In a bid to get closer to its dream of becoming a 'blue-water power', the Chinese Peoples' Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has initiated its efforts to build submarine nuclear deterrence with the first Golf class SSB (submersible ship with a ballistic missile). Based on erstwhile USSR Navy's Golf class SSB under Project 6631, the ship was built at Lvda Shipyard, Korea Bay Eastern section of Dalian city.
The Type 31 Golf class SSB has now been transferred to Qingdao Museum and stands on the opposite side of the first Type 91 Han class SSN (submersible ship nuclear) at a pier specially developed for it.
With the help of satellite imagery, India Today OSINT Team looks at the lifetime achievements of this ship.
Spotting of the submarine
The US Central Intelligence Agency had reportedly first spotted the construction of Communist China's first ballistic missile-firing submarine on February 16, 1966.
The CIA covered it with 12 Corona KH missions, reporting it to be constructed between June 1962 and September 1964. It probably underwent a fitting-out of more than 12 months and later conducted sea trials from January 1966 onwards.
Satellite image shows Type 31 Golf and Type 91 Han at Qingdao Museum (Photo Credits: India Today)
The submarine may have been commissioned in 1967 with pennant number 200 and was named "ChangCheng 1" which was revealed much later.
The refit saga
After commissioning this submarine, the Chinese PLAN decided to have solid-fuelled ballistic missiles rather than liquid-fuelled. The ship had to undergo a major refit, especially the conning tower part - to be able to accommodate wider solid-fuelled ballistic missiles.
The conning tower of the SSB could accommodate only two ballistic missiles as compared to the set of three leaner USSR missiles. The refit also led to change in other support equipment in the submarine such as simulators etc.
The ship had to surface for almost 7-8 minutes for firing the ballistic missile which was considered dangerous with advancements in submarine detection technologies. Hence, the need for a second refit arose.
Satellite image shows Type 31 Golf SSB at Lvshun Naval Academy (Photo Credits: India Today)
The second refit took place in 1978, which improved the Changcheng's ability to launch the ballistic missile while staying submerged.
The change in type and name was noticed after this refit - to Type 31 Changcheng. This submarine underwent the third refit during the 1990s possibly to accommodate a more-wider Julang-2 missile.
This refit again had to reduce the number of launch tubes to fit in wider Julang-2. The sail could take only a single silo of the new missile. The last refit was in 2010 at Lvshun base, possibly to convert the submarine for training purposes.
The trials of Julang
China has been continuously testing the Julang series of missiles on this ship since the early 1970s. The Julang-1 (meaning Giant Wave-1) was the naval version of the DF-21 missile. Julang-1, also known by its NATO name CSS-N-3 missile, had an operational range of 1,800-2,500 km.
The successful trials of Julang-1A from subsurface launches in the early 1980s saw the missile being deployed in the mid-1980s on Type 92 Xia class SSBN, a nuclear powered ballistic missile firing submarine, the PLAN's first.
Satellite image shows Type 31 Golf SSB at Lvshun Dry Dock (Photo Credits: India Today)
The Julang-2 (NATO name CSS-N-14) with a range of 7,500 km was first tested on the ground as DF-31 and later sea trials were conducted.
The major sea trials were in June 2005 and May 2008. The test on Type 31 SSB in 2006 failed. The Julang-2 was later tested on Type 94 in 2009 when the SSB was kept in standby mode.
Used for specialised training
The Changcheng was probably used for training after its last refit in 2010. The submarine has been observed on satellite imagery at the Warf used by Lvshun Naval Academy from August 2012 onwards. The ship did not move from this location until April 2020.
Satellite image shows Type 31 Golf and Type 32 Qing at Lvshun Shipyard (Photo Credits: India Today)
The submarine was possibly used for specialised training of officers especially on launch simulators before deploying them onboard Type 94 SSBNs.
Preservation inside museum
The Type 31 Golf class SSB Changcheng was observed being scrounged at the Lvshun shipyard on July 1, 2020.
The major equipment of the ship was possibly being taken out to prepare it for museum display. The submarine was observed on September 20, 2020 at the Qingdao Naval Museum alongside the previous Han class nuclear submarine.
The saga of this most important Type 31 Golf class Changcheng submarine ends with her preservation at the Qingdao Naval Museum.
(Col Vinayak Bhat (Retd) is a consultant for India Today. A satellite imagery analyst, he served in the Indian Army for over 33 years)