China’s Xia-Class SSBN Leaves Dry Dock

The Xia-class SSBN appears to have completed a multi-year overhaul. The submarine has been in dry dock at least since 2005. Click on image to download large version.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

China’s single Xia-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine has been launched from the dry dock at the Jianggezhuang Naval Base where it has been undergoing a multi-year overhaul. The Xia was discovered on a commercial satellite image, which shows the submarine moored in the harbor.

Multi-Year Overhaul

The Xia has been in dry dock at the base since at least 2005, when it was photographed by the Quickbird satellite. A new image, taken on December 5, 2007, and recently made available on GoogleEarth, shows an empty dry dock and the Xia moored on the opposite side of the harbor near the entrance.

Figure 1:
Xia Leaves Dry Dock

The Xia has left the dry dock at the Jianggezhuang Naval Base. Click
here
for large version of entire base.

Xia was originally designed with 12 launch tubes for the single-warhead 1,770+-km range JL-1 sea-launched ballistic missile. The Pentagon’s annual report on Chinese military forces lists “10-14″ tubes, an odd number given that 12 were visible on the 2005 image.¬†The resolution of the 2007 image is not good enough to count the tubes, but the number is probably still 12. Whether Xia will now finally become operational, serve as a backup for the new Jin-class, or be used as a test launch platform remains to be seen.

The image also shows what appears to be all of China’s five Han-class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN), the first of which are being retired and replaced with the Shang-class SSN. One of the five is a little longer than the others and could potentially be a Shang.

The Future of China’s SSBN Fleet

Whether Xia will finally become operational (it has never sailed on a deterrent patrol) or be scrapped remains to be seen. China has begun series production of the Jin-class SSBN, with possibly three launched and one deployed to Hainan Island in late 2007. The DOD has speculated that China might build up to five Jin SSBNs, if it plans to have at least one at sea at any given time. Britain and France each have four SSBNs, with one on patrol.

Background Information: other blogs about China | Chinese Nuclear Forces and U.S. Nuclear War Planning

2 thoughts on “China’s Xia-Class SSBN Leaves Dry Dock

  1. Given that it took way too long for a GE update on the area, the sub could already have been out anywhere between 2005 and 2007. The GE Xia image on the dry dock remained the same non updated image up to know. Incidentally there has been one recent image of the Xia at sea, with the holes on the humpback showing they can be closed.

    Also the Hans are roughly 90+ meters long based on measurements from past GE images. If you get the length of the sub, its easy to measure from the bow to the forward edge of the rudder. However, the part of the bow under the water is difficult to be seen, and the trailing edge of the rudder tends not to be visible due to shadows. Under the water, there is a taper behind the rudders which ends with the propeller, so the true length of a sub is longer than what can be visibly measured using the GE ruler. You just have to make a mental estimate.

    Given the length of the (current) sub in Xiaopingdao, wihch is a Shang, the Shang should be roughly 100+ meters. Other photographs have confirmed that there is indeed at least one Shang stationed in that base, while the Hans have moved to Jianggezhuang long time ago.

    There are five nukes in the area, and three of them are in the 100 meter type, while two are in the 90 meter type. I certainly won’t say there are five Hans here. Two of the original five Hans are said to have been retired,most probably pennant 401 and 402, and the remaining three (403, 404, and 405) are upgraded. We can at least confirm from a photograph that Han 403 is indeed on the upgraded ones. Given that three are left, only two should be in Jianggezhuang, because at least one of them is in the sub base in Sanya. Both observations are also supported by open sourced Internet photographs, which also shows that the Han in Sanya is not alone, with at least a Shang and a Jin to keep in company.

    The 2005 photos of the Xia in dry dock does not suggest a scrapping operation. You can see at least from the photograph, that one, the propeller is shrouded, indicating a new propeller is installed; the power plant section is opened, which indicates that the reactor may either be refueled, recored or replaced; tubes are exposed; and the upper bow section is opened, which is usually an area where some sensors are. There is a photograph of a Xia model with the propeller being a seven bladed skewed type. Its likely its one of the things that were done as part of the refit.

    My personal opinion of the Xia is that it likely serves as a training ship for future 094 crews or end up with a new careers as an SSGN or cruise missile platform. I have reason to believe that it cannot launch the JL-2 missile (and neither can the Golf class test platforms) because I believe that given the dimensional changes on the 094 vs. the 092, and a range difference of the JL-2 vs. the JL-1 that is pressed in **multiples** (7200-8000km vs. 1500km); that the JL-2 is a much, much larger missile than the JL-1 and would not fit either in the Xia or the Golf, which is even more space limited—a thing that caught my mind when I saw one of the diagrams for a Golf in book. Right from the beginning every underwater test launch of the JL-2 has to be done with an 094 or through an underwater silo.

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