China promises Indonesia ‘German’ MTU engine in its submarine

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In a recent meeting in Jakarta on June 28, senior officials from Indonesia’s Ministry of Defense sat down with representatives from the China State Shipbuilding Corporation [CSSC], reports Janes. The main topic of the discussion? The potential sale of the S26T [SSK] submarine to Indonesia.

China promises Indonesia 'German' MTU engine in its submarine
Photo credit: Reddit

Originally intended for Thailand, the S26T submarine faced complications when the Thai Ministry of Defense decided to cancel the order in October 2023. The primary issue was China’s inability to integrate a German-made diesel engine due to export restrictions from Berlin, which led to an offer of a Chinese-made CHD620 engine—an offer the Thai government declined.

However, China seems eager to make a more appealing proposal to Indonesia. According to Jane’s sources, CSSC is ready to equip the S26T submarine with any engine preferred by Jakarta, including the high-quality MTU engines. During the presentation, CSSC officials assured the Indonesian Ministry of Defense that the acquisition would not encounter the same export restrictions that hindered the deal with the Royal Thai Navy [RTN].

China promises Indonesia 'German' MTU engine in its submarine
Photo credit: YouTube

The promise from Beijing to Jakarta for the German MTU engine is compelling, especially when you dig into the details. Germany initially declined to supply the MTU 396 propulsion plant as part of a deal involving the sale of a Chinese submarine to Thailand. In 2023, Thai Admiral Adung Phaniam clarified that the Chinese proposed engine, the CHD620, was actually a licensed version of the German MTU 396 engine. 

He further explained that China had secured a license from Germany’s MTU to produce the engine, rebranding it as the CHD620. It’s essential to highlight that this switch in engine selection does not breach the submarine contract, as the admiral confirmed.

This situation is quite curious, given claims that Thailand has not abandoned its pursuit of the S26T submarine. In May of this year, sources indicated that, in a surprising twist, Thailand reversed its previous decision to cancel the delivery of a Chinese attack submarine.

Following a recent visit of Chinese military and shipbuilding personnel to Bangkok, the Ministry of Defense has changed its previous stance and “agreed in principle” to go ahead with the S26T purchase. This decision comes even though the submarine will now be equipped with a Chinese-made engine, which had previously met opposition from the Thai government.

Thailand’s already complicated submarine program is anticipated to encounter more hurdles, as deliveries are not expected until 2027. The CHD620 engine, untested in any submarines, including those in the Chinese navy, will likely require extensive testing in Thai waters. On the positive side, Beijing made a key concession by providing Bangkok with a submarine simulator and essential spare parts.

Meanwhile, back in Indonesia, Janes noted that Beijing is showing a willingness to make significant compromises by offering an upgraded S26T submarine to the country. The China State Shipbuilding Corporation’s [CSSC] bid for Indonesia includes a modification package that enables the S26T SSK to deploy and fire the Chinese-made YJ-18 torpedo tube-launched anti-ship cruise missile.

China promises Indonesia 'German' MTU engine in its submarine
Photo credit: Quwa

Additional features of the S26T SSK include the retention of core elements initially designed for the Royal Thai Navy [RTN], such as its Air-Independent Propulsion [AIP] system. Thailand inked a THB 13.5 billion [around USD 366.5 million] deal with China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Company [CSOC] for the S26T SSK back in 2017. This version is a slightly modified variant of the People’s Liberation Army’s [PLAN’s] Yuan class.

The Chinese S26T [SSK] submarine is an export adaptation of the Type 039A [Yuan-class] submarine, produced by China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation [CSIC]. It’s specifically modified for global clients, with Thailand being a notable buyer, having ordered several units.

The S26T boasts an overall length of about 77.7 meters [255 feet] and a beam of roughly 8.6 meters [28 feet]. These specifications render it a relatively compact yet proficient diesel-electric attack submarine.

The S26T submarine boasts a hybrid propulsion system comprising diesel engines and electric batteries, which power both surface and underwater operations. Additionally, it features an air-independent propulsion [AIP] system that enables it to stay submerged for longer durations without needing to surface for battery recharging.

Outfitted with a suite of advanced technology, the S26T includes sonar, radar, electronic warfare, and communication systems. These enhance its detection, navigation, and engagement capabilities, making it a significant player in underwater missions.

The S26T can reach a maximum immersion depth of approximately 300 meters [984 feet], allowing it to operate efficiently in diverse underwater environments while staying under the enemy’s radar.

When it comes to armament, the S26T is loaded with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles fired from six 533 mm [21-inch] torpedo tubes. This arsenal empowers the submarine to target both surface and underwater threats, offering a robust offensive punch.

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