The evolution of warfare has brought about advancements in unmanned weapons, with drones, unmanned vehicles, and now unmanned submarines playing crucial roles on the battlefield.

China’s recent unveiling of a domestically produced unmanned submarine has captured global attention, highlighting its remarkable technical expertise in unmanned equipment. In this article, we will explore the features of China’s unmanned submarine and the potential implications for U.S. operations in the South China Sea.

China’s Unmanned Submarine: A Technological Marvel

China showcased its cutting-edge unmanned submarine, known as the XLUUV (ultra-large unmanned underwater submersible vehicle), at the Abu Dhabi International Defense Exhibition.

Produced by the 705 Institute of China State Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, this submarine marks a significant advancement compared to traditional unmanned submersibles primarily used for reconnaissance purposes.

Enhanced Capabilities for Versatile Deployment

Unlike its reconnaissance-focused counterparts, China’s XLUUV has taken a qualitative leap by incorporating hard-kill weapons, making it highly suitable for a range of unmanned submarine missions. The domestic unmanned submarine features four torpedo tubes in its bow, enabling the deployment of anti-submarine or anti-ship torpedoes. Furthermore, it has the potential to launch anti-ship missiles, cruise missiles, mines, or underwater acoustic reconnaissance equipment. This multi-purpose capability grants the submarine a heightened level of flexibility.

China's Advanced Unmanned Submarine can be a serious Concern for US in the South China Sea


Autonomous Detection and Combat Capabilities

An exceptional feature of China’s unmanned submarine is its large active and passive sonar array, situated prominently on the hull’s side. This advanced system allows autonomous detection, identification, and targeting of potential threats based on their underwater sound characteristics, empowering the submarine to initiate attacks independently. This represents a significant advancement in unmanned equipment, as it goes beyond traditional remote control operations and incorporates greater “autonomous combat” capabilities.

Human Control and Communication

While artificial intelligence technology plays a vital role, human control remains crucial in operating the unmanned submarine. A retractable photoelectric mast is installed in the middle of the hull, enabling satellite communication with the rear or mothership. This communication channel allows the submarine to transmit relevant information and receive new instructions.

Comparisons to Similar Products

It is worth noting that the United States has also developed a comparable product called the “killer whale.” Boeing’s “Orca” is a super-large unmanned underwater vehicle capable of carrying weapons like torpedoes, mines, depth charges, and anti-ship missiles.

However, the “Orca” follows a modular design, with a separate sonar array and weapon modules. This limits its multi-purpose performance compared to China’s integrated unmanned submarine, which combines a large sonar array with a weapon system.

Technological Advancements for Improved Performance

China’s domestic unmanned submarine employs a seven-bladed large-tilt propeller and an X-shaped tail rudder. These technological advancements enhance maneuverability, offering a smaller turning radius and faster depth adjustment speed. The practical application of these technologies indicates China’s maturity in related research and development.

Implications for Naval Warfare

The deployment of autonomous submarines equipped with detection and combat capabilities in the South China Sea could significantly impact naval operations. This advancement could pose challenges for U.S. nuclear submarines, which often operate covertly in the region. The power dynamics may shift, transforming the South China Sea from a hunting ground to a potential danger zone for intruding forces.


China’s unmanned submarine represents a significant leap in underwater warfare technology. With its autonomous combat capabilities, multi-purpose weaponry, and advanced maneuverability, this unmanned vessel has the potential to reshape naval operations. As tensions rise in the South China Sea, such advanced technology could intrude and retreat more challenging for opposing forces.