Type 091 (Han Class) Nuclear-Powered Attack Submarine
The PLA Navy operates five Type 091 (NATO codename: Han class) nuclear-powered attack submarines built by Huludao Shipyard in Liaoning Province between 1967 and 1990. The first boat (401) may have approached its service life and may no longer be operational. The four newer boats (402, 403, 404, and 405) received the modernisation refit in the 1980s/90s and are currently deployed by the PLA Navy North Sea Fleet based at Qingdao.
China first initiated its ambitious nuclear-powered submarine programme in June 1958, long before the country could even build the conventional diesel-electric submarine independently. Without any external assistance, the nuclear submarine programme encountered enormous technical and financial difficulties and was temporarily suspended in 1963. By 1965 the country’s leaders decided to resume the programme by firstly building a land-based nuclear reactor for research and simulation purposes. The PLA Navy also drafted a two-phase nuclear submarine development plan, with the first phase aiming to develop a nuclear-powered attack submarine, and upon its success to develop a nuclear-powered missile submarine in the second phase.
A team consisting of top atomic scientists and senior government officials was formed in 1969 to head the nuclear submarine programme. A range of associated facilities were completed by the late 1960s, including the land-based nuclear reactor in Mianyang, Sichuan Province; nuclear submarine shipyard in Huludao, Liaoning Province; and the test ranges for torpedo, sonar, and submarine-launched ballistic missile in the east coast. Construction of the first Type 091 nuclear-powered attack submarine ChangZheng 1 (pennant number 401) began in 1968. The land-based nuclear reactor became fully operational in 1970 and was ready to be fitted on the submarine.
The first nuclear submarine 401 was launched in December 1970 and its nuclear reactor was activated in July 1971. The sea trial of the submarine began in August 1971 and the submarine entered the PLA Navy Service in August 1974. However, it took the Chinese submarine engineers another decade to crack design flaws in the submarine’s design. Before the mid-1980s the submarine was not operational due to the lack of a suitable torpedo and its associated fire-control system. Unconfirmed reports also suggested that France provided China with some assistance in submarine fire-control, sonar and nuclear reactor technologies in the mid-1980s to improve the Type 091.
Following the success launch of the first boat 401, a further four boats (402~405) were built between 1977 and 1990. All five boats are deployed by the North Sea Fleet and are based at a special nuclear submarine facility in mountain caves near Qingdao. The first two boats (401, 402) were refitted in the late 1980s, and back in service in the mid-1990s. They were finally retired from active service in 2000/01. 403 and 404 boat started mid-life refits in 1998 and were back in service in 2000.
The operational performance of the Type 091 was regarded as inferior to that of the contemporary U.S. or Russian designs, especially in terms of quietness, weapon systems, and sensors. This may have been improved following the modernisation refits of the submarine in the late 1990s, which saw the surface of the submarine being covered with acoustic tiles to reduce the acoustic signature, and the introduction of the more advanced wire-guided anti-submarine torpedo and possibly submarine-launched YJ-8 anti-ship missile too.
The Type 091 nuclear-powered attack submarine utilises a water-drop shape with a double-hulled configuration. The submarine has four stern rudder with a single large shaft. The hull has seven watertight compartments, with the sail located above the second compartment. A pair of foreplanes are positioned in the middle of the sail. A number of retractable masts are carried inside the sail including periscopes, radar antennas, radio and satellite communications, and navigation masts. Jane’s Navy suggested that from 403 onwards the hull of the submarine has been extended by 8m aft the sail, but this cannot be confirmed.
For many years it was speculated that the last three boats of the Type 091 attack submarine (403, 404, and 405) have their hulls stretched by 8m after the sail to be fitted with the submarine-launched version of the YJ-82 anti-ship missile and its associated fire-control system. While this was never confirmed, there is no difficulty for the PLA Navy to do so since the missile has already been successfully integrated with the Type 039 (Song class) diesel-electric submarine.
The YJ-82 missile can be launched from the submarine’s 533mm torpedo tubes. The missile uses active radar homing and is powered by a solid rocket engine (with a solid rocket booster). The anti-ship missile has a range of 42~80km and approaches the target in sea skimming mode at a speed of 0.9 Mach. The 165kg shaped charge warhead has time delayed impact proximity fuses.
The submarine has six 533mm torpedo tubes, and carries a total of 20 torpedoes including Yu-3 (SET-65E)(active/passive homing to 15km at 40kt; warhead 205kg) and Yu-1 (Type 53-51)(unguided to 9.2km at 39kt or 3.7km at 51kt; warhead 400 kg). Alternatively the submarine can carry 36 mines in its tubes.
The Type 091 attack submarine is fitted with a multi-purpose combat data and command system which provides information for submarine control and torpedo (and missile?) firing. The submarine has an I-band surface search radar (NATO code-name: Snoop Tray), and is fitted with Trout Cheek bow-mounted, medium-frequency sonar for active/passive search and attack; and a DUUX-5 low frequency sonar for passive ranging and intercept. Countermeasures include a Type 921-A radar warning receiver and direction-finder.
The submarine is powered by a nuclear, turbo-electric arrangement, consisting of one pressurised water reactor (PWR) rated at 90MW, with one shaft.
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||1 Aug 74
||Decommissioned in 2000
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||30 Dec 80
||Decommissioned in 2001?
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||25 Dec 84
||26 Dec 85
||27 Dec 87
Displacement: (Surfaced) 4,500t; (Dived) 5,500 tonnes
Speed: (Surfaced) 12kt; (Dived) 25kt
Anti-ship missile: YJ-8 (C-801); inertial cruise + active radar homing to 40km at Mach 0.9 warhead 165kg, sea-skimming
Torpedoes: 6 X 533mm bow tubes, 20 weapons; Yu-3, active/passive homing to 15km at 40kt
Mines: 36 in lieu of torpedoes
Radar: Surface search, I-band
Electronic countermeasures: Type 921A radar warning
Sonar: Hull-mounted, active/passive search and attack, medium frequency DUUX-5: passive ranging and interception
Arrangement: Nuclear, 1 X pressurised water reactor (PWR), turbo-electric, 90MW
Propulsion: One shaft
Last update: 23 February 2009