Surface Forces: Low Prices, Prompt Delivery

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November 28, 2021: In late 2021 Pakistan received the first of four Type 54A frigates ordered from China in 2017 and 2018. Delivery took place in China, where the Pakistani crew went to receive training. The first two 54As were ordered in 2017 to replace two elderly British Type 21 Amazon class frigates built in the 1970s and recently retired from Pakistani service. A year later Pakistan ordered two more 54A frigates because the other two elderly Type 21s were also due for retirement. The larger and much more capable 54As replace all the Amazon class frigates. The 54As were scheduled to begin arriving by 2021 and are considered a bargain for what their capabilities are. China tends to meet delivery deadlines as well as providing Western quality ships at lower cost. Each 54A costs the Chinese Navy, which buys most of them, between $240 and 330 million. Foreign customers may pay more, or less, depending on modifications required and how much China wants to use the sale as a diplomatic tool.

Type 54A is popular, with 35 built and orders for another fifteen, so far. The 54A 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. One of these was built in Pakistan as part of the deal. The Pakistanis were very pleased with their inexpensive Chinese warships and planned to order four more F-22Ps, to be built in Pakistan. That did not happen as China convinced Pakistan that 54As built in China were a better deal and could be delivered more quickly and at less cost. The Pakistanis checked their math and agreed. The F-22P was always considered an improved version of the Chinese Jiangwei II (053H3).

While the 54A is a 4,000-ton, 134-meter ship, 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 LCS is considered a failure, orders have been cancelled and some have already been retired.

The Chinese Type 53s were mainly used for coastal patrol. These ships have a top speed of 46 kilometers an hour and can operate on internal fuel and supplies for 15 days at a time. Type 53s 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.

Since the 1980s China has been successful in exporting Type 53 frigates and is finding many foreign customers for its replacement, the larger Type 54A, which is a 134 meter (440 foot) long ship with a top speed of 49 kilometers an hour and a range of 14,400 kilometers, or about 20 days at sea. 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, twelve 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 and increasingly competitive with Western equivalents.

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 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 as coast guard vessels. 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.

Pakistan, after the delivery of four 54As and retirement of the British Type 21s leaves, is left with a surface fleet with nine new 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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