We will never really know how many submarines China actually has, let alone what types until they expose themselves.
A couple weeks dated, yet still relevant:
Hong Kong: Beneath the surface of the South China Sea off the tropical Chinese resort island of Hainan, an underwater tunnel guides submarines into a lair reminiscent of a James Bond spy movie.
From this pen the subs can venture in and out of the contested South China Sea hidden from the prying eyes of reconnaissance planes deployed by the United States Navy, which for the past half century has enjoyed almost unfettered access to the waters, say military watchers who cite satellite images of the area.
The fleet of diesel and nuclear-powered submarines reflects President Xi Jinping’s efforts to ensure the security of sea lanes vital for feeding the economic growth on which the nation’s stability rests. It’s also provoked discomfort among neighbours bruised by China’s approach to territorial disputes.
As countries from India to Australia and Vietnam spend tens of billions upgrading their underwater fleets, cluttering the sea as well as the sky with the reconnaissance craft that follow, the risk is that a clash that previously might have been limited to coast guard and fishing boats spills into military conflict.
“Countries are saying: we need to put into place some kind of credible force that puts doubt into the mind of a Chinese admiral,” said Bill Hayton, author of The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia. “They are clearly thinking about that because otherwise why are they buying submarines and anti-ship missiles?”
The People’s Liberation Army Navy has 56 attack submarines, of which 51 are conventional diesel-electric and five are nuclear powered, according to a US Defence Department report to Congress published in April.
China also has three nuclear-powered submarines that can launch ballistic missiles, and may add five more, according to the Pentagon report. The report said these subs will this year carry the JL-2 ballistic missile, which has an estimated range of 7400 kilometres and will “give the PLA Navy its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent.”
A range of that distance would allow the missiles to reach Hawaii if launched from the Western Pacific, and California if fired from the mid-Pacific, according to Dean Cheng, a research fellow on Chinese political and security affairs at The Heritage Foundation in Washington.
Full article: China’s secret submarine caves extend Xi Jinping’s naval reach (Sydney Morning Herald)