Let’s take a closer look.
Size - The vessel is a 140 ft long catamaran design with a 220 ton displacement and a crew of 12 (1). For comparison, this puts it at around 1/3 the length of the LCS and a 1/16 the displacement.
Propulsion - Four waterjets give it a speed of 36 kts.
Number - Wiki cites 83 boats currently built and active.
Range - Range is a potential issue with suggestions of a 300 mile range based on similar civilian craft. (1)
Sensors - Sensors are an issue but operating within the A2/AD zone may greatly mitigate sensor limitations. It has a Type ESR-1 362 surface search radar plus a Fenis-ME electro-optical tracker and a Kolonika II low-light-level optical director and backup CIWS fire control director, on top of the bridge. A mast-mounted Type 765 I-band navigation radar rounds out the sensor fit.
Armament - It carries 8x C-802/803 anti-ship missiles with a range of 100-125 miles depending on variant, an AK-630 (30 mm) CIWS, and a small FLS-1 surface-to-air launcher for QW series missiles. (1) The Type 22 has extensive communications and data link equipment which suggests the capability for off board control of the missiles.
As noted, this vessel is a combat vessel with firepower far out of proportion to its size. Add to that, numbers and stealth and you have a vessel that will be hard to detect and can operate in squadrons for concentrated missile salvos – a formidable naval force, to be sure!
The number of vessels built, 83, is magnified by the small operating area that the boats will operate in. Unlike a 300 ship US Navy which is spread over an entire world, the entire Type 22 fleet of 83 boats is concentrated in the relatively small East or South China Seas. This has the effect of magnifying the vessels firepower because it automatically concentrates it.
This also suggests that the Chinese will use it as an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) asset to keep US naval forces out of the South and East China Seas. This also suggests a defensive mindset as opposed to an open ocean, long range naval hunter vessel. If true, this in turn suggests how the Chinese view the S/E China Seas – essentially, they act as a buffer zone or ‘moat’ around the mainland. The Chinese are clearly working toward becoming a global naval/military force but this suggests that they are not there, yet, and that their current focus is defensive.
There is also some suggestion that the Type 22 has a shore bombardment role in support of amphibious operations in addition to the anti-ship role. (1) If true, this would give the Chinese a small, stealthy, hard to hit fire support vessel – a capability that would be unmatched in the world.
It is difficult to talk about the Type 22 without comparing it to the American LCS.
The obvious conclusion is that this is one version of what the LCS could have been. The LCS tried to be and do everything and failed to be or do anything. Had the LCS concept been more focused, the Type 22 is one version of what might have been – a small, lethal, stealthy, fast, focused, anti-surface craft cheap enough to be acquired in large numbers and operate in massed squadrons.
The US Navy talks incessantly about distributed lethality. Unfortunately, the LCS is a poor fit for the distributed lethality concept. Further, many observers and some naval officers have talked about the LCS as a modern PT boat. Again, this is utterly ridiculous, for reasons we’ve previously discussed. The irony is that the Type 22 actually fills the role of a modern PT boat and distributed lethality asset quite well. Again, this is a version of the LCS that could have been.
A Type 22 swarm attack against a US carrier group would be unstoppable although it is difficult to imagine how such a swarm would even get close enough to launch an attack. ‘Swarm’ in this scenario is radically different than the Iranian type swarm. In this case, it would amount to a long range missile swarm as opposed to a short range rocket attack. That said, I don’t believe the Chinese view the Type 22 as a viable carrier attack asset although if the chance presented itself …
In summary, the Type 22 appears to be a defensive, A2/AD asset intended to prevent US naval entry into the S/E China Seas. Its stealth, cheapness, and numbers make it the distributed lethality asset that the US Navy wants but has failed to develop. This is the distributed threat that will ‘confuse and complicate’ our operational and tactical thinking just as we hoped that distributed lethality ships would confuse Chinese naval commanders. The difference is that the Chinese actually have a suitable vessel for distributed lethality operations whereas we do not.
The Type 22 is also a good representation of the Hughes concept of small, distributed naval forces – a concept that ComNavOps disagrees with, at least, for the US – and, again, ironically, it is the Chinese that have developed it.