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Satellite images raise prospect of new class of Chinese submarine

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Satellite images raise prospect of new class of Chinese submarine
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HONG KONG, May 10 (Reuters) – Military analysts say a vessel spotted in a Chinese shipyard in rare, recent satellite images could be a new or upgraded class of nuclear-powered attack submarine. It is unclear if the submarine is new, an upgrade to an existing vessel, or something else. Diplomats and analysts are closely watching the situation after the Pentagon reported in November that the Chinese navy would likely build an attack submarine equipped with cruise missile-launching tubes.

Images obtained by Reuters from private satellite imagery provider Planet Labs and others circulating on social media show the submarine in a dry dock in Huludao Port in Liaoning province.

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Satellite images from April 24 to May 4, 2022, confirm that a probable nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) was in drydock at a shipyard at Huludao Port in northeast China, about 430km east of Beijing.

Greenish covers shroud areas behind its superstructure and stern – parts of the vessel that could house missile launch tubes and a new, quieter propulsion system, analysts said. Rarely are clear shots of submarines in dry dock such as these.

The submarine was out of the water between April 24 and May 4, and was later seen mostly submerged in the same place after the dry dock was flooded.

Singapore-based security scholar Collin Koh said there was a great deal of interest in the prospect of a new class of Chinese Type 093 “hunter-killer” submarine with vertical launch tubes for guided missiles. However, he stated that the satellite imagery were not sufficient to identify the vessel.

The images “are very interesting but it is still very hard to be sure yet whether we are looking at some kind of refit for testing or a whole new class of submarine,” said Koh, of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Koh said he and others were watching closely to see whether new Chinese submarines would shift to quieter pump-jets instead of conventional propellers for propulsion. It is difficult to determine what type of propulsion this ship uses because the stern has been shrouded.

Vertical launch tubes would add considerable flexibility to China’s “hunter killer” submarine fleet, arming the vessels with more guided missiles.

The Chinese Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

China’s attack submarines are evolving to tackle a growing range of potential demands, from protecting ballistic missile submarines and the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s aircraft carrier battlegroups to tracking enemy ships.

Jeffrey Lewis, a professor in arms control at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said the latest images raised more questions than answers as to whether they revealed a new class of vessel.

“It’s plausible, but there are questions I’d want answered. He said that the submarine wasn’t at dry dock for very long, and it was not clear how they reconfigured it. There is clearly a lot of interest in the Pentagon report. “

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Reporting By Greg Torode. Editing by Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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