In June 2016 China launched its 25th Type 054A frigate. This is a modern design and the first one entered service in 2008. That’s a lot of new frigates in a short time. The 4,000 ton Type 054A replaces the Cold War era Type 053, a 1,400 ton ship based the Russian Riga class frigates. As recently as 2012 China was still refurbishing Type 053 frigates, apparently in order keep them in service for another decade or more. Originally built in the 1990s, the six Type 053H1G ships refurbed in 2012 were the last of 53 built over about twenty years. Based on the older Russian Riga class frigate, the Chinese expanded the original 1,400 ton Riga design (armed with depth charges, three 100mm guns and torpedoes) to a missile laden 2,500 ton vessel equipped with modern electronics. These “evolved” Type 053s were built for export.
The Type 054 was based on Western, not Russian, designs. Two Type 054s were built and put into service by 2005 mainly to test the design at sea under realistic conditions. This led to a lot of changes, including a weight increase of about five percent, and production of this improved model, the 054As, began in 2007. By 2012 ten of these had been built and b 2016 at least 25. It is unclear how many Type O54As will be built but more are under construction and because the design has been such a success as many has fifty could end up in service.
The Type 054A is the first Chinese warship equipped with VLS (Vertical Launch System) and has 32 VLS cells for HQ-16 anti-aircraft missiles. There are eight anti-ship cruise missiles, a 76mm gun and two 30mm multibarrel autocannon for anti-missile defense. There are six torpedo tubes and twelve launchers for anti-submarine rockets (carrying depth charges). There is also a hangar for a helicopter. All this is handled by a crew of 165. The Type 054A has a top speed of 48 kilometers an hour and endurance of about three weeks on internal fuel (moving at cruising speed). Type 054As have been seen refueling and taking in other supplies at sea.
It was believed that one reason to refurbish six of the 053s was because the 054s were having problems. But this does not appear to be the case. Rather, the late model 053s had performed well and refurbishing them seemed a cheap way to get some additional ships for increasing coastal security.