Chinese Warships Struggle to Meet New Command, Control And Communications Needs
Evolutionary introduction of assets leads to different combat capabilities.
Even these 33 vessels are handicapped by limited shore or space satellite command, control and communications (C3) support and the lack of integrated structure, organization, training and experience. The absence of technical expertise by sailors results in some computers being used as typewriters, which inhibits command and control (C2) missions. As many as 90 percent of Chinese warships have an obsolete C3 capability—or none at all.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has put together a core C3 shallow-water capability by datalinking new guided missile destroyers (DDGs) with new construction Houbei catamarans and 054A frigates (SIGNAL Magazine, May 2007). However, severe limitations remain for strategic or distant operations beyond coastal waters far away from nearby C3 shore support.
This is a recent problem. Traditionally, PLAN surface warships largely conducted coastal operations and functioned without coordination and tactical data sharing between ships or shore. Communications aboard old
Three phases of evolution have taken PLAN warships from basic communications on a single platform to combined platform C3. The first phase involved simple communications. Each weapon was stand-alone, and each ship controlled only its internal sensors and weapons. One sensor to one weapon is a classic stovepipe system. The PLAN includes 62 mine warfare, 109 amphibious, 45 surveillance, 154 support and 32 auxiliary ships. A few large new construction vessels in this group, such as the 25,000-ton LPD 071, 21,000-ton to 37,000-ton oil replenishment ships, 10,000-ton Dajiang submarine tenders or 21,000-ton Yuonwang space event ships have respectable satellite and multiband C3, but they are not battle group warships. The 494 warships include 29 destroyers, 47 frigates, 63 submarines and 355 patrol boats. A baseline is the vintage
The first Chinese-built ship with no imported equipment at all was the 10,000-ton freighter Fenquing in 1974, but for decades imported equipment or copies were common. Imported Decca surface search radars, Magnavox satellite communications and Redifon marine transmitters were on many PLAN warships from the 1980s on. In 1984, the PLAN paid $15 million for Seafox integrated communications from Marconi. A contract to have the
Some impressive long-range cruises and distant operations occurred with phase one units. Examples include the PLAN seizing the
Phase two entailed various shipboard sensors, control and weapons being coordinated within a single platform. The
Though not reported in Western open sources,
This technology somewhat dates the system. A crude Chinese-developed digital fire control system—designated Type 88—was displayed publicly in 1991, the year the first Type 88 was installed on a 542-ton Houjian fast attack craft. It interfaces with gun, radar, electro-optic sensors, PL-9 surface-to-air missile and electronic warfare systems. The Houjian has no sonar or antisubmarine warfare weapons onboard. The Type 88 consists primarily of buttons and toggle-switch technology with four plug-in cards on the lower chassis.
The first of four new 1,700-ton Jiangwei frigates also was launched in 1991, and they were credited with the first computerized weapon control system, designated CCS-3 in references. It was more complex than the Type 88 because it had a datalink compared to the Type 88 point-to-point architecture. The datalink probably was the Chinese ISBC-900 series bus. Another metric to identify level II vessels is if they have a combat information center (CIC) in the architecture. The first PLAN warship claiming a CIC was the Luhai.
PLAN ships and modern J-10A and J-11 aircraft use the 1553B databus for their datalinks. The PCI bus card is manufactured by Chengdu Enpht Technology Company under the name EP-H6273. Protocol chips run from 512 kilobits up to 64 megabits. The 1553B chassis and slots, named ACE 1553, are manufactured by Beijing Shenzhou Feihang Company. The first Type Houbei catamaran missile boat was launched in 2004, and 20 had appeared by 2008 (SIGNAL Magazine, December 2007). They may be replacements for the aged Hegu (Osa) and Huangfeng (Komar) boats, but that may not be true. They all have Marine Corps paint, which indicates an amphibious support role such as fire support for landings. A high automation level is hinted at by a crew of only 12, compared to a crew of 26 on earlier, similar-size Huangfeng missile boats. With only five- and seven-foot HF whips on the bridge and no satellite communications radomes, it is surprising to see an HN-900 datalink to the DDG between the four SSM cells.
Examples of shore commands controlling tactical units include the 2001 J-8 interception of the U.S. Navy EP-3 off of Hainan and the 1994 Han SSN and 1996 Song diesel boat interception of the Kitty Hawk carrier battle groups in the
Phase three of the evolution is for major PLAN warships to have C3 with other platforms, including aircraft and other surface ships. The PLAN warships with obvious phase three capabilities are the four modern new construction DDG classes. The Sovremenny 956EM DDGs certainly are the best C3 warships in the PLAN. The next indigenous nominees are the 052C Aegis DDGs 170 and 171, and the newest 051C DDGs 115 and 116 with the S-300 air defense 30N6E1 phased array radar and SA-N-6 vertical launch surface-to-air missiles. All of these types of ships were launched in 2006.
The 956EM warships imported in 1999 had the Russian Sapfir-U combat systems and associated datalinks and communications—Bell Crown datalink and two Light Bulb video datalinks for SSMs. Fore and aft mast yardarms mount four 200-1300-megahertz UHF dipole antennas. Twelve HF whips and a 45-foot-tall MF antenna were on the aft helicopter deck. LF wire bundles extend from the forward to the aft yardarm and then down to the O-2 deck.
The two 052C DDGs reportedly are the initial ships for the second-generation JY10G Chinese multimission information processing system. The JY10G uses land-ship and air radar inputs to integrate with other sensor sources and weapon systems. Reports that this system also is on the Houbei SWATH missile boats probably are not credible because the boats do not even have satellite communication radomes.
Russian/Chinese cooperation includes military geopositioning satellites. The new generation-2 of the Chinese Beidou satellite navigation system will be compatible with the Russian GLONASS. The modern PLAN shipboard Dong Zhong Dong satellite communication system is designated AKD3000 and operates at 14 gigahertz in the Ku band frequency, and it consists of 0.6-meter, 0.8-meter and 1.2-meter diameter antenna variants. Lack of high-definition digital reconnaissance satellites hampers command, control, communications and intelligence mission accomplishment, and a lack of military navigation satellites inhibits many datalinks for target position information. It is known that PLAAF Su-27s must rely on voice communications, and Su-30 MKKs have the TSK-2 datalink, but it is not on PLAN units. The newest Su-30 MK2 naval fighter aircraft exported to
Submarines are the most challenging command link platforms. Strategic or tactical communications with submerged submarines primarily come from shore very low frequency (VLF) stations.
Some auxiliaries (AGI) and non-SSM ships now carry a Light Bulb antenna, indicating a functional change from a missile datalink to a high-capacity communication link similar to a Link 16. The main PLAN shore C3 commands are located at the North Fleet (
James C. Bussert is employed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Virginia, where he works on surface-ship antisubmarine fire control systems.