China's First Advanced Submarine Type-032 1958
If built, the Type-032 would have been one of the most forward thinking submarines in the world, even in the 1960s when everything was changing. Photo via

China's 'American' Submarine (That You Have Not Heard Of)

Ever wondered why Chinese nuclear-powered submarines look more American than Russian? Despite China's history of building and operating Russian submarines. the connection to US Navy submarine design ideas goes back to the 1950s, long before China was known for operating submarines.

It started with a submarine which nobody has heard of, the Type-032. Today the 'Type-032' submarine is the largest non-nuclear submarine in the world. It is less well documented than many other classes, but it is not unknown. But there was another submarine design called Type-032 in 1958, and it was to have been one of the most advanced submarines built. A single sub-scale test submarine, the Type-032-1, was built. That has long since been scrapped and the whole project is virtually unknown outside China.
China's First Advanced Submarine Type-032 1958
The Type-032 was to be a small coastal submarine with very high performance. It would be conventionally powered but featured an advanced diesel engine and advanced battery technology.

The project was run by the Shanghai Jiaotong University and Jiangnan Shipyard. The chief designer was Deng Sanrui of the Harbin Military Industry and Naval Engineering Department. Deng is now regarded as the father of Chinese submarine design.

At the time China had received two older World War Two S-Class submarines from the Soviet Union in 1954. Around the same time they received several of the much more advanced Pr.613 WHISKEY Class boats and local construction of these started in the Jiangnan and Wuchang shipyards. The WHISKEY, known initially as the 6603 class in China but later as the Type-03, was based largely on the famous German Type-XXI uboat. But by the late 1950s it was already looking outmoded.
China's First Advanced Submarine Type-032 1958

Instead of copying Soviet designs, Deng Sanrui was inspired by the US Navy's advanced experimental submarine the USS Albacore. This had introduced the more teardrop shaped hull with a rounded nose and screw (propeller) in the center at the stern. At the time that was cutting edge design and it is impressive that China, with no submarine building heritage, attempted to replicate it. But the Type-032 was not a direct copy of the Albacore. A very visible difference is the cruciform control surfaces ahead of the screw. The Albacore initially had a cruciform stern but with the rudders behind the screw. It later had an X-form stern.
US Navy USS Albacore Submarine
USS Albacore

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The design would be about 400-500 tons (not unusual at the time) and armed with four torpedo tubes. It would have double-hull construction, similar to the USS Albacore and many other US Navy submarines of the time. In order to get a high performance out of such a small submarine very advanced silver-zinc batteries were to be used instead of the usual lead-acid. Many countries were toying with silver-zinc batteries on small submarines or underwater chariots at the time. But this battery technology is, generally, much more expensive and less robust than the usual lead-acid so was never widely adopted.

Type-032-1 test submarine

A single sub-size test vehicle was built. At around 15 meters long and 30 tons the Type-032-1 was around a third of the physical size of the planned specifications. It lacked some basic equipment, such as a periscope, but would have proven a useful test vehicle at the time.
China's First Advanced Submarine Type-032 1958
The only known photograph of the Type-032-1 test submarine. Photo via

Many safety lessons were learned. Apparently depth control and other basic lessons had to be learned the hard way.


The project was considered too ambitious. The technologies required, such as the new diesel engine, silver-zinc batteries and construction and safety technologies were beyond Chinese shipbuilding at the time. The single test vehicle, Type-032-1, was eventually scrapped.

Today all that remains are some models in Chinese museums. very little information is out there, in China or elsewhere.
China's First Advanced Submarine Type-032 1958
A model of the Type-032 design in a Chinese museum. Photo via

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The later Type-091 Han Class nuclear powered submarine bears some similarities. While we should not draw too strong a line between the two, it is clear that the Type-032 project left its mark on Chinese thinking. And it took it in a more US inspired direction than might otherwise be assumed.

China's First Advanced Submarine Type-032 1958
Another museum model of the Type-032. Note the access hatch behind the sail. Photo via

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