One oft-overlooked facet of the Chinese military is its underwater force consisting of a variety of attack submarines. China, by its basic geographic nature, maintains a long-running coastline to defend and, to this, is added the pressure to the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy ("PLAN") to broaden its strategic reach throughout Asian-Pacific waters as China forms itself into a global player. This sort of growth has only naturally served to involve many "counter-navies" in the region in keeping pace with communist China - namely Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Philippines, Taiwan and - of course - the United States. One of the modern threats posed by the PLAN is its Xia-class vessel Type 092.
At its core, the Type 092 is a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, placing it in the same category with many modern boats fulfilling the same military form and function. The Type 092 was developed in the late 1970s to which her keel was laid down in 1978 at the shipyard in Huludao. Construction wrapped up in 1981 to which the vessel was put through its paces for the next several years, testing and evaluating various systems and basic weaponry. As such, formal commissioning was delayed until 1987. At the time of her inception, the Type 092 became the first Chinese Navy nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine and, furthermore, the first such vessel to be designed and constructed in Asia. The submarine granted the PLAN a modern capability to deliver a potent nuclear-tipped payload at range. The boat is formally recognized in Chinese Navy nomenclature as the "09-II" and makes her home part out of Jianggezhuang.
At the heart of every nuclear-powered submarine lies its nuclear reactor component. The Type 092 relies on a pressurized water system as well as 2 x steam turbines driving a single shaft. This provides a submerged maximum speed of 22 knots and a range that is essentially unlimited due to the nature of nuclear energy. This theoretically promotes the Type 092 as being able to operate anywhere in the world, within range of its enemies as required. Additionally reactors typically support a lifespan of several decades before needing to be replaced though the waste caused by the very nature of nuclear energy is troublesome to dispose of efficiently and, during normal operation on an active military submarine, can still pose a very lethal threat to what is essentially a "trapped" crew.
Outwardly, the Type 092 was designed in a conventional sense utilizing tried-and-proven features of other national submarines. Her physical characteristic was that of a basic tubular shape with a tapered bow and stern for maximum fluid dynamics. The sail was fitted towards the bow to which a squared-off section of upper hull was set aft of the tower for the vertical missile launch facilities. The launchers were designed in such a way as to allow the submarine to remain submerged when firing its payload. Dive planes were noted along the forward upper sides of the sail while the stern was capped by a single propeller shaft. Fins were set both vertically and horizontally along the dorsal, ventral and flanks of the tail. Dimensionally, the Type 092 was given a running length of 120 meters with a beam of 10 meters and a draught of 8 meters. Her crew complement was 100 personnel made up of a dozen or so officers and the rest sailors. The crew operates in shifts in the traditional manner. Overall displacement of the vessel was 6,500 tons surfaced and 7,000 when submerged.
As an attack-minded submarine, the Type 092 was outfitted with 12 x JL-1 (later JL-1A) Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) in vertical launch tubes located aft of the sail. Designed by Huang Weilu and produced out of Factory 307, the JL-1 series was fitted with a 200-300 kiloton nuclear warhead atop a 35-foot body and propelled by a solid fuel booster out to 1,700 kilometers (the improved JL-1A followed with a range out to 2,500 kilometers). Production of these missiles began in the 1980s to coincide with their use in the operational Type 092. For a more conventional anti-ship/anti-submarine approach, the Type 092 was further outfitted with 6 x 533mm (21") bow-mounted torpedo tubes.
The Type 092 saw basic patrol service in the years following her inception and, expectedly, entered a period of refit and upgrade within time. Her original sonar suite was upgraded with a more modern type (of French origin) while stealth features are believed to have been installed throughout the vessel. The original JL-1 ballistic missiles were replaced with the improved-range JL-1A series. Despite these attempts to keep the boat effective in modern times, thought eventually shifted to developing an all-new indigenous attack submarine system - the "Type 094" of the Jin-class - which has since (2010) replaced the Type 092 in PLAN service. Despite the arrival of the Type 094, it is believed that the Type 092 is still active in the PLAN. Six boats of the Jin-class will eventually be fielded which has caused issue with Washington and China's lack of transparency.
The Type 092 is the only recognized boat of the Xia-class. There is believed to have been a second hull constructed sometime in the early 1980s and probably launched but later lost to accident, perhaps in 1985. However, this detail has not been confirmed.