Monday, June 15, 2015

Chinese Surface Combatants

We talk a lot about Chinese naval capabilities.  Some view the Chinese navy as a significant threat perhaps already exceeding the combat power of the US Navy.  Others view the Chinese navy as a paper tiger with numerically abundant forces but little high end combat power.  With such divergent views it might be helpful to do a cursory review of their naval forces.  This information is gathered from open source documentation and should be considered with a degree of skepticism. 

Here are the modern destroyers, their numbers (active, building, and ordered), fittings, and a brief description.

Type 052D destroyer (Luyang III-class) – 12

-130mm gun, 64 VLS, AESA radar

-This is the most advanced surface combatant.  It has an area defense AAW capability with a flat array, AESA radar/combat system whose capabilities are claimed to approach or be on par with Aegis.  Reports claim the ability to detect stealth aircraft.  The ship has data link capability, medium and close in AAW protection, hangar and flight deck, and torpedoes.  What may be lacking is a capable ASW suite.  This vessel is roughly equivalent to a USN Burke albeit with less VLS.

Type 052C destroyer (Luyang II-class) – 6

-100mm gun, 48 VLS, 8 ASuW missiles, Active Phased Array Type 348 radar

-This is an area AAW combatant with a radar system claimed to be able to detect stealth aircraft.  The ship has a hull mounted sonar, medium and close in AAW protection, hangar and flight deck, and torpedoes.  This vessel is roughly equivalent to something between a USN Burke and Spruance.

Type 052B destroyer (Luyang I-class) – 2

-100mm gun, 2x missile launchers (48 SA-N-12 missiles), 16 ASuW missiles, 3D radar

-This was the first ship with an area AAW capability.  The ship has a stealth hull shape, close in AAW protection, hangar and flight deck, and torpedoes.  This vessel is roughly equivalent to a USN Spruance.

Type 052 destroyer (Luhu-class) – 2

-These were among China’s initial attempts at a modern guided missile destroyer and are considered to be prototypes and technology demonstrators.

Sovremenny-class destroyer (Sovremenny-class) – 4

-2x2 130mm guns, 2 single arm launchers with 48 SA-N-12 AAW missiles, 8 ASuW missiles, 3D radar

-This is an anti-surface and local area AAW combatant with powerful, supersonic anti-ship missiles.  The ship has a hull mounted sonar, medium and close in AAW protection, hangar and flight deck, and torpedoes.  This vessel is roughly equivalent to an improved Spruance.

Type 051x destroyer (Luda/Luhai/Luzhou-class) - 9

-Various fittings

-This class represents initial attempts at developing modern indigenous surface combatants with an area AAW capability and have been superseded by newer classes.  This vessel is roughly equivalent to an early USN guided missile frigate.

We see, then, that the Chinese navy is still a long way from matching the US Navy in numbers of modern surface combatants.  However, the current vessels being constructed are a fairly close match to the USN Burkes, at least on paper. 

What’s most impressive is the speed of advancement of Chinese naval development.  The Type 052 began in 1994 and since then has leaped ahead to near-Burke capabilities.  In that same span, the USN surface combatants have made only modest advances.  Further, the rate of construction is impressive and accelerating.

The Chinese surface navy is not on par with the USN but a comparison of the technology and production trends clearly favors China and should serve as a wakeup call for the US Navy.


  1. As indicated previously, it would appear that China has made relatively rapid relative gains in the span of a couple of decades.

  2. Good post, CNO -- but I do have a few corrections.

    052D: the ship has long range, medium and CIWS AAW capability, not only medium and short range. It also does have an ASW suite; it features the same TAS port as 052C, as well as a similar bow sonar. It also features a large opening at the aft which may be for a VDS, possibly of the same type which equips the last 4-6 054As and recent build 056s. Most notable of 052D is that its VLS is the new universal VLS which is capable of CCL hot launch as well as cold launch, but more importantly comes in three sizes (like Mk-41) and has a large diameter (0.85m, even bigger than USN's new Mk-57). Expect to see future PLAN DDGs and FFGs equipped with this VLS, and for all kinds of SAMs, quad packed SAMs, LACMs, AShMs, and VL ASROC type weapons in the near future. It might even be big enough to hold hypersonic weapons once developed.

    052C: actually it is better compared to the Type 45. Its VLS are only able to fire the long range HHQ-9 SAM. The APAR is designated Type 346 (I've seen some US publications refer it to as "Dragon Eye"). 052D's flat APAR is a larger version of Type 346, currently called 346A, showing the Type 346 is likely scalable. Type 346 and 346A are both APARs which operate in the S band, and are similar to the S Band APARs of the USN: SPY-4 and in SPY-6.

    052B, 052, Sovs: concise and accurate descriptions

    One aspect which is note worthy, is that there isn't mention of 054A frigates and 056s.

    The 054A frigates (of which 19 are in service and a total of 24 likely to be commissioned by 2020) are important ASW ships with similar ASW suites to the 052C/D destroyers (including TAS, bow sonar, with VDS also on the last 6 ships). They feature modern datalinking capabilities, a combat management system and CIC derived from the larger 052Cs, with primary armament including medium range SAMs and vertical launched ASROC type weapons from hot launched VLS, with ciws and AShMs. All in a 4000 ton ship capable of blue water operations, and likely to be a part of Chinese CSG escorts as well. This class of ship is the present day work horse of the Chinese Navy, and is often seen in deployments at Aden and in blue water operations generally. Two such ships recently exercised with the Russians in the Mediterranean. This is the also class of ship recently seen monitoring the USS Fort Worth. Personally I think USN would have been well served building a ship similar to 054A for their needs.

    056 is a 1500 ton corvette, not suitable for blue water operations. Their armament is low, only 4 AShMs, 1 76mm gun, two 30mm RWS and an 8 cell HQ-10 missile ciws (and two triple torpedo launchers). Only a helipad, no hangar. But all are equipped with bow sonar, many feature TAS as well, and the recent ones all feature a VDS (the same model on 054A and likely 052D). They're being built in massive numbers, with 22 currently in service since the first was commissioned in early 2013, and anywhere up to 60 planned. Given their production rate, they may well achieve 60 in service by 2020. Individually these ships are not formidable. Even as corvettes their armament is average. But it is their ASW suite, their modern combat management and datalinking, and their numbers which is important, as their overlapping presence will be essential in allowing the Chinese Navy to conduct coordinated ASW in the littorals near its home waters. With support from future land based fixed wing MPAs as well as the Chinese SOSUS, 056s will be a common sight operating in or near Chinese waters. They will likely also operate in the South China Sea during peacetime, as a "low profile" military presence during most conditions.

    1. It's worth adding, that the 055 large destroyer is also going to emerge soon, likely with the first commissioned by 2020 at the latest. From what we know, they're basically a massively enlarged aegis type destroyer, with the same main APAR as 052D, but also features a small integrated mast, integrated stealthier smoke stack, and likely will feature up to 128 VLS. Initial models won't have the IEPS of Zumwalt, but it is expected that 055 is large enough to accommodate it in future if needed. Standard displacement is often listed as 12,000 tons, meaning full displacement could near up to 14,000 tons. No one really knows how many will be built, but I'm willing to bet my left one that more than three will be commissioned (yes that was a reference to DDG1000).

      A successor frigate to 054A is also expected sometime around 2020, but not much is known about it except that it will likely be larger than 4000 tons, and also likely feature an integrated and enclosed mast.

      Both 055 and the next generation frigate will serve alongside ships commissioned in the 90s and 2000s.

      Post 2020, I see the Chinese Navy adopting a medium-high-very high blue water capable surface combatant capability, made up of blue water capable frigates (054A and its successor), medium destroyers of the 6000-8000 ton class (052C, 052D), and large destroyers (solely made up of 055s, which will operate similar to the Ticonderogas of USN today).

      What the USN needs to consider, is that by 2020 the Chinese Navy will likely have ~20 modern aegis type destroyers, 24 or more near aegis type modern frigates, supported by another 9 or so older non-aegis type destroyers and another 12 or so older frigates, all with another 40-60 modern ASW corvettes protecting the rear.

      There's not enough discussion in the defense sphere about the Chinese Navy's growth in numbers of modern and competitive surface combatants. Most discussion focuses on aircraft carriers, missiles or submarines, but few actually consider the consequences of the production rate of new destroyers, frigates or corvettes... nor what the Chinese Navy's fleet goals are in five years, ten years, or fifteen years time.

    2. Rick, thanks for the additional information. I'm constrained by space so I have to cull the data and try to present tidbits that are interesting. I welcome readers input to flesh out the data. Thanks very much!

    3. I think it makes sense, after having paid for all the sensors and weaponry, it probably doesn't cost that much more to have built these things into a slightly larger hull, in the case of Cruisers, this provides room for much better (and more) sensors, decoys, crew facilities, expeditionary vessels, deeper VLS tubes, and fuel!! Did I mention more FUEL, and room for bigger and longer ranged SAMs!!!

      And this way you are spreading those sensors, and the crew, and the operating costs out over more VLS stations. Burkes are basically small cruisers, probably get a lot more of a ship, that would function quiet a bit better as a cruiser, if they were just a bit bigger!! Imagine the situational awareness! You can put more CIWS on it too, beef up the starboard and portside cannons!


      Same thing with the large high-end ~7K tonne frigates, its pretty absurd really (the burkes are ~10K) probably not going to be much more to beef them up a bit by building all that equipment (+a few more vls) into a slightly larger hull, with room for growth... Then you get a high-end frigate that is slightly larger with 64VLS instead of 48. Which is good because mid-tier frigates have 32VLS stations and can weigh as little as ~4K tonne, and are significantly cheaper. This makes the platform probably make sense....

    4. Anon, you're being quite casual with your cost assumptions! I don't think many people would argue that larger ships are more effective and more capable. The problem, of course, is the reality of constrained budgets. The Burke, for example, costs around $2.5B when all the actual construction costs are counted (GFE, fitting out, deferred construction, etc.). Making them bigger will drive up the costs. If you want to have a bigger Burke you have give up something to get it. Hence, the continual struggle to balance size against cost.

    5. Yes they are very expensive, but again I doubt that is because of the size of the ship, more so the equipment that goes into them, and all the industrial subsidies asociated with them. And I don't think this would be terribly different, or it would cost that much more, once 90% of the equipment is paid for...

      If they were closer to ~14,000 tonne, they probable wouldn't be that much 'bigger', just a bit wider, and a bit longer. But they could fit more AMDR modules, on a bigger, better shaped radar mast, they would have many more missiles, and they would have the fuel to conduct the 'cruiser role',and replace the current US cruisers.
      And yes you would have to give something up, but you would have a ship that is a proper cruiser, that meets the full ABM requirements, you would have gone from two very similar classes, to one class that is right-sized for the cruiser mission. It's ok to have less of something, if it means they are right for the job.

      And I think you would get proportionally more VLS stations for the increase in cost, this reduces the required numbers to meet a certain missile capacity and situational awareness, and improved range would mean more time on point, which means a requirement for less ships.
      But I think the USN should have a combination of different sized ships. And it probably doesn't need ~80 Burke sized destroyers/cruisers, if it had a sensible combination of a range of different ships.

  3. I have a hard time getting upset about Chinese naval advances. Mostly because if our leaders have the slightest shred of sanity we'll never be so stupid as to allow ourselves to become involved in a shooting war with our primary supplier of rare earth elements and all the consumer products (and weapons systems) created from them. We're in a worse position than Japan in the 1930s. We're not just buying the raw materials for our war machine from them, we're buying whole components from Chinese companies and in so doing we give the Chinese a key insight into our weapons systems. They don't have to spy on us to learn what our weapons systems are capable of, because we're sending them the blueprints. Worst of all our defense contractors have worked to maintained the status quo despite efforts in Congress to reform acquisition and require more indigenous material.

    Any opening move toward hostilities on our part will have to start with breaking our economic dependence on the Chinese. The sooner we start, the better because it's going to take decades to undo the damage done over the past 30 years, But until we make some steps toward independence the Chinese can ensure our intransigence to whatever they want by merely threatening to withhold rare earth elements. They've won without ever firing a shot and we actively encouraged them to do so.

    1. I have little hope of finding sanity in the US government since from Nixon the US has been following an insane policy of on one hand giving China massive amounts of money and technology while on the other hand trying to ramp up for Cold War II.

    2. I doubt the US Navy needs to worry at all about the Chinese. According to the OPM website, that hack of OPM data earlier in the year included background investigations on (what sounds like) all military and federal civilian employees. And it just came out that a more recent hack obtained further information on issued security clearances. If this was done by China, or the information founds its way to China, then conflict might just be ended before ships are ever involved. Simply make plausible threats, with a few warning examples, of destroying the lives of sailors and their families, and you might end up with a seriously degraded Navy.

  4. Yes, quiet a lot of the PLN buildup lately has been with modern AA frigates. If you can build a reasonably priced 32VLS frigate, quickly and in numbers then that is fairly reasonable. They are just going to get blown up in a war anyway (like everything else in there, there is no such thing as an 'unsinkable ship, or an invisible aircraft, everything can be destroyed if enough resources are expended to achieve this), that is why they stopped making Ships of the line so ornamental and ostentatious on the inside.

    One thing you cant criticize these ships for, and that is on their disposability, they can be lost, because they can be built quickly, cheaply and in large numbers, on the other hand the USN Destroyers can not. They are very expensive, they take a very long time too replace, and you can only have a few of them.

    Numbers and capability are very important, that is why I like ships like:
    >You get an aweful lot of ship for your money, rather than investing in something super expensive like LPDs, you can afford to loose these ships, and they can be built very quickly (probably a few a year), and you can bolt on point-defenses. And the deal to retain rights to use it during war, in exchange for partial funding is a very good way to reduce costs. And you can surround them with escorts.

    Wars are won by capabilities, not technology or brands, or numbers!

    1. Anon, I've stated that I like the idea of adapting commercial ships to naval use FOR NON-COMBAT uses. Throwing commercial ships into combat is just asking for them to be sunk quickly and easily.

      I think what you're describing is the ultimate extension of the modular approach. Any old commercial ship can be given a module and instantly become an effective combat vessel. We've already disproven that in previous posts. A non-optimized vessel will always lose to an optimized one.

      There is a use for commercial vessels to pick up peacetime or low intensity tasks or to operate around the periphery of combat but actual combat should be left to purpose designed combat vessels.

    2. I disagree here in that the ships I mentioned are transport ships, they have a transport role, and transport is not a 'combat mission' however even though they would have the exact same defensive systems as the current ships of the naval logistic arm, they are very vulnerable.

      The idea is that rather than procuring, operating and maintaining such systems that are not needed in peacetime, it can be cheaper to pay for guaranteed access to such vessels in your mercantile fleet.

      Such ships could also, with the assistance of special support ships like the MLP and a LCAC 'Carrier' (there are designs for ships that could carry about 7 from memory), along with a means of transporting the soldiers, perform beaching operations, and it is not unconcievable that the USN could buy access to enough such ships to transport a good portion of the US Army.


      I think this is a viable strategy to reducing costs in the USN, securing access to Mercantile Fleet ships, and an increased reliance on modified civilian designs. There are very good examples of ships with high commonality with civilian systems, the danish Frigates for example.

      Also in my opinion, you could probably take such a ship as I mentioned here, HEAVILY MODIFY IT, outfitting it with the sensors and weaponry of a frigate, build sufficent birthing into it, and a hanger and well deck (for a single LCAC), and whilst it would cost way, way more than the civilian ship, it would still be much cheaper than an LPD and carry much more people and equipment.

      And at the end of the day, when it gets hit by a big missile, it will be just as good. And it shares commonality with your mercantile fleet, and doesn't require 'lengthy/costly' 'development' cycles...
      Ideally you want to keep numbers up, hull varieties and proprietry one-of-a-kind military equipment down, and use as much COTS and high technological-readiness, stuff as possible. Keep development and shipbuilding/weapons-programs seperate!

    3. As long as you recognize the non-combat aspect of this then I have no disagreement. The concept is potentially worthwhile. Of course, logically, if we recognize the non-combat aspect of this then the ships probably don't need any defensive weapons and become even cheaper to acquire and operate.