Beijing ready to deploy massive unmanned submarines in South China Sea

In an effort to ramp up its underwater naval operations, China may be preparing to deploy its massive new unmanned submarines, providing the first hint of a much larger program that may be underway.

A report in Naval News by defense analyst HI Sutton showed a satellite image of two extra-large unmanned underwater vehicles (XLUUV) at Sanya Naval Base.

Located in Sanya on Hainan Island, Sanya Naval Base, also known as Yulin Naval Base, is China’s strategically important naval base in the contested South China Sea.

According to the report, although the two vehicles have been present since March/April 2021, they have only now been sighted and their arrangement indicates trials or tests.

According to the Naval News report, the first XLUUV seen on the satellite image is about 16 meters long and two meters wide with a streamlined bow. At the stern, it appears to have two propellers placed side-by-side, suggesting it may be related to the HSU-001 Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV) first unveiled in 2019.

Although very little is known about the technical details of the HSU-001, it is believed to be China’s first large-displacement autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). It was first displayed at a parade celebrating the country’s 70th anniversary in 2019.

Sutton pointed out in Covert Shores that HSU-001 is about the same size as the US Navy’s LDUUV projects, suggesting it’s large enough to carry smaller UUVs or possibly sensors or mines.

According to Sutton, the other XLUUV is outwardly simpler in shape, much slimmer but also longer at around 18 meters, and its design is reminiscent of Lockheed Martin’s contender for the US Navy’s Orca XLUUV program, which was awarded to Boeing.

Large unmanned submarines are considered a key technology in naval warfare. In order to bolster its sea power, China has been working to expand its underwater capabilities through the development of unmanned underwater vehicles in recent years.

Experts believe that China’s HSU-001 is roughly equivalent to the US Navy’s “Snakehead” LDUUV, which is designed for missions such as Intelligence Preparation of the Environment (IPOE) and Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and is comparatively smaller than ” Orca,ā€ the US Navy’s XLUUV, which was unveiled in May.

A previous report in National Interest said that compared to American large UUV designs, Chinese designs appear to be wider and have twin-shaft propulsion, which is expected to maximize stability and should also reduce noise. It is believed the design could accommodate externally mounted torpedoes and mines.

In May, the US Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command unveiled its first-ever Orca Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV), built by Boeing as part of a projectct to produce five such vehicles. Based on Boeing’s 51-foot Echo Voyager, the Orca is designed for offensive missions including mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, electronic warfare and offensive missions.

However, the delivery of the US Orca has been delayed. Media reports based on budget documents said that “due to contractor challenges and supplier issues” the first of five operational Orca drones that were due to be delivered in December 2020 will now only be delivered in September 2023. Beijing ready to deploy massive unmanned submarines in South China Sea

Fry Electronics Team

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