Beginning in 2010, the Type 094 ballistic missile submarine succeeded the Type 092 Xia-class in service with the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). It is believed that some four boats currently (2015) make up the class (with a fifth underway) which exceedingly broadens Chinese naval power projection in the disputed seas of the Western Pacific - particularly with Japan, South Korea and other neighbors. As a ballistic missile submarine, the Type 094 is set apart from traditional attack submarines in that it carries a Vertical Launch System (VLS) that supports underwater-launched missiles including those with nuclear payloads. The first boat was launched in the middle of 2004.
The Type 094 class follows the lead of ballistic missile submarines of leading world powers by utilizing a nuclear reactor propulsion system as opposed to the traditional (and conventional) diesel-electric engine arrangement. The reactor provides power to one shaft and supports underwater speeds of over 20 knot. Nuclear propulsion also provides essentially unlimited operational ranges and reactors generally carry a lifespan of about 20 to 25 years before needing replacement. However, the boat is limited by the onboard provisions for her crew of 120 personnel - supplies lasting for about three months at sea.
The boat features a running length of 436.3 feet and a beam of 41 feet. Weights include a surface displacement of 8,000 tons and a submerged displacement in the 11,000 ton range. Its general profile is conventional with a tubular hull with tapered, finned tail section. The sail is well-ahead of midships with an elevated platform just aft housing the VLS arrangement. Dive planes are featured along the frontal portion of the sail. The VLS includes twelve launch tubes which can support conventional- or nuclear-minded ordnance as required - these include the JL-1 and JL-2 missile series.
Beyond its base ballistic missile assortment, the Type 094 class retains the traditional torpedo launcher configuration at the bow. This includes two banks of three launchers to each hull side of 533mm (21") caliber. In this fashion, the Type 094 can not only engage land-based targets from an offshore position but can also hunt and attack enemy submarines as well as surface ships - a true triple threat once only enjoyed by the West and the Soviet Union.
The arrival of the Type 094 (and its assumed capabilities) has raised attention across the major players of Southeast Asia and in Washington, D.C.