Images have surfaced on Chinese Social Media, subsequently shared on Twitter, which appear to show a new naval vessel. The blurred outline of a boat, resembling the U.S. Navy’s Zumwalt Class destroyer, is silhouetted in the haze. Behinds it is a mountainous shoreline with shipyard gantry cranes.
This is an initial analysis based on a single image. We do not believe that it is a hoax, but caveats apply.
Although China has an incredible shipbuilding capacity, with many yards, it seems unlikely that it could be a full-sized warship. Such a development would be hard to hide. But like the recent mystery submarine, China has a proven track record of surprising the world with smaller unknown vessels.
The description given in the original posts is that it is a test boat out for trials. This seems to be the best explanation, as opposed to a new warship class.
Both the Chinese Navy (PLAN) and some shipyards have the resources to build experimental ships. Chinese naval architects are interested in new hull forms and have proposed various trimaran warships. This may be a test vessel for some of these ideas.
Initial observations are that it combines a wave-piercing bow with a large box-like superstructure. This has sloping sides, hence the Zumwalt reference. However the Chinese vessel may have trimaran outriggers mounted towards the aft of the hull, like the U.S. Navy’s Sea Hunter uncrewed surface vessel (USV).
China has already built one Sea Hunter clone. That trimaran appeared in September 2020 although it has since been traced back to at least August 2019. It was built at a small shipyard on the Yangtze river, Jiang Tongfang New Shipbuilding Co., Ltd., which is not normally associated with major PLAN projects.
The new vessel closely resembles that ‘Sea Hunter’ design in several key details. If we are correct that there are trimaran outriggers, they appear very similar. And that vessel has a generally similar bow and superstructure. But differs enough that it does not appear to be the same. In particular the previous vessel has a distinctive conical radome on the superstructure.
So it may be an iterative improvement on the earlier trimaran ‘Sea Hunter’ USV prototype. That vessel does not appear trio be Navy (PLAN) linked, but this one might. This opens the possibility that the new vessel is an uncrewed surface vessel (USV). The Chinese Navy has shown a keen interest in developing these technologies. And it has a large but mostly unreported drone boat program.
If additional images or evidence emerges we may be able to refine our assessment. Watch this space.