Three weeks ago, Offiziere requested information about a possible new Chinese midget submarine spotted at the Wuchang shipyard. The article was widely spread and cross-posted on Bellingcat, among others. Unfortunately, we didn’t receive any substantive information and even our colleagues from CIMSEC remained silent.
A week after our publication, Janes’s Defence Weekly picked up the topic, shedding a bit more light. According to Jane’s, the surface displacement seems to be around 400-500 tonnes, an estimate we didn’t include. Thus, the size of the Chinese midget submarine corresponds with that of the South Korean Hyundai KSS 500A.
A model of the South Korean midget submarine was first shown in Busan at the Maritime Achievement Exhibition, “Marine Week 2011” (see image below). The platform is expected to replace the ageing Dolgorae class SSM sometime in 2016. Nevertheless, it is not known if any have been built. Jane’s reported in March 2015 that a variation of this design has been offered to the Royal Thai Navy.
According to the intelligence publication, the KSS 500A design is for a 37 m, 510 tonne submarine that would be operated by a crew of 10 and be capable of carrying two heavyweight and four lightweight torpedoes. Its principle role was envisaged to be inshore surveillance and special forces operations, with the capacity to embark up to 14 special forces personnel. It’s possible our Chinese submarine is comparable.
Defense expert Xi Yazhou told Shanghai-based Guancha Syndicate that China, as a nation facing many challenges in the Pacific, does not need smaller-sized submarines and that in his view the Wuchang Shipyard was probably building the item for a foreign client — most likely Indonesia. Jane’s doesn’t share this view: as China has yet to export any submarines based on those in service with the PLAN, it is very unlikely that a midget submarine, with no known in-service equivalent, has been built for export sale.
The Chinese midget submarine stayed at Wuchang Shipyard until late November. Wuchang is about 500 miles inland and submarines built at the shipyard must transit down the River Yangtze to get to the coast. Interestingly, we, nor Jane’s for that matter, could find photographs showing the mini-submarine transiting down river, suggesting that either the boat remains under cover in Wuchang or that any images of it have been censored and taken down from Chinese military websites. If the midget submarine has been built for special forces operations, the latter seems most likely.
Andrew Tate, “China builds mystery midget submarine”, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 26.06.2015.