China is planning to install new propulsion technology on its newest classes of submarines, making them much harder for American sonar systems to detect and track.
According to a Chinese media report, Beijing is developing pump-jet propulsion for its subs. The system has been widely used on American and British submarines since it offers much more noise reduction than conventional submarine propellers.
The Virginia-class attack submarine USS Hawaii (SSN 776) enters Apra Harbor for a scheduled port visit. The Virginia-class submarines use pump-jet propulsion systems. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Corwin Colbert/Released)
One of the People's Liberation Army Navy's top engineers, Rear Adm. Ma Weiming, told China Central Television that the Chinese propulsion technology "is now way ahead of the United States, which has also been developing similar technology."
Ma is said to be held in very high regard by navy brass. At one point, a photo posted on social media showed the commander of the People's Liberation Army Navy holding an umbrella over Ma's head, a sure sign his expertise is revered in Beijing.
A 1993 photo of a Chinese Han-class submarine. These vessels were very noisy, and thus, easy to track. (US Navy photo)
The Chinese are reportedly slated to introduce the technology on some of their Type 095 submarines, known to NATO as the Sui-class, as well as the Type 096 class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. According to GlobalSecurity.org, the Type 095 displaces about 7,900 tons, and is armed with a number of 21-inch torpedo tubes, and the ability to fire land-attack cruise missiles and YJ-83 anti-ship missiles.
China's current nuclear submarine fleet includes a mix of Type 091 Han-class and Type 093 Shang-class attack submarines and Type 092 Xia-class and Type 094 Jin-class attach submarines. The Han-class submarines were particularly noted for their noisiness while operating, while the Shang-class submarines are considered to be comparable to the Soviet-era Victor III-class vessels.