Surface Forces: China Backs Off On New Destroyer Designs

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July 6, 2006: China is apparently having second thoughts about some of its new warships, and is halting additional construction of 051C and 052C class destroyers. In the last few years, these two new classes of locally designed and built warships have entered service, and experienced lots of problems.

The 7,200 ton 051C class ships carry 40 Russian S-300 missiles, which are fired from two launchers and guided by a phased array radar system. The missile has a range of 90 kilometers. Also carried are eight Chinese YJ-83 anti-ship missiles. These have a range of 120 kilometers, and carry a 360 pound warhead. There are two 30mm anti-missile cannon systems and one 100mm gun. The first ship of this class began undergoing sea trials since earlier this year. That's apparently where the Chinese discovered they had some problems. The second ship of this class won't be ready for sea trails until later this year. Actually, that may be delayed, as design changes are made.

The 6,500 ton 052C class destroyers have a new, Chinese designed, HQ-9 anti-aircraft missile system. The HQ-9 is believed to be based on technology from the Russian S-300 and American Patriot systems. The 052C installation has 48 missiles fired from vertical launchers. Unlike the American "hot launch" (where the rocket ignites while the missile is in the launch tube), the Chinese use a "cold launch" system. This uses compressed air to eject the missile from the launch tube, and then the rocket motor ignites. Ship designers are still debating which system is safer and more effective. The HQ-9 apparently has a range of about a hundred kilometers. Also carried are eight Chinese YJ-62 anti-ship missiles. These have a range of 280 kilometers, and carry a 660 pound warhead. This is another new system. There are two 30mm anti-missile cannon systems and one 100mm gun. Six 324mm anti-submarine torpedo tubes are carried. There are also four, 18 barrel, rocket launchers. The precise function of these is not known. Finally, there is a landing and hanger area for a Russian Ka-28 helicopter.

The first two of these ships entered service in 2004 and 2005. There have been problems, which is to be expected with a new class of ships. This was especially true because the 052Cs were carrying so many new electronic and weapons. The crew of 280 contains more technicians than most previous classes of Chinese warships. The 052Cs also have a gas turbine engine, which is also something new for Chinese warships.

China has been very cautious with putting new military technology into mass production. The reasons are many. First, there is the inexperience of Chinese industry with many of these new technologies. Given a decade or so of additional experience with these new missile and electronic technologies, that will change, and Chinese built systems will be more reliable and less buggy. Second, Chinese sailors are inexperienced with this much high-tech stuff on warships. The 051C and 052C ships are, on paper, nearly equal to American warships in terms of technology. The Chinese are not comfortable dealing with these many gadgets on a ship. It takes getting used to. Third, the Chinese see more radical changes coming in warship technology, and don't want to build a bunch of ships with what may be yesterdays stuff. Finally, the Chinese know they need experience, and with the current problems encountered getting the 051C and 052C ships operational, this seems the safest course of action.

 


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