Surface Forces: March 20, 2005


Asia is one place where warship construction is a booming market, particularly for destroyers. China, Japan, and South Korea all have been building (or buying) new destroyers, and these are arguably among the best in the world.

China has been one of the major buyers, and has introduced three new classes of destroyers. The most important of these is  the Russian Sovremennyy-class destroyers bought by China. The Sovremennyy is one of the better anti-surface vessels presently available on the world market. These destroyers carry two SA-N-7 Gadfly mounts (which can also fire the SA-N-12 Grizzly). These missiles are on par with later versions of the SM-1MR surface-to-air missile. The Sovremennyys radar systems are old, but the Top Plate radar is solid. The primary weapon of the Sovremennyy is the SS-N-22 Sunburn, a high-speed sea-skimming missile with a huge 660-pound warhead. The Sunburn is probably the best anti-ship missile in the world.

China has three other destroyer classes, the Type 52A, the Type 52B and the Type 52C. The Type 52A, also known as the Luhai, is designed for fighting. This ship, like the Type 52B and Type 52C vessels, carries sixteen YJ-82/C-802 missile. The anti-air systems have been progressively improved in the Type 52 vessels. The Type 52B has a mixture of Russian and Chinese systems. These, like the Sovremennyy, use the SA-N-7/SA-N-12 family of missiles for air defense. The Type 52C introduces a phased-array radar and a new long-range SAM, the HQ-9 in a VLS.

South Korea is bringing out a new destroyer, the Moon-Moo-class ship. This is a 4,800-ton vessel with a 32-cell vertical-launch system for the SM-2MR, Vertically-Launched ASROC, and the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile. The electronic systems on this ship are closer to those of a Spruance-class destroyer. The SPS-49 air-search radar and two STIR 240 fire-control radars, the DSQS-23 sonar system, and a towed-array sonar are built by a South Korean firm. The KDX-2 also carries eight Harpoon anti-ship missiles, a 127mm gun forward, and a 76mm gun forward. The ROK is considering whether or not to increase the production run of this class from three ships to as many as twelve, which would bolster South Koreas navy. South Korea is also working on a new design, the KDX-3, which will be comparable to the U.S. Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, equipped with the SPY-1 radar and two VLS (two 64-cell VLSs, one forward and one aft). Construction on the first of these ships began in November, 2004.

Japans Kongo-class destroyers are almost a carbon copy of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers that have become the backbone of the United States Navy. These vessels were built to merchant standards as a cost-cutting measure. Like the Arleigh Burke, it has the SPY-1D radar, two VLS (a 29-cell VLS forward and a 61-cell VLS aft). The Kongo is a powerful vessel, limited only by the lack of an onboard helicopter (all of the other destroyers described here have one or two embarked helicopters, the Chinese use the Z-9, a license-built copy of the French Dauphin helicopter); South Korea used the Lynx, a British design that has also been used as an attack helicopter or a light utility helicopter). Japan is planning to build four more Kongos, albeit these will be more like the Burke IIA-class destroyers, which will carry a SH-60J.

Japans other major destroyer classes are the Takanami-class and Murasame-class. These two classes (which will total 17 vessels by 2010) have minor differences. The Takanami-class vessels are slightly larger, has a 127mm gun and a single 32-cell VLS for Vertically-Launched ASROC and Sea Sparrow missiles; the Murasame-class vessels have a 76mm gun forward and two 16-cell VLS, one for VLA, the other is for Sea Sparrows. These vessels have a single SH-60J helicopter to locate targets or to hunt submarines. These destroyers replace the older destroyers which relied on separate missile launchers carrying eight missiles each (both the ASROC launcher and Sea Sparrow launcher carried eight rounds each). The VLS add a higher rate of fire (no need to waste time reloading the launcher) and it also makes a ship harder to see on radar (missile launchers tend to reflect the waves back at the radar). Japans destroyer force also has done a lot of training in anti-submarine warfare, something important given Japans reliance on maritime trade, but training time is often limited. That did not stop Japan from tracking a Chinese sub that violated Japanese waters, though.

The crews matter the most. Advanced weapons are nice, but if the crew cannot effectively handle their vessels, things get difficult. Japan and South Korea have crews who get superb training. South Korea is still at war with North Korea and has had to stop North Korean infiltrators in the past and in the late 1990s, there were some incidents where shots were fired (including the sinking of a semi-submersible North Korean spy boat in 1998). South Korea uses conscription (navy personnel serve for 30 months), while Japan relies on an all-volunteer force. Chinese forces also use conscription, but their training is nowhere near the level of Japan and Korea. Japan and Korea also have much better electronics as well Japan and Korea both have vibrant electronics industries. Japans Kongo-class destroyers are probably the best in Asia despite their lack of an onboard helicopter. The next batch of Aegis destroyers for Japan will rectify this flaw. Both a mixture of quantity and quality make Japans destroyer force the best in Asia. Harold C. Hutchison (


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