Surface Forces: February 17, 2004


With one carrier nearing commissioning and a second unit launched, it is noteworthy the PLAN (Chinese Peoples Liberation Army Navy) also operates two Russian made Sovremenny class DDGs (guided missile equipped destroyers) and will obtain two more by 2005.

This might imply an intention to form up two DDGs (armed with area defense SAMs) with each carrier battle group. However, note that, in spite of its SA-N-7 area defense SAM system, the Sovremenny is primarily a surface attack vessel. It is more likely the ships of this class will serve as flagships for surface attack groups which can also provided limited area defense SAM defenses for other naval surface units (e.g., amphibious ships and logistics task units). The should be expected to attempt to lead a group of surface attack ships in any coordinated attack on a major enemy task force. The Sovremennys supersonic SS-N-22 SSM (anti-ship missile) is particularly formidable, and launched in a coordinated way with other SSMs (so that the missiles reach the prospective target about the same time), it might be particularly difficult to defeat them all. 

The PLAN is also building AAW (anti-aircraft warfare) ships of its own. The Guangzhou (052B) class DDGs, now appear to be fitted with the SA-N-12 medium-range SAM (8 fire control channels), from two standard SAM launchers (not VLS). Two of these ships (168 & 169) are building. Two Lanzhou (052C) class DDGs (170 & 171) are also under construction. These ships appear intended to use the HHQ-9 long-range SAM (48 missiles in a vertical launch system, or VLS) and phased array radars. Two more ships of this class (172 & 173) are authorized to begin construction in 2007. All these ships are built on essentially the same hull as the Luhu (052) class. They will all apparently use the Chinese C-803 SSM (a replacement for the Exocet like C-802), and will have the ability to combine these missiles with those from the carrier in a surface strike evolution. They probably will have a data link capability, so they could effectively form an integrated tactical team with a new carrier. Four of these ships should be operational by 2008, and all six by 2010, indicating one or two could be assigned to each battle group. 

In addition, the PLAN has 3 older ASW (anti-submarine warfare) DDGs, 2 Luhu (052) and 1 Luhai (051B) class. They were built with the HQ-7 SAM (a Chinese variant of Crotale) and have a significant capability to operate 2 ASW helicopters. They carry the C-802 SSM (some reports indicate it may have been upgraded to C-803 standard). It is possible one of these ships might also be assigned to a carrier battle group. Older DDGs (051 series) of the Luda class, also equipped with the HQ-7, might be assigned, but they lack significant ASW capability and many do not carry current generation SSMs which would be tactically effective if combined with those on the carrier and her primary AAW escorts. 

China operates a large number of guided missile frigates (FFG ) with marginal ASW capability. Some of these operate one or two ASW helicopters and are armed with HQ-7 SAMs. These include eight Jiangwei II (053H3), two of which may go to Pakistan if it can ever pay for them. There also are two Maanshan (054) class building (which may operate the newer Ka-28 Helix) and more will follow rapidly.

If this appreciation is correct, three carrier battle groups could form by 2008 using ships existing or building. Each would have one CV, one AAW type DDG (type 052B or C), one ASW type DDG (type 051B and 052), and two or more FFG (Jiangwei II or type 054). 

A Chinese language article says as many as 8 surface ships might be assigned to a carrier battle group. This is possible if fewer carrier battle groups are deployed, if the Russian DDGs are assigned to carrier battle groups, or if older ships are also assigned to them. The same article indicates as many as four submarines might be assigned to the battle group. This is possible, but coordination between surface ships and submarines is difficult. Nevertheless, Chinese military literature mentions tactics such as decoy and ambush involving submarines. In this case, an older Romeo class submarine maneuvers in a way likely to be detected for example running diesel engines underwater as is normal when charging batteries to attract an attack by a US SSN or Taiwanese attack submarine. A quiet Kilo, in ambush nearby, might be able to solve her fire control problem from the noise generated by the attack on the Romeo. In a similar way, a carrier battle group might serve as bait for a suspected US SSN, drawing her into an attack position at risk from a prepositioned line of Kilos, unmoving and therefore almost undetectable. Such a tactic would not involve communications, if it were pre-planned --Sid Trevethan




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