The move seems to be limited to the inventory of PLAN Type 056 corvettes which lack the variable depth sonar (featured in the Type 056A variant). The transfer of these relatively new hulls (a mere 8 years old for the oldest ship) is expected to greatly enhance the firepower of the CCG in their operations and free up PLAN resources as they expand further into the Pacific. China launched its 60th Type 056 corvette (of all variant) in 2019 and kept on commissioning a large number of these ships last year.
The Type 056 corvette in service with the PLAN is fitted with an H/PJ-26 76mm main gun, 2x H/PJ-17 30mm autocannons , 2×2 anti-ship missile launchers, an 8-cell HQ-10 SAM launcher and 2 triple torpedo launchers. Sensor systems include the Type 360 and Type 347 radars. It lack any kind of sonar system which has prohibited it from performing critical anti submarine warfare tasks and accelerated its obsolescence in the PLAN.
The modifications underway, as seen on hull number 511 (above) remove the missile and torpedo launchers. LED panels are added to the port and starboard sides of the superstructure. They are used to display messages and warnings, paring it down from obsolete warship to a powerful Coast Guard vessel, and therefore greyzone asset.
Its military DNA allows the small surface combatant to sufficiently match the USCG Legend-class in capability within the first island chain. Armed with a 76mm main gun, this diminutive vessel may even outgun many opponents in a law enforcement situation. With its littoral design in mind, it is obvious how Type 056 vessels will slot into future CCG operations. Its range and endurance allow for an extended presence while its firepower is more than enough to persuade any civilian vessel that may stand in its way, much less pirates on what often barely amount to dinghies.
Type 056 as Coast Guard Vessel
Sailing under a civilian authority’s flag, this affords the Type 056 corvettes greater freedom of action in both legal and perception capacities, draped in the banner of law: It may be much more convincing for these ships to sail in contested waters such as those near the Senkaku Islands than when they sported grey hulls and PLAN flags. Should their operations, lawful or not, be hindered by foreign naval vessels, Chinese media will likely portray the Coast Guard vessel as innocent while the foreign vessel as unreasonable aggressors both at home and on the world stage.
The Chinese may also borrow from the American playbook on such greyzone operations by replaying the story of the Yinhe Incident. Blockading vessels of foreign powers in international waters. threatening the maritime trade network in the busy South China Sea and disrupting vital shipping lanes particularly to vulnerable states such as Taiwan, forcing states to submit to their demands while avoiding consequences that wold befall if that were carried out by full-fledged warships.
About the author:
Lia Wong is a student and aspiring polyglot passionate about OSINT. With experience in translating live media on political movements in Asia, she prides herself on her print and social media gathering/analysis talents. Young and eager, she focuses particularly on Western Pacific forces and the geopolitical impact of their interactions. Her Twitter handle is @LiaWongOSINT.