Friday, June 16, 2017

Chinese Fire Support Frigate

The Chinese Type 053H frigate, Jiujiang, is an absolutely fascinating vessel for multiple reasons but the main reason is that the vessel was converted to a multiple launch rocket (MLR) fire support ship.

As a bit of background, the class was built in the 1970’s-1990’s and traces its lineage back to the Russian Riga class frigates. The vessels are around 330 ft long with a displacement of around 2000 tons.  Jiujiang was launched and joined the Chinese fleet in 1975 as a surface warfare frigate before being converted into a fire support ship in 2002.

The fire support modification consisted of 5x50-tube 122 mm (~5”) rocket launchers for a total of 250 rockets.  The rockets had a range of 20-30 km.  In addition, the ship retained its two dual 100 mm (~4”) guns.

That’s right, while the US Navy has abandoned fire support or offered an ill-conceived and now impotent Zumwalt and dithered about the possibility of mounting MLRS launchers on ships, the Chinese went ahead and did it.  This illustrates a few things:

  • The Chinese recognize the need for ship based fire support.

  • The Chinese are willing to construct/modify one-off prototypes to test and evaluate concepts.  While the US Navy has floundered around and largely ignored the issue of fire support, the Chinese built a fire support frigate, evaluated it, and are now retiring it.

  • The Chinese are willing to put older ships to use as test platforms.  Contrast this use of older vessels with the US Navy’s tendency to EARLY retire completely usable ships.

  • The Chinese were able to mount a LOT of firepower on a small, cheap vessel.  Contrast this with the US insistence on making every vessel big, expensive, and do-everything.  Also, contrast this vessel and its firepower density with the LCS’ near total lack of combat firepower.

  • The Chinese are far more open and nimble than the US Navy in terms of willingness to embrace change and the speed with which they build and experiment.

One cannot help but acknowledge that the Chinese are putting us to shame when it comes to prototyping, variety of designs, firepower density, speed of construction, and rate of technological advancement of their navy.  At this rate, we’re going to have to start hacking them to get their technology and designs!

We should also note that mounting rocket launchers on ships is hardly new.  The US Navy did it extensively in WWII, for example, but seems to have completely forgotten that capability just as they’ve abandoned fire support altogether.  If you’re interested, do an Internet search for LSM(R) to see what kind of rocket fire support vessels the US used in WWII.

Check out these photos from China Defense Blog (1)

Fire Support Frigate Jiujiang - Note The Five Launchers On A Frigate Sized Ship

Rocket Launcher

Rocket Launcher

Launcher Close Up


The US Navy needs to look to the past while developing for the future and be more willing to construct one-off prototypes.  Older ships can be used for development purposes instead of being retired and sunk, scrapped, or sold.  The Navy and Marines need to continue to address naval fire support especially since the Zumwalt turned out to be a hideously expensive total failure.  We can learn a lot from the Chinese about how to develop a Navy!


(1)China Defense Blog, “PLAN decommission of the day: FFG516 "Jiujiang" China's only MLR fire-support frigate”16-May-2017,


  1. USS WHITE RIVER (LSMR-536) in Vietnam.

  2. So how would this ship be used? Kind of like a monitor that uses rockets instead of large caliber naval rifles?

    Though this might be heresy to the LCS crowd I wonder if you could take the LCS even class and install a few of these where the largeish flight deck is now. The shallow draft might help.

    I also find it scary for Taiwan that China is looking at making shore bombardment craft.

    1. It appears they are decommissioning this ship.

    2. Yes, they are retiring the ship as I noted in the post:

      "... the Chinese built a fire support frigate, evaluated it, and are now retiring it."

  3. Hmm, can't see an easy way to reload. I also wonder what the how much they can change the loft on that setup and if they are stabilized.

    1. Adding a reload capability would be easy but I think you're missing the main points. The noteworthy aspect of this is that they've taken a concept and actually built and tested a prototype. They're tried it and learned. If they decide it has merit for their purposes, they'll undoubtedly develop it further. If not, they'll drop it.

      How many ideas do we not even try because we refuse to build one-off prototypes?

      The Chinese took a retiring ship and converted it to a prototype so that they could evaluate a concept. We early retire our ships and refuse to consider prototypes or any alternative use for them.

  4. Its actually pretty good isn't it.

    I was expecting something more Gandious from your description.

    but you can see its just 5 banks of standard trainable launchers, with a nice lot of room to do development and test.

    Basic, simple, straightforward.

    Im sure they learned a lot, quickly and cheaply.

    There is an argument that says this is them playing catch up. We used to do this stuff back in the 50's.


    1. Ben, you got it! It's just simple, straightforward testing of a concept utilizing existing equipment (the retiring ship). It's not a win-the-war-single-handed prototype like the US Navy would build. It's just a cheap, functional test bed. I'm going to do a follow up post to this on what the US Navy should be prototyping. Maybe you have some ideas for prototypes?

    2. Nice Idea for a post.

      If we look at the above article in particular.

      With the style of the converted frigate.

      I think a UAV “carrier” is the obvious prototype we might want to understand.

      GRANDIOUS ideas have been fielded in the past;

      But with no clear understanding of the benefits and challenges of what UAV’s as a relatively new technology may offer.

      Ship bourn launch \ recovery and maintenance undoubtedly offers a great deal of flexibility and capability to a platform

      We have the scan eagle system.

      And the relatively new “side arm”;

      Now the above are great, but a little “temporary”, do we not really want inbuilt launchers and recovery,
      automated “Magazines” of UAV’s maybe?

      High bandwidth comms suits and directional low probability of intercept antenna?

      But there is a ton of work to do, on what is possible and what to do with these capabilities to best field something that offers the USN a decisive advantage.

      A converted “frigate” like that of the Chinese have provided, could conduct all kinds of fast prototyping, from simple systems integration to large trainable fixed launchers.



  5. I submit the Navy did as you proposed when they converted the USS Ponce (LPD-15) into an interim Afloat Forward Staging Base. And, the Navy built a demonstrator (Sea Jet) to prove out electric propulsion technologies for the Zumwalt class.

    Experimenting is a great idea, its how you learn and sometimes things you didn't expect. The LCS program probably would have worked a whole lot better had the Navy done some experimenting up front before committing to production.

    1. Yes, the Ponce was a bit of a conversion although it was more of a change in mission as opposed to a functional conversion but, still, the Navy did at least prototype the concept to a limited extent.

      Sea Jet is not a prototype in the sense that we're talking about here. It's more of a large scale laboratory test platform. Regardless, the Navy should be doing more of this type of thing!

      You're quite right about the LCS would have benefited from some prototyping.

  6. Another one-off PLAN project is the 053H1Q frigate 544 Lushun, commissioned 1985 as the nation's first warship with a helicopter hanger. It was transferred to the Chinese Naval Academy in 2010 for use as a training vessel -- being the oldest and smallest helicopter-equipped warship in service.

    Indeed 544 Lushun marks the beginning of a period of great turbulence in Chinese naval development, as rapid domestic growth was paired with the successive infusion of first European (1980s, pre-Tiananmen Square) and then late-Soviet technologies (mid-1990s to 2000s). The result was a rapid succession of designs, each produced in very limited numbers.

    PLAN only emerged from this period of flux around the time of the Beijing olympics, as world-class (or near enough) designs such as 054A and 052C (and later 052D and 056) reached maturity and were placed into serial production. The result is that, from 2008 to June 2017, China has commissioned 205,000 tons of surface combatants (23x054A, 32x056, 4x052C, 5x052D), 50% more than USN over the same period (135,000 tons consisting of 10xDDG-51-IIA, 1xZumwalt, 4xLCS-F, 5xLCS-I).

  7. I wonder if a similar conversion for the Perrys would be possible.
    I've read the speculation recently about bringing 9 of them back into service. All are going to need major upgrades to come back into service.

    It meets the goal of bringing ship numbers up, but does so in a way that fills a gap in capability.

    Perhaps the Perrys would be good platforms for other experimentation? Figure out three of four things you want to test and slap it on those hulls.
    There seems to be a trend towards new systems that have high power requirements, not sure the Perrys would be ideal for those types of systems.
    Anyways just my thoughts

    1. You're right on target. That's exactly the kind of thing we should be doing with retired ships.

      If you could pick one concept to experiment with, what would it be?

    2. wow tough question
      here's one that might be worthwhile. So much talk about networked systems, let's set up three or four hulls with our latest networked systems. Next you hold something akin to a hack-a-thon with folks from the private sector. ID potential weaknesses, in your systems using people who are outside of the military, thus brining outside perspective to the problem.
      In addition, you use it as a training opportunity for your crews. How to respond to an attack on the networked ships, and if the attack is successful the crew needs to be able to move seamlessly to working without the network.
      So essentially you're doing two things in this scenario, you're making your network more robust by subjecting it to attack from folks who will think in an unconventional manner. You are also training your sailors to respond to those attacks. You get feedback on your systems and your crews.
      Some notes:
      1. I know you're not big on the networked ships, but I think that the military has become so enamoured with it, and sunk so much money into it, that there is probably no going back. If that's true it needs to be made as robust as possible
      2. I'm not certain if this is already being done
      3. I don't know how to put your civilian hackers in a position to
      "electronically attack" the ships at sea. (does this become an opportunity to test and develop assets to attack networks?)

    3. Absolutely outstanding idea and one I hadn't thought of! I would add to it, electronic countermeasures (jamming of comms, etc.) as well as the cyber, hacking attacks you mention.

      Great comment, great idea.

  8. Woow, they took a few GRAD rocket launchers and mounted them on a ship, gee wonder how hard that must be :)
    Jokes aside a "fire support ship" as you describe it is low cost and low risk technically so if the need arises the US can construct such vessels very quick, i bet they can adapt the MLRS rocket pack for maritime use in no time since it is even hermetized .

    1. As you say, jokes aside, the purpose of a prototype conversion is not to see if we have the right size nut and bolt to mount the unit but to see if we can figure out ways to operationally and tactically utilize it. Can we usefully integrate it into our ground operations doctrine? Are there unforeseen targeting or maintenance issues? Do ship borne electronics interfere with the unit's electronics or cause the munitions to blow up (as has happened on US carriers)? How many personnel does it require to operate? What kind of logistics support system would it need.

      Physical mounting is the least important aspect.

  9. P.S.
    Seems the French are ready to experiment just like the Japanese


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