Type 039A submarine

The Type 039A submarine (NATO reporting name: Yuan class) is a class of diesel-electric submarine in China's People's Liberation Army Navy.[4] It is China's first AIP powered submarine and presumed to be one of the quietest diesel-electric submarine classes in service.[5] This class is the successor of the Type 039 submarine. The official Chinese designation is 039A as the ship is based on the 039 class, but as the 039A has very little resemblance to the 039 it is commonly referred to as the Type 041. The class is designed to replace the aging Type 033 Romeo and the older Type 035 submarines that previously formed the backbone of the conventional submarine force.

Class overview
Name: Yuan class
Builders: Wuchang Shipbuilding, Wuhan
Operators:  People's Liberation Army Navy
Preceded by: Type 039 (Song class)
Succeeded by: Type 039C
In commission: 2006–present
Planned: 20[1]
Building: 3[1]
Completed: 17[1]
Active: 17[1]
General characteristics
Type: Submarine
Displacement: 3,600 t (3,500 long tons) (submerged)
Length: 77.6 m (254 ft 7 in)[2]
Beam: 8.4 m (27 ft 7 in)[2]
Draft: 6.7 meter square.[2]
Propulsion: Diesel-electric, 1 shaft, AIP
Speed: 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph)
Test depth: 550 m (1,800 ft)
Complement: 36[3]
Armament: 6 × 533 mm (21 in) torpedo tubes, anti-ship missiles

According to an early assessment by the US Naval Institute, the Yuan class was primarily designed as "an anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) platform capable of hiding submerged for long periods of time in difficult to access shallow littorals."[6] However, another assessment by USNI includes an open-ocean capability which can be used beyond coastal waters. Also updated was its role within China's naval fleet, and as of August 2015 it is considered to be a more traditional attack submarine, with a secondary ASCM role.



The Type 039A inherits the tail design of the Type 039 (NATO codename: Song class) with four diving planes and a single large shaft. A pair of foreplanes are positioned in the middle of the sail. The submarine is equipped with indigenously developed cabin-raft (shock absorbers) system that helped to reduce noise level by over 35 dB. Additionally, the submarine is covered with rubber anti-sonar protection tiles to reduce the risk of detection. A new improved "C" variant was also launched.


The Type 039A has six 533 mm (21 in) torpedo tubes. These can be used to launch indigenous torpedoes such as Yu-6[6] as well as Russian-made torpedoes. It is speculated that it will be equipped with the supersonic YJ-18.[6] The general designer of the torpedo and missile launching system is Sun Zhuguo (孙柱国). The Type 039A is also believed to be capable of launching YJ-8X (C-80X) series anti-ship missiles. The missile uses inertial + terminal active radar guidance. It carries a 165 kg (364 lb) time-delayed semi-armour-piercing high-explosive warhead, with a maximum range of 80–120 km (50–75 mi) and speed of Mach 0.9. The Type 039A is also capable of firing the CY-1 anti-submarine warfare (ASW) missile under water, but the status of the missile is in question because nothing is heard about its production. The CY-1 ASW missile has a maximum range of 18 km (9.7 nmi), and when using ET-52 or Yu-7 torpedo as a payload.

Combat control systems

China was known to have imported the Thales TSM 2233 ELEDONE / DSUV-22 and Thales TSM 2255 / DUUX-5 from France during the 1980s and early 1990s. It also has access to a wide range of modern Russian sonar systems (MG-519 MOUSE ROAR, MGK-500 SHARK GILL) through its purchase of the Kilo class. Comparable systems are expected to be copied for the Type 039A. It is likely to be fitted with a comparable surface/air search radar similar to the MRK-50 SNOOP TRAY, a commercial navigation radar like a Furuno unit observed on a number of SONG class and ESM system is comparable to the Type 921A.


According to the Chinese newspaper Science and Technology Daily (科技日报), this 039A class is equipped with an air-independent propulsion system developed by the 711th Research Institute of the China Shipbuilding Heavy Industry Group Corp.[7] Referred as a "specialized engine" in official Chinese sources. The 711th Institute was founded in April 1963, but it was not until more than a decade later, in 1975, that it ventured into the field of air-independent propulsion systems by establishing an office for a "specialized engine," setting up a team of about a dozen researchers.

The 711 Research Institute saw this special engine research process as an opportunity to train large numbers of technicians. Starting with fewer than 10 individuals at the outset, the project has grown to a team of over 100. In 1998, the first experimental sample was built and a decade later and after a dozen technological breakthroughs, a wide range of matured versions became commercially available and the newest diesel-electric submarine in Chinese navy became the first customer. Although the official Chinese source had not mentioned the exact class of the submarine, it is generally accepted that the class is no other than Type 039A Yuan class, since it is the newest conventional powered submarine in the Chinese navy. The engine is built by Shanghai Qiyao Propulsion Technology Ltd. (上海齐耀动力技术有限公司), a wholly owned subsidiary of the 711th Institute.[7]


The Yuan-class SSK is integrated with advanced noise reduction techniques including anechoic tiles, passive/active noise reduction, asymmetrical seven-blade skewed propeller, the 039A is expected to be as quiet as other modern diesel-electric submarines, which are very difficult to track.

Chinese specific variants

A total of four variants of Type 039A have been developed by the first half of 2014, and they are listed here in chronological order based on their public debut:

  • Type 039A: Original Yuan class. The most obvious external visual difference between Type 039A and its predecessor Type 039/039G Song-class submarine is in the conning tower. The conning tower of Type 039A is similar to that of Type 039G, but the tower lacks the fin-shaped extrusion on the rear section of the conning towers of both the Type 039 and the Type 039G.
  • Type 039AG: This second member of Type 039A series is frequently but erroneously identified as its development, Type 039B, because externally, the two version looks the same above waterline. The only difference lies below the waterline, which is not readily observed, and it is believed that all Type 039AG have been converted to Type 039B. The most obvious external visual difference between Type 039AG along with its development Type 039B and earlier Type 039A submarine is also in the conning tower: the shape edge at the top of conning tower of Type 039A is replaced with smooth round shape transition. In addition, there is a bulge in the middle of the smooth transition in the forward portion of the conning tower housing some kind of sensor, and this is a new feature earlier Type 039A lacks.[8]
  • Type 039B: This third member of Type 039A series looks identical to earlier Type 039AG from which it is developed from. The biggest difference between Type 039B and Type 039AG is that Type 039B has incorporated flank sonar array, which was subsequently retrofitted on Type 039AG and some earlier boats. This difference, however, is not readily observable because the flank array is installed at the lower portion of the hull. It was only in the early 2010s when a Type 039B built by Shanghai Changxing (长兴) Shipyard exposed in the berth, when the flank array of Type 039B became publicized, thus distinguish the type from earlier Type 039AG that lacked the flank sonar.[8]
  • Type 039B (upgraded): The fourth variant of the Yuan has been first publicized in December 2013, with a modified hull and redesigned conning tower with extrusion at the root of the conning tower in both the bow and stern direction, similar to that of conning tower of Virginia-class submarine. In addition, the bulge housing unknown sensor on board Type 039B in the forward section of the top edge of the conning tower is absent on the new boat launched in April 2014, but there are three white lines at the top of edge of the conning tower on both sides, presumably for environmental sensors. This new boat is claimed to be an upgraded variant of Type 039B.[8]

Export variant: S20

At IDEX-2013, China revealed a scaled-down version of Type 039A submarine designated as S20, specially intended for export. The main difference between S20 and Type 039A is that the AIP system on the original Type 039A is deleted, but can be available and easily integrated due to modular design of S20, if potential customers choose to purchase AIP systems separately. Due to its modular design, a variety of sensors and weapons can also be easily adopted up on customers' requests.[9] Specifications of S20:[10]

  • Structure: double hulled
  • Length: 66 meter
  • Beam: 8 meter
  • Draft: 8.2 meter
  • Surface displacement: 1,850 tons
  • Submerged displacement: 2,300 tons
  • Maximum speed: 18 knots
  • Cruise speed: 16 knots
  • Range: 8000 nautical miles at 16 knots
  • Endurance: 60 days
  • Crew: 38 total
  • Maximum depth: 300 meters


  •  Royal Thai Navy - On 2 July 2015, the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) formally selected China's Yuan-class (Type 041) platform to meet a requirement for three submarines. The RTN's procurement committee voted unanimously in favour of purchasing the submarine, which has been designated S26T (Thailand), a modified export version of the Yuan class.[11] On 1 July 2016, the RTN submitted a funding plan for its 36 billion baht submarine procurement project to the cabinet for consideration with the expenditure to be spread over 11 years. If approved, the first submarine would be bought for 13 billion baht between fiscal years 2017–2021. The second and third submarines would be purchased during the remainder of the 11-year period.[12][13] In May 2017, the Royal Thai Navy and Thai Government signed a contract for one S26T variant of the submarine in a $390 million deal. Orders for an additional two submarines are expected in the coming years.[14] Steel cutting ceremony of the first S26T submarine was held on 4 September 2018 at Wuhan, China.[15]
  •  Pakistan Navy - In April 2015, the Government of Pakistan approved purchase of 8 export version of Type 039B (Upgraded) from China for $5 billion for the Pakistan Navy. The deal was finalised on 23 July 2015.[16][17] In October of the same year, it was revealed that four of the eight of the submarines will be built in Pakistan, with work beginning in both nations simultaneously. Pakistan's Minister for Defense Production confirmed that the agreement included transfer-of-technology to construct the vessels.[18] On 6 July 2015, Tanveer Hussain, minister of defence production, announced two projects for the construction of four submarines in China and four in Pakistan will begin simultaneously. Hussain added that a training centre will also be created at KSEW. In late 2016 it was officially confirmed that China will see about four submarines delivered by 2023 and the remainder delivered by 2028.

See also


  1. "Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2018" (PDF). Office of the Secretary of Defense. 16 May 2018. p. 29. Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 December 2018. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 September 2015. Retrieved 25 September 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 30 November 2018. Retrieved 30 November 2018.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. "解析中国海军新型041元级柴电攻击潜艇(组图)_新浪军事_新浪网". Mil.news.sina.com.cn. Archived from the original on 18 February 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  5. Yaun class Archived 2018-11-24 at the Wayback Machine, globalsecurity.org
  6. Carlson, USN (Retired), Capt. Christopher. "Essay: Inside the Design of China's Yuan-class Submarine". USNI. US Naval Institute. Archived from the original on 8 October 2015. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  7. 中国船舶重工集团公司第七一一研究所 Archived 2007-05-20 at the Wayback Machine, csic-711.com
  8. "Type 039A Yuan class sub variants". Archived from the original on 10 April 2014. Retrieved 8 May 2014.
  9. "S20". Archived from the original on 14 September 2013. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  10. "S20 Submarine". Archived from the original on 4 March 2013. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  11. "Royal Thai Navy announces plan to buy Chinese Yuan-class submarines". IHS Jane's 360. 3 July 2015. Archived from the original on 27 June 2016. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  12. Wassana, Nanuam. "Navy submits B36bn plan to buy subs". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  13. Mark, Eugene (20 July 2016). "Does Thailand Really Need Submarines?". The Diplomat. Archived from the original on 23 July 2016. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  14. Grevatt, Jon (8 May 2017). "Thailand orders S26T submarine from China". IHS Jane's 360. Bangkok. Archived from the original on 10 May 2017. Retrieved 10 May 2017.
  15. "China cuts steel for Thailand's first S26T submarine". IHS Jane's 360. 4 September 2018. Archived from the original on 4 September 2018. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  16. "Beijing eyes bigger arms exports after Pakistan deal, experts say". Archived from the original on 28 April 2018. Retrieved 26 May 2015.
  17. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 July 2015. Retrieved 24 July 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. SYED, BAQIR. "China to build four submarines in Karachi". DAWN News. Archived from the original on 8 October 2015. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
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