The ability to keep your submarine designs secret may confer a tactical or strategic advantage in the future. Yet they are also massive projects which most countries cannot keep completely secret. The US Navy’s submarine building plans for example, are known years in advance. Not in China. On May 12 2021 we got our first view of a new submarine which was ready to be launched at a shipyard in Wuhan. This creates a lot of analysis, and some wild speculation.
Since May a brief segment of video and another candid photograph have come to light, enabling a deeper analysis. The submarine is currently on the Huangpu River in Shanghai, in the vicinity of 31°15’22.49″N, 121°32’38.71″E.
Before dealing with what we know, we should highlight something which we do not. We don’t know it’s name or designation.
Western observers have taken to referring to it as the Type-039C or –D. The last letter refers to it being either the third or forth (depending on who you ask) major variant of the existing Type-039A Yuan Class. These letters, including for the previous -B model, have been given by Western observers. Although they are widely used in defense circles, and I myself have been guilty of this, the Chinese Navy hasn’t shared their actual designations. So all of these might be wrong.
By far the most distinctive feature of the new submarine is the sail. This has an angled upper section with an angled chine running along it. The angles created resemble the fuselages of stealth fighter planes and may reduce its radar cross-section when it is on the surface. This would make it more stealthy when entering or leaving port. We can speculate that it may have hydrodynamic advantages, such as reducing the wake while at periscope depth.