January 9, 2017:
At the end of 2016 China put another two Type 056 corvettes into service. This makes over 40 of these ships in service, under construction or on order. It is believed that the Chinese now plan to build 60 of these ships. This is double the number planned in 2014. Apparently the 056s have performed better than expected. China apparently used two coastal patrol ships it built for Thailand in 2005, These Pattani class ships were the same general shape as the later 056 and were based on a combination of existing Chinese naval ship design ideas and Western concepts the Thais demanded. The Pattanis were not based on any existing warship design and were basically a warship built for hire to customer specifications. The Thais were pleased with the performance of the Pattanis and so was the Chinese navy and Chinese ship builders. While the Pattanis cost about $50 million each the 056s can cost as much as $100 million each depending on accessories.
The first eight 056s entered service in 2013 and by 2014 twenty were being built in four shipyards. All were in service by 2015. These ships have been playing a crucial role in Chinese efforts to assert control over the South China Sea. The 056 has also exported to Nigeria (as a coastal patrol ship) and Bangladesh (as a more heavily armed “frigate”).
The Type 056s are 1,500 ton ships armed with four C-903 anti-ship missiles (200 kilometers range), a FL-3000N anti-aircraft missile (nine kilometers range) launcher (with eight missiles), two 30mm remotely controlled autocannon, six torpedo tubes and one 76mm gun. The ship has air and sea search radars plus sonar and a helicopter platform in the rear (for a Z-9 light helicopter). Type o56 ships are used mainly for offshore patrol. The ship is highly automated and has a crew of only 60.
The 056s were originally designed as a replacement for the aging fleet of Type 053 class frigates. It was one of these ships (the Dongguan) that ran aground on a reef off the Philippines coast near Half Moon Shoal in 2011. This happened 111 kilometers from the Philippines (Palawan Island) and over 1,100 kilometers from the Chinese mainland. Letting a 2,400 ton warship (carrying a crew of 200) move around in these shallow and treacherous waters at night was asking for trouble. The waters west of the Philippines (including all the reefs, shoals, atolls, and islets claimed by China) are shallow and full of obstacles just under the water. Even shallow draft fishing boats proceed carefully and usually just in daylight. GPS and recent efforts to fully map (chart) the area have made it safer but only for those who proceed with care. China eventually got the Dongguan off the reef. A Type 056, which has a shallower draft and more modern navigation systems, would probably not have gone aground in the first place.
Three ASW (anti-submarine warfare) variant were built as the 056A. These had additional electronics and a variable depth towed sonar. All 056 ships have sonar and the six torpedo tubes were apparently designed for anti-submarine torpedoes.
There is also a Coast Guard variant that has fewer weapons and more space for additional boats (for boarding parties and rescue teams).