The new image dated January 21st, taken by the Pleiades optical imaging satellite system and showing a frigate-sized combatant with all hull modules in place was first shared by Tom Shugart on Twitter last week:
Hudong is one of the principal shipyards supplying warships to PLAN and foreign customers, with a focus on corvette- and frigate-sized designs and amphibious ships such as the Type 071 LPD and the Type 075 LHA. It is notably, with Huangpu based in Guangzhou, responsible for the construction of the existing Type 054A frigate, of which more than 40 hulls have been produced to date.
Type 054B or Type 057?
The new frigate now seen, referred to as Type 054B or sometimes Type 057, had been expected for several years now, based on speculation and rumors over future production planning for PLAN. These suggestions gained traction when new modules were spotted at Hudong, distinct from the established dimensions for Type 054A. Most notably they featured a wider beam of 18 meters, more similar to the Type 052D/DL destroyer built for PLAN at Jiangnan and Dalian. The new image, according to Shugart, now shows a complete hull of approximately 147 meters length and the same beam of 18 meters. It would therefore constitute a distinct design from preceding frigate- and destroyer-types, rendering the 054B-moniker somewhat misleading. Total displacement for this new type, based on the dimensions, can be estimated around 6,000 tons. For example, the Spanish Alvaro de Bazan-class air defense frigate, at a length of 147 meters and beam at 18.6 meters, displaces nearly 6,500 tons. In comparison, the existing Type 054/054A-design is estimated at 4,000 tons full displacement.
The hull is still in an early state of construction and no firm conclusions can be drawn on specific details such as weapons fit, propulsion or sensors. Speculation focuses on whether the type will feature the “universal VLS” for hot- and cold-launched missiles also used on Type 052D and Type 055-destroyers, and what radar suite will be used. However, given the rapid pace at which Chinese yards have in the recent past finished warship hulls before launch, these details will become clearer over the next few months.
Notably Hudong continues to also construct further Type 054A frigates, also according to new imagery shared by Shugart. Type 054A represents the bulk of PLAN’s modern frigate fleet, and its latest modification, with mild changes in superstructure and electronic subsystems, had only been in production for the last two years. Ten hulls of this batch were so far built at Hudong and Huangpu. It remains to be seen for how long production is maintained in parallel with the new design now taking shape. Either way the appearance of a new, distinct frigate design for PLAN would testify again to Chinese capability to not only produce modern combatants in volume, but maintain an impressive pace of innovation at the same time.