This article was first published in French language by East Pendulum
Seven years is usually the time it takes for a child to reach the age of reason and open up more to others. In the case of China, it is 60x Type 056 new generation corvettes, as well as 20x 6,000 tons-class Type 052D destroyers, that have been constructed and launched by Chinese shipyards over seven years since 2012.
It is the Huangpu shipyard of the CSSC group, located near Guangzhou in southern China, which launched the 60th corvette on the 9th of May in the afternoon. A day later, in the north of the country Dalian Shipyard conducted a “double launch” with the 19th and 20th Type 52D destroyer. This was not a first for this shipyard: In July last year Dalian simultaneously launched two large Type 055 destroyers displacing more than 12,000 tons at full load
On average, there is a Type 056 launched every 6 weeks, and a Type 052D every 18 weeks, ie one month and a half and four month and a half respectively.
The Type 056: A corvette designed for Chinese coastal area and EEZs
While launches of Type 056 can still be closely monitored by the many Chinese ship-spotters, who regularly “patrol” the various Chinese shipyards (in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Dalian for example) before each event, keeping track of their commissioning seems much more complex since June 2018, after 557 Nanchong, 42nd ship of the class, entered active duty.
Indeed, the Chinese media, starting with those of the Chinese state and also of the military, seem to have stopped broadcasting this kind of information to the public since 2018 for unknown reasons. But of the 60 corvettes already in the water, including the one launched by Huangpu last Thursday, at least 6 ships are expected to join the Chinese navy fleets between July 2018 and early May 2019 according to our estimates based on statistics.
Anyway, this 60th Type 056 corvette is a variant specialized in anti-submarine warfare, called Type 056A, which is easily distinguishable thanks to its large opening at the stern for a towed sonar.
The vessel, measuring 88.9 meters in length and 11.14 meters in draft, displaces 1,370 tons full load. Its CODAD propulsion system allows the ship to sail in excess of 25 knots, with an economic endurance of 2,000 nautical miles and a crew of 67 sailors.
On the combat systems side, the ship is fitted with an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) combat and communication suite, ASROC missiles, anti-submarine grenades, light torpedoes and a towed sonar, as well as a H/PJ-26 76mm main gun, two H PJ-17 30mm CIWS and one eight-tube HQ-10 missile launcher.
This class of corvette designed for the protection of China’s littorals and exclusive economic zones, despite its relatively small size, is the first to be fitted with the modified version of the ZKJ-5 combat and command system. This CMS can be integrated with other command systems of the PLAN, turning the Type 056A into one of the information and combat unit nodes in the “System”.
The procurement cost of a Type 056A corvette is more than 700 million yuan, or 91 million euro (about $102 million USD) at today’s exchange rate, slightly more expensive than the baseline version of the corvette, the Type 056.
Note that this 60th Type 056, which name and hull number are yet to be revealed, is the 17th ship of the class built at the Huangpu Shipyard. It is also the 6th ship of the class launched in 2019 all shipyards combined.
It has to be further noted that apart from the year 2017 which was relatively poor in terms of launches, with only 3 on the clock, the rate remains constant over the other years.
Type 052D, the evolution continues
Unlike the Type 056, which was designed to operate under the cover of land-based forces, the Type 052D is intended for the high seas. It shares almost the same platform as its predecessor, the Type 052C, but has more advanced combat systems and illustrates perfectly the Chinese military’s “Run fast with small steps” approach in their weapons development.
According to a presentation by a Vice Admiral of the PLAN in August 2017, the combat capability of a Type 052D is “1.6 times greater” than that of a Type 052C, knowing that the leading ships of these two classes of Chinese destroyer were launched with an interval of only 9 years.
Since the launch of the lead ship Kunming (pennant number 172) in late August 2012, the two Chinese shipyards involved in the construction of this class – CSSC Jiangnan Changxing in Shanghai and CSIC Dalian in Dalian –
have taken turns launching the new vessels at a steady pace, ie a ship out of the dry dock every 129 days on average.
Of course, a sharper analysis of the Type 052D construction shows that Jiangnan Changxing is, up to now, the main contributor to this pace. Indeed, of the 24 destroyers already operational or still under construction, knowing that the figure is not definitive, 18 are built in Shanghai and only 6 in Dalian.
And a large series of production spread over several years inevitably implies more or less important changes to the initial design. Type 054A frigates, with a total of 30 hulls built, have also experienced “upgrades” in weapons systems, for example.
In the case of the Type 052D, it is at the level of its structure that major changes seem to have been implemented from the 14th ship in the class, named Zibo (淄博) with pennant 156.
Satellite images first, then snapshots taken by enthusiasts showed that the Chinese destroyer is now longer by about 4 meters. This extra length involves primarily its hangar and helicopter deck at the stern of the ship.
While the reason for this structural change has never been communicated, it is thought that the introduction of a new model of transport helicopter in the ranks of the Chinese military, the Z-20 may have forced the CSIC Group’s 701 Institute to make design modifications on the Type 052D. The Z-20 is longer than the Z-9 and Ka-27/28/31 usually embarked on the Chinese destroyers.
Aside from this lengthening, there is also a lower height of the hangar compared to the first 13 vessels, probably for design constraints.
As for the final procurement number of Type 052D, it depends, on the one hand, on the political will and the geopolitical context anticipated by China, but also on the future fleet plans envisioned by the Chinese navy.
Today, the PLAN has 6 first rank fleets, each of which is in the process of moving from 4 destroyers + 4 frigates configuration to a 6 + 6 configuration (or more). Knowing that the PLAN still deploys 17 older generation destroyers (1x Type 051B, 2x Type 051C, 2x Type 052, 2x Type 052B, 4x Project 956E/EM, 6x Type 052C) but which still have many years in them,
and taking into account the first 8 large Type 055 destroyers currently under construction, the only thing we can be certain is that the PLAN fleet is set to have 49 destroyers by 2022. Even in the unlikely event that the Chinese shipyards stop all new construction right now.