Surface Forces: China Gives Value And Fast Delivery


June 26, 2018: In mid- 2018 Pakistan ordered another two Type 54A frigates from China. The first two had been ordered in 2017 to replace two elderly British Type 21 Amazon class frigates built in the 1970s and recently retired from Pakistani service. The other two Type 21s are also due for retirement so the larger and much more capable Type 54As will replace all four Type 21s. The four Type 54As will be delivered by 2021 and are considered a bargain for what their capabilities are. Each Type 54A costs the Chinese Navy (the main customer) about $230 million. Foreign customers may pay more, or less, depending on modifications required or on how much China wants to use the sale as a diplomatic tool.

The Type 54A (32 built or ordered so far) is a further development of the Type 53 (59 built). Pakistan already has four customized (with some Type 54 features) Type 53s, called the F-22P. Pakistan received three F-22P frigates from China and built another in Pakistan. The Pakistanis were very pleased with their inexpensive Chinese warships and planned to order four more D-22Ps, to be built in Pakistan. That did not happen as China convinced Pakistan that the Type 54A, all built in China, was a better deal and could be delivered more quickly. The F-22P was always considered an improved version of the Chinese Jiangwei II (053H3).

The 123 meter (406 foot) long F-22P displaces 2,500 tons and carries an eight-cell short range (8.6 kilometers) FM-90N surface-to-air missile system. There are two four-cell anti-ship missile systems (180 kilometers range C-802s), two three cell launchers for rocket launched ET-52C anti-submarine torpedoes, and two six-cell RDC-32 anti-submarine rocket launchers. There is also a 76.2mm gun, two 30mm anti-missiles auto-cannon, and a helicopter. Each ship has a crew of 202 and a top speed of 52 kilometers an hour. The F-22Ps are inexpensive, costing about $200 million each. The new American LCS weighs about the same but has only half as many sailors in the crew, a lot more automation, and costs over $600 million.

The Chinese Type 53s are mainly used for coastal patrol. They are 103.2 meters (320 feet) long and have a top speed of 46 kilometers an hour. These 2,400 ton ships can operate on internal fuel and supplies for 15 days at a time. The ships are armed with eight C-803 anti-ship missiles, two automatic 100mm guns, and four 37mm anti-aircraft guns. There are also regular and rocket launched depth charges.

China has been successful in exporting its 2,500 ton Type 53 frigates since the 1980s and is finding many foreign customers for its replacement, the 4,000 ton Type 54A. This is a 134.2 meter (440 foot) long ship with a top speed of 49 kilometers an hour and a range of 14,400 kilometers. The crew of 165 operates a 76mm cannon, two 30mm multi-barrel anti-missile autocannon, eight C-803 anti-ship missiles, six anti-submarine torpedoes, 12 240mm anti-submarine rockets, 72 tubes carrying decoy rockets, 32 VLS cells containing anti-aircraft or anti-submarine missiles, and a helicopter. The radars, sonar, and electronics are all Chinese made.

China developed several new designs to replace the 40 year old Type 53, but the most successful has been the Type 54, which first appeared in 2005. This ship is based on Western, not Russian, designs. The first two built were less capable than the later Type 54A model. After the second Type 54 appeared in 2006, the weapons and electronics of the design were greatly upgraded and became the Type 54A.

Despite the demand for the Western style Type 54A, there are still many foreign customers who prefer the smaller, Russian style, Type 53. This includes Chinese users. In 2013 China completed upgrades on the last six Type 053 frigates built, apparently in order to keep them in service for another decade or more. Originally built in the 1990s, the six Type 053H1G ships were the last of the 59 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.

With the delivery of the four Type 54As and retirement of the British Type 21s the Pakistani surface fleet will consist of nine Chinese frigates and one 4,200 ton Perry class frigate that entered American service in 1979 and transferred to Pakistan in 2010.


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