-of-class submarine was launched in December 2002. After a sea trial that lasted for four years, the submarine was finally commissioned by the PLA Navy North Sea Fleet in December 2006. A second hull was launched in late 2003 and possibly commissioned in 2007. The existence of the submarine project was first reported by the Pentagon in 2003. The U.S. Navy intelligence and Pentagon predicted that the PLA Navy could have 3~4 submarines by 2010, while other sources suggested that eventual production could reach 6~8 boats. During the exhibition at Beijing’s Military Museum of Chinese People’s Revolution in late July to mark the 80th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), a scale model and some hazy photos of the Type 093 SSN were presented to the public. Later, Beijing-based Modern Ships magazine published in its August issue the first clear photo of the long-anticipated submarine.
The Type 093 is estimated to be 6.000~7,000t displacement when dived. As revealed by the submarine model and Modern Ships photograph, the submarine features a water-drop shape hull, with a pair of fin-mounted hydroplanes and four diving planes. The submarine is fitted with sophisticated sonar systems, including bow-mounted sonar and H/SQC-207 flank-mounted sonar. Three flank-mounted sonar arrays are clearly visible on the hull of the submarine. The Type 093 submarine has six 533mm bow torpedo tubes (4 above, 2 below), and is presumed to be equipped with a range of anti-submarine and anti-surface vessel torpedoes of wire-, acoustic- and wake-homing, based on both Chinese and Russian designs. The torpedo tubes can also be used to launch Chinese indigenous YJ-82 anti-ship missiles. Some reports suggested the capability of launching land-attack cruise missiles (LACM), but this cannot be confirmed. Despite the previous rumour that the Type 093 was based on the design of the Russian Victor III class nuclear attack submarine, it appears that the two submarines bear no resemblance in appearance. However, it cannot be ruled out that Russian technologies were being incorporated into the Type 093’s design. The Type 093 is thought to be approaching the early variants of the U.S. Navy 688 (Los Angeles) class SSN in terms of capability and noise level, but still inferior to the more advanced Seawolf and Virginia class. Nevertheless, this class of nuclear submarine represents a major step forward in PRC’s underwater warfare capability. Once fully operational, it could pose serious threat to the navies of China’s neighbouring countries and further complicate the anti-submarine challenge facing the U.S. Navy.