|All eyes on Sino-Russian sub deal
By David Isenberg
struck a deal with Russia to buy eight more Kilo-class
(Project 636) submarines for US$1.6 billion, according
to a report in the June 25 Washington Post. This is
significant for economic, political, and military
The Kilo-class submarine was designed
for anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare in the
protection of naval bases, coastal installations and sea
lanes, and also for general reconnaissance and patrol
missions. The Type 636 submarine is considered to be one
of the quietest diesel submarines in the world. It is
said to be capable of detecting an enemy submarine at a
range three to four times as great as that at which it
can be detected itself.
The Project 636 design
is a generally improved development of the Project
877EKM Kilo class that represents an interim design
between the standard Kilo and the new (Project 677) Lada
project. The Rubin Central Maritime Design Bureau in St
Petersburg designed it. The Project 636 is actively
promoted for the world market by the Rosvoorouzhenie
state-owned company. In the spring of 1997, the first
Project 636 submarine was launched, and China became the
first customer for this submarine. China had already
acquired four Kilo-class submarines from Russia,
including two of the more advanced Project 636 class.
Purchase of new submarines not only means a
significant commercial deal, it also means that
considerable investments will be made in the development
of the coastal infrastructure, as well as in the
training of specialists and crews.
is closely watching the impact of China's naval
modernization on Taiwan's sea lanes and ports. The
submarines would enhance China's ability to blockade
trade-dependent Taiwan and challenge US naval supremacy
in the area.
Under the agreement reached in May,
Russia agreed to equip the submarines with long-range
Club-S anti-ship ballistic missile systems and expedite
delivery within five years. The Club missiles, with a
range of 220 kilometers, could be an added deterrent to
intervention by the United States.
The deal for
additional submarines is part of a $4 billion weapons
package that Russia has committed to provide China over
the next four to five years. Included in the package are
two more Sovremenny-class destroyers, adding to a pair
China has already received, a new batch of S300 PMU2
anti-aircraft missiles and 40 Su-30MKK fighter-bombers.
To meet the deadline, Moscow is likely to spread
the contract among more than one of the four Russian
shipbuilders bidding for the contract. According to a
report by Jane's Defence Weekly, five of the submarines
on order are likely to be built at the St
Petersburg-based Admiralteyskie Verfi shipbuilding
plant, which recently finished repairing two Project
877EKM submarines for the Indian Navy. Two boats should
be built at the Amur shipbuilding plant in
Komsomolsk-on-Amur, and one would be completed at the
Krasnoye Sormovo shipbuilding plant in Nizhny Novgorod.
The Krasnoye Sormovo yard already has a hull nearly
two-thirds completed, and this could be the first ready
for the installation of on-board equipment and weapon
But even as China ramps up its
capabilities to threaten Taiwan, its purchases of
big-ticket foreign weaponry point to deficiencies in its
efforts to develop cutting-edge defense industries at
home. The proposed acquisition raises doubts over the
status of Beijing's indigenous Type 039 Song SSK
program. Analysts previously believed that China would
buy one or two additional Kilo-class subs to supplement
the four already obtained. They more recently raised
their expectations to six platforms, in part because of
a lack of any evident progress with China's Song
program. An order for eight boats further supports this
view that the Song appears to be in trouble.
Thus, China has become the world's biggest
importer of weapons, buying $1 billion a year from
Russia alone, according to the Russian government.
From Russia the view is positive, for reasons
aside from the profit. According to press reports the
deal is a reason to believe that the brief lull in the
export of Russian submarines is over. The export of
diesel-electric-powered submarines kept the Russian
naval shipbuilding going throughout the worst years for
its military-industrial complex. The industry now hopes
to build up from the success, the more so since two
submarines of the fourth generation are already under
construction at the shipyards in St Petersburg.
A fact that has largely gone unnoted in the
general press coverage is that the Kilo-class submarines
will be able to be upgraded, should China chose to do
so, with equipment now being developed for the Amur
1650, which represents the fourth postwar generation of
Russia's conventional submarines.
if China chooses not to do that, it could still take
advantage of a Project 636M modernization package, which
offers a missile complex, the latest inertial navigation
system, periscope with night-vision channel, TV channel
and laser range finder, towed VLF (very low frequency)
and SW (shortwave) communications antenna, more powerful
sonar system, storage battery of the same capacity but
with the service life increased 2.5 times, more powerful
power plant, etc. Thus equipped, Kilo-class submarines
of the third generation will be competitive up to 2010,
while retaining room for further modernization.
Russian submarines' unique capabilities and
powerful armament are the two major attractions for
foreign customers. In underwater duel modeling, Russian
Kilo-class submarines invariably emerged the winner in
virtual competition against German, French and Dutch
Predictably, the Taiwanese viewpoint
is gloomy. Taiwanese Defense Minister Tang Yao-ming said
the deal would threaten security in the Asia-Pacific
region. "Communist China is seeking to expand its naval
power from near sea to far sea which would threaten
regional security," Tang told reporters.
two US battle groups faced down Chinese threats to the
island, days after China had fired missiles across the
Taiwan Strait. Such a speedy response would become
impossible once the new submarines were operational,
military analysts said.
In any repeat of the
1996 incident, US commanders would first have to send a
fleet of their own submarines to chase away the Chinese.
One former submariner said: "No commander in his right
mind would send a carrier group into the strait when
there's a dozen Chinese submarines circling. It
completely changes the situation."
counter China's naval buildup, US President George W
Bush last year approved the sale of eight
diesel-electric submarines to Taiwan as part of
Washington's most comprehensive arms package to Taipei
since 1992. But the United States has encountered
problems in handling the submarines sales to Taiwan. The
US stopped building diesel-electric submarines about 40
years ago. And because of various export restrictions,
it has indeed become very complicated for the United
States to persuade other countries that do build them,
notably Germany, to consider doing so.
Currently, Taiwan operates two Dutch-built Sword
Dragon submarines and two aging US ones.
Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please
contact [email protected] for information
on our sales and syndication policies.)