Surface Forces: June 1, 2004

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The Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)  has decided to modernize its force of major surface combatants. It has embarked on a program of progressive development of new ships and weapons systems. This program also includes upgrading the weapons on some ships.

PLAN operates basically two kinds of major warships: guided missile destroyers (DDG) and escort destroyers (FFG). These are very much a high/low mix program. PLAN designed FFG are possibly the weakest armed and poorest equipped major surface combatants in the world. But, as Stalin said, quantity has a quality all its own and there are advantages to having more sensor platforms and ships able to launch cruise missiles from different vectors. In addition, older PLAN FFGs are fast minelayers.

The oldest type of FFG is the Jianghu class. Built in large numbers (about 31 remain in service) from 1975 to 1996, there are five sub-classes. All are armed with single or twin 100 mm dual purpose guns and obsolescent ASW weapons. All also are armed with older Anti-Shipping Cruise Missiles (C-801 or 2), in surprisingly small numbers (typically 4, but in one subclass, only 2, and Jianghu III has 8). Some of these ships have been upgraded to carry modern, lightweight ASW torpedoes. One ship (Siping Hull 544) was experimentally upgraded to carry a Z-9C ASW helicopter.

During the 1990s the PLAN produced fourteen Jiangwei type FFG. These introduced point defense SAM (both a domestic product and a Cretole copy) systems to FFGs. They operate a pair of Z-9C helicopters. They also are reported to be able to fire ASW missiles from their ASCM tubes. Nevertheless, they were certainly the least well equipped major warships built anywhere in the world in that decade, and they are entirely dependent on remarkably obsolescent technology.

Today the PLAN is building the first pair of a new kind of FFG. These ships have the now standard Cretole point defense SAM system, a single Ka-28 (or Z-9C) helicopter, and eight of a much improved anti-shipping cruise missile. Nevertheless, the design has already been overtaken by an improved model (not yet laid down), fitted with a variant of the SAM found on the Sovremenny and a still higher performing ASCM (Air to Surface Cruise Missile). It is planned to backfit the early units to this newer standard eventually.

PLAN destroyers show a similar evolution. The basic design is the Luda class, produced from 1972 to 1991 in considerable numbers. Except only for ships 109, 110, 165 and 166, which have a Cretole point defense SAM system, all these ships use guns for air defense. They are generally armed with 6 ASCMs (C-801/2), but that one upgraded unit (109) has 16, and the last unit (166: Zuhai) has eight (of which some are apparently ASROC like CY-1 antisubmarine weapons). Number 105 (Jinan) was fitted for 2 J-9C helicopters. Except for her, these ships all can carry 32 mines. 

During the 1990s, PLAN began to update their destroyer designs, using the Luhu and Luhai classes to introduce larger hulls and CODOG (combined diesel and gas turbine propulsion. Both classes used the now standard Crotale point defense SAM and both carried two Z-9C helicopters. Both seem to be ASW ships, but neither is fitted with a standoff ASW missile, relying instead on their helicopters. There was probably a fourth unit, but engine supply difficulties reportedly resulted in the project being abandoned. Luhus hull is the basis for two follow on classes, indicating the Chinese are using a modular design. Four hulls are building, side by side, to these two designs: 2 Guangzhou class and 2 Lanzhou class. The first represents a lower risk venture, employing similar missiles (SA-N-12, SS-N-22) as the Russian destroyers already serving (slightly upgraded). The second employs a Chinese designed phased array radar, VLS (vertical launch tubes) system, and a much more capable area defense SAM system (SA-10). These are good ships, but somewhat small for their roles, resulting in rather limited magazine capacity, and employing fewer fire control radars/illuminators than would be ideal. One might think of them as mini-Arleigh Burkes (a high tech US DDG class) but they are significant steps in the history of PLAN DDG evolution. One uses an advanced, supersonic, Chinese designed anti-shipping cruise missile (C-803), while the other uses the same weapon as the Russian destroyers (SS-N-22). 

There are indications that the follow on generation of destroyers is in design. Based on an 8,000 ton hull, they use a Russian designed phased array radar system and a VLS version of the high performance S-300 family of SAMs (SA-10). They also use the SSN-26 hypersonic anti-shipping missile. The earlier ships are to be retrofitted if this weapon becomes standard. 

Finally, there is the hedge. China tries to buy both foreign and domestic weapons in case the domestic ones take a long time to perfect. They also tend to copy the new weapons systems (whether or not they get a license to do so). They bought two unfinished Russian Sovremenny class destroyers, which were available early, and they have ordered two more to be built from scratch, with even more advanced weapons. They are already planning to incorporate these weapons into domestically designed ships. 

While the size of the PLAN surface will remain stable or decline slightly, its capabilities are growing at a significant pace. New units with ASW helicopters and ASW missiles should be better at hunting submarines. New SAM systems, assuming one or more is found that works well in PLAN conditions, should provide significantly better air defense. New, supersonic and hypersonic anti-shipping and dual mode (anti-land/anti-sea) missiles should make the surface task groups more dangerous. This deliberately incremental form of development is wise, in case there are problems with one system or another (rather common in China). It appears the PLAN requires about 21 destroyers and about twice that number of FFG for the medium term.  -- Sid Trevethan


Class Name Type Total in Service for Spring of Year
2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Luhai IMP (O51C) DDGH-13A 0 0 0 0 0 2 2
Lanzhou (Imp) DDGH-12D 0 0 0 0 0 2 4
Lanzhou (052C) DDGH-12B 0 2 2 2 2 2 0
Guangzhou (Imp) DDGH-12C 0 0 0 0 2 2 2
Guangzhou (052B) DDGH-12A 0 2 2 2 0 0 0
Sovremenny (Imp) DDGH-21A 0 1 2 4 4 4 4
Sovremenny DDGH-21 2 2 2 0 0 0 0
Luhai (051B) DDGH-13 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Luhu (052) DDGH-12 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
Luda II (051G) DDG-11E 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Luda I HQ (051Z) DDG-11D 3 2 2 2 2 2 2
Luda I SAM (051DT) DDG-11C 1 2 2 2 2 2 2
Luda I IMP (051D) DDG-11B 5 3 3 3 3 0 0
Luda I Helo (051H) DDGH-11A 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Luda I (051) DDG-11 5 2 1 1 1 0 0
Maanshan IMP (054A) FFG-2A 0 0 0 0 2 4 10
Maanshan (054) FFG-2 0 2 2 2 4 2 0
Jiangwie II (053H3) FFG-1A 10 10 10 10 10 10 10
Jiangwei I (053H2G) FFG-1 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Jianghu V [053H2] FFG-1D 6 6 6 6 6 6 6
Jianghu IV (053D) FFGH-1C 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Jianghu III (053HT) FFG-1B 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
Juanghu II (053H) FFG-1A 7 7 7 7 7 7 5
Jianghu I (053) FFG-1 14 11 10 9 4 3 0
DDG Total DDG 21 21 21 21 21 21 21
FFG Total FFG 45 44 43 42 41 40 39
Escort Total Escts 66 65 64 63 62 61 60


 


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