Lia Wong story with additional reporting by Xavier Vavasseur
None of the surface combatants were assigned to serve in the East Sea Fleet, dedicated to the Taiwan Strait. Instead, the South and North Sea fleets, facing Korea, Japan and the South China Sea received the new vessels that will reinforce the PLAN on the high seas.
Type 055 Destroyers
Armed to the teeth with 112 VLS cells and considered a cruiser by NATO (Renhai-class CG), the Type 055 is the most powerful surface combatant in service in the Chinese fleet. Since the commissioning of the first ship-in-class Nanchang in late 2020, four more have been pressed into service last year:
The Type 055 destroyers are the largest surface combatant currently being built in the world. They have a length of 180 meters, a beam of 20 meters and a draft of 6.6 meters for a full load displacement of about 13,000t. In comparison, the US Navy’s Ticonderoga-class cruiser and the Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyer displace 9,800 tons. The Royal Navy Type 45 is lighter at about 8,500 tons. Their official PLAN designation is “10,000-ton class destroyer”. The US Department of Defense have been calling them “cruisers” since 2017.
Type 055 weapons
The current Type 055’s weapons fit includes:
- A 130 mm H/PJ-38 main gun
- 112 VLS silos
- A H/PJ-11 CIWS with a fire rate of 10,000 rd/min
- A HQ-10 short-range missiles
- Decoy launchers
The silos are split in two areas: 64x cells forward and 48x cells aft, just in front of the ship’s double hangar. They are of the same model as those fitted aboard Type 052D destroyers, compatible with both hot and cold launch missiles thanks to the Concentric Canister Launcher (CCL) concept.
According to our colleague East Pendulum, all Chinese missiles which size does not exceed 9 meters in length and 0.85 meters in diameter can be launched from those VLS cells, provided that the combat system is compatible.
The PLAN is set to fit its first few Type 055 with HQ-9B anti-aircraft missiles with a range of 200 km, YJ-18A anti-ship missiles, a new type of medium range anti-aircraft missile and land attack cruise missiles based on the YJ-18 family, ie, practically the same as those already found on Type 052D destroyers. It is also likely that the new anti-submarine missile Yu-8A is among the ship’s weapons fit.
Moving on from the expensive Type 055, five slightly smaller, more economical Type 052DL were also commissioned with the PLAN last year, China’s first multi-role destroyer maintains it’s relevance despite the burgeoning development of it’s navy’s technology:
- Suzhou (132)
- Huainan (123)
- Nanning (162)
- Kaifeng (124)
- Guilin (164)
- Zhanjiang (165) *to be confirmed*
The Type 052D Kunming-class (Nato designation: Luyang III) is one of the latest generation of guided-missile destroyer (DDG) of the Chinese Navy. It is based on its predecessor, the Type 052C DDG and likely shares the same hull. However the Type 052D incorporates many improvements in terms of design as well as sensors and weapons fit. This modern class of vessel is considered as the Chinese equivalent to the American AEGIS destroyers.
The vessels are still being built for the PLAN by two shipyards: Jiangnan-Changxing shipyard and Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company. The first vessel of of the class, Kunming (hull number 172), was commissioned in March 2014.
Displacing 7,500 tons, the class has a length of 157 meters, a beam of 17 meters and a crew complement of 280 sailors.
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.
The ships are equipped with vertical launchers for eight anti-aircraft, anti-submarine or tactical cruise missiles each (64 missiles in total): four modules are located forward of the ship in front of the superstructure, four others aft, in front of the helicopter hangar. In addition to artillery systems, these destroyers are armed with two triple torpedo launchers.
From 14th ship in the class, named Zibo (淄博) with pennant 156, the Type 052D become “Type 052DL”: The destroyer is longer by about 4 meters. This extra length involves primarily its hangar and helicopter deck at the stern of the ship. Probably to accommodate the new Z-20 helicopter (the hangar is large and can host two helicopters). The 517B radar fitted on Type 052D is replaced by a new type of shipborne radar with longer detection range, lower power consumption, and reportedly anti-stealth capability
Type 075 LHD
In addition to “shooters”, 2021 brought two new (helicopter) carriers to the PLAN fleet: Two Type 075 amphibious assault ships, Hainan (31) and Guangxi (32). They represents China’s first steps in the world of LHDs. With the rumored catapult-touting drone carrier Type 076 on the horizon, a batch of 8 more Type 071 LPDs in the works and the ceasing of large combatant production after the massive surge above, It can be said that the PLAN’s focus in the near future will be on amphibs. As tensions in the Taiwan Straits flare up, military planners ought to keep a close eye on the East Sea Fleet’s assets.
The Chinese Navy officially started development work on the Type 075 in 2011. The project called for a helicopter carrier displacing more than 30,000 tonnes. Its aim is likely to increase the “vertical” amphibious assault capability with the very mountainous East Coast of Taiwan in mind.
As for its specifications, open data speak of “36,000 tons of displacement”, “capacity of 28 helicopters”, “diesel engine with the 12,000 kW 16PC2-6B” and “four CIWS including two HQ-10 and two H/PJ-11”.
While the Type 075 appears to be slightly smaller than the U.S. Navy’s LHA, it is larger compared to French or Spanish/Australian LHD equivalents. It is actually pretty close in size to Italy’s future Trieste LHD.
The first Type 075 was constructed in record time (this has become the norm nowadays, for Chinese shipbuilding: extremely fast construction pace that no one can match). A total of eight LHDs are said to be on order for the PLAN while a larger version is rumored to be planned (sometimes referred as Type 076).
When fully operational, the new Type 075 LHD will bolster the PLAN’s amphibious capabilities, which today rely on the Type 071 LPD design.
Type 094 SSBN
At least one Type 094 (Jin-class) nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) was also commissioned in 2021 (in April, alongside Type 055 DDG Dalian and the first Type 075 LHD during a grand ceremony in presence of Chinese president Xi Jinping).
The Changzheng (Long March ) 18 is likely the 6th (or 7th?) Type 094 (also known as Type 09-IV) submarine of the class for the PLAN. It received pennant number 421. The lead boat of the class was commissioned in 2007.
The Type 094 is armed with 12 JL-2 SLBMs, each with an estimated range of 7,400 km (4,600 mi). Submarines of this class have a length of 135 meters.
Analysis and comment:
To put this massive scale of production into perspective, the destroyer commissionings alone brought a total of 768 additional VLS cells into the PLAN fleet last year, comparable to the entire Royal Navy fleet in service. In addition, pass years of “Dumping Dumplings” focused on smaller 054A Frigate and 056A Corvettes instead of the Aegis-equivalents of this year. All the vessels which entered service with the PLAN in 2021 amounts to about 170,000 gross tonnes, far more that any other individual navy in the Pacific region. As Japan rediscovers its naval power and South Korea is showing ambitions for a blue water navy, the region is poised to enter yet another naval arms race reminiscent of the one more than a hundred years ago.
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.