New Missile Destroyers Deploy For Blue-Water Operations
China expands fleet capabilities as it extends national interests to areas further from its borders.
The People’s Republic of China is commissioning increasingly versatile destroyers adaptable for multirole missions in more distant waters. These vessels are capable of antisubmarine operations or regional air defense commonly attributed to blue-water fleets, and they feature advanced indigenous and imported weapons technologies.
China’s domestic warships historically have been considered suitable only for coastal defense roles. These include the upgrades to the 1960-vintage Luda destroyers. In the 1990s, China launched three large guided missile destroyers in the 6,000- to 7,000-ton class that are designed for out-of-area operations. Two 6,000-ton Luhu guided missile destroyers became operational in the mid-1990s, and the 7,000-ton Luhai DDG-167 just joined the South Fleet this year. These vessels incorporate a variety of new combat systems that include advanced Western technologies. China imported two-thirds of the combat systems on these ships from France and Italy.
The South Fleet porting of the largest guided missile destroyer shows the emphasis on the South China Sea in naval priorities and a mindfulness of the distance to the contested Spratly Islands. The arrival of two Russian Sovremenny guided missile destroyers in the next two years, with balanced supersonic surface-to-surface missiles, anti-aircraft warfare, antisubmarine warfare and electronic warfare capabilities, will complement these as the Chinese build a fleet of primary offensive group flagship platforms.
The Luhu features a huge air search radar that dominates its aft 0-1 deck. This domestic Hai Ying radar’s capabilities are inferred in its name, “God’s Eye.” The G-band radar has a 100-mile range and was developed by the Marine Institute in Nanjing. Interestingly, this modern antenna was omitted on the follow-on Luhai. The huge antenna with the robust lattice support mast seems top heavy for the Luhu, even though it is not mounted at mast height. The Luhai has a three-dimensional Rice Shield (Sea Eagle) air search radar on top of its aft upper deck. This appears similar to a Hughes SPS-39A, and it was designated Rice Shield by North Atlantic Treaty Organization analysts on earlier modernized Luda II and III ships.
A pair of twin-barrel, 37-millimeter anti-aircraft guns each have an associated Rice Lamp fire control radar (Chinese EFR-1) based on a Soviet design. The shipboard surface-to-surface missiles and 100-millimeter guns are linked to the Type 347G fire control radar. The forward Crotale (Chinese HQ-7) surface-to-air missile launcher has a Thomson Castor II fire control radar mounted on top of the bridge. The fire control radars have two GDG-775 electro-optic backup directors with laser, infrared and television combination sensors. These ships utilize the same surface search (Chinese ESR-1) and navigation (Decca 1290) radars as the Luda III. China claims that Luhai is the first People’s Liberation Army warship with stealth features. The hull and structures are angled to avoid direct radar paths. The vessel reportedly uses radar absorbent material, designated SM07, which is effective against the 2- to 18-gigahertz frequency band.
The main air defense battery on these ships is a new twin 100-millimeter mount that is superior to old Soviet 130-millimeter mounts on previous Ludas. The 100-millimeter barrels are old Soviet items, but French quick-loading systems are in the mount. Each destroyer class has eight 37-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, but Luhu has them mounted fore and aft for good anti-aircraft coverage. The Luhai employs both mounts aft on the helicopter hangar. Both classes have the French Crotale eight-cell surface-to-air missile system forward, and the Luhus have a 16-round missile reload box behind it. The Chinese LN-60N surface-to-air missile might be carried in some surface-to-surface launcher cells or in a future vertical launch system (VLS). These are unlicensed copies of Alenia Aspide missiles, which China bought from Italy several years ago.
These ships are not limited to air defense, however. The Luhu has an impressive antisubmarine warfare suite. Its French hull-mounted DUBV-23 and variable depth sonar (VDS) DUBV-43 are a quantum improvement to the dated Soviet sonar copies on previous Luda destroyers. The antisubmarine warfare launchers are the ubiquitous 12-barrel FQF-2500 mortars mounted forward. These launchers, based on Soviet 1960 models, have been on all Chinese destroyers for more than 30 years. Italian triple-tube antisubmarine warfare torpedo launchers carry Italian A-244 torpedoes or Chinese copies of U.S. MK-46 or Soviet antisubmarine warfare torpedoes.
In contrast to the hull and VDS sonars and the two antisubmarine warfare weapons on Luhu, the larger Luhai has only hull sonar and torpedo tubes. The Luhai seems to be relying on other dedicated antisubmarine warfare ships to provide warning and protection. Another possibility is to add modified surface-to-surface missile launcher cells to hold antisubmarine warfare missiles. The CY-1 antisubmarine-rocket-type missile was first shown in naval displays in the 1970s.
Both ships have flight decks and hangars for two antisubmarine warfare helicopters. The Luhu originally carried the venerable Z-9A, a licensed copy of the French SA-365N Dauphin, but China bought 12 Ka-27 antisubmarine warfare helicopters from Russia in 1999. These could be deployed on the Luhai and probably backfit to the Luhu as well. This provides an upgrade to antisubmarine warfare.
The Luhai has an open deck space forward, which could be intended for a prototype VLS installation. This might be the LN-60N for close-in anti-aircraft warfare and up to 16 C-602 surface-to-surface missiles as a typical inventory. Because the Luhai already carries 16 C-802 surface-to-surface missiles, which is double the number of C-801s on the Luhu, anti-aircraft warfare or CY-1 antisubmarine warfare missiles are a more likely choice. Instead of the HQ-7 surface-to-air missile reload box, the Luhai features a hatch that opens to a below-deck reload magazine. This has been the cause of most of the VLS speculation for that space aft of the launcher.
The first VLS scheduled to be installed on a Chinese warship was the HQ-61 on the Jiangdong FFG-531, whose keel was laid in 1970. This premier Chinese anti-aircraft missile frigate was commissioned in 1977, but the surface-to-air missile system was not operational until the mid-1980s. It had a twin rail launcher and was not VLS. Either the news about the VLS was disinformation, or technical difficulties could not be overcome. This ship was quietly scrapped in 1994. Installing VLS aboard Chinese ships became more likely when Russia sold the SA-15 Tor mobile land-based launcher to China more than five years ago. This technology was adapted for naval use as the SA-N-9 VLS launcher on Udaloy destroyers. It is exported by Russia’s Fakel MKB (machine design bureau) and Antey NPO (scientific production association) as the Klinok. Because the DDG-167 has been operating out of Zhanjiang in 1999 without a VLS, an SA-N-9 type VLS could be possible on DDG-168, depending on fleet feedback.
The greatly decreased antisubmarine warfare suite and less spectacular air search radar give the impression that, compared to Luhu, Luhai has some limitations in capabilities. The doubling of surface-to-surface missile launchers makes Luhai’s primary mission antisurface warfare, while Luhu is optimized for antisubmarine warfare. It is remotely possible that newer antisubmarine warfare or surface-to-air missiles may be added to future Luhais.
The new destroyers’ command and control draws from several sources. Integration problems with the French TAVITAC combat control system and various French- and Russian-style equipment should be minimized on these vessels because the architecture was previously integrated and debugged on the Luda III testbed.
Chinese combat systems employ a common display console approach such as the U.S. OJ-452 or newer UYQ-70 for various systems. This portends display sharing and a common bus architecture. The Chinese 2JK consoles have system codes, similar to the 2KJ-8 for fire control, 2KJ-5 for sonar and 2KJ-3 for radar.
Newer European communication equipment, aggressively marketed at naval shows, also may be installed. Chinese data networking and integrated services digital network systems have advanced significantly in the nearly two decades since the first Chinese TAVITAC ship installation. Datalink Type W is an unauthorized copy of the naval tactical data system (NTDS) TADIL-A. The Chinese high frequency and ultrahigh frequency link frequencies are nearly identical to NTDS. The Chinese naval frequency of 225 to 400 megahertz matches NTDS ultrahigh frequencies.
China’s STW and DFH series of communication satellites are C-band 1 to 2 gigahertz, and newer Ku-band satellites are 12 to 18 gigahertz and include the 14- to 30-gigahertz Chinese naval transmission band. Although designations are not revealed in open literature, Chinese naval satellite communications receivers are manufactured by the Lingyun radio factory in Baoji.
The ships’ active and passive electronic countermeasures equipment still includes the copy of the Soviet Bell Tap warning receiver (Chinese BM-8610), Jug Pair electronic support measures domes (Chinese RW-23) and High Pole identification friend or foe. Chaff launchers are Type 945PJ and domestic 26-barrel chaff launchers. The Luhu bridge and masts feature several electronic warfare radomes that are identified as Signaal RAPIDS and Scimitar jammers. Some domes may be Chinese RWD-8 intercept receivers that were installed on modern frigates. Again, Western companies are marketing newer electronic warfare naval systems in China.
The lead Luhu DDG-112 featured imported GE LM-2500 main propulsion gas turbine engines. The Tiananmen Square crackdown and ensuing U.S. embargo halted further LM-2500 imports, on which China had counted. An alternate source was the huge Nikolayev plant in Ukraine that provided main propulsion for all major Soviet warships. The combined design and production team of Mashproekt and Zarya sold four gas turbine engines to China in July 1997. These became the gas turbines on the Luhu DDG-113 and the lead Luhai DDG-167. Ukrainian Mashproekt has a license agreement for GT-25000 gas turbines with Xian Aero-Engine Corporation and the Harbin marine boiler and turbine works. Harbin is the second largest marine generator plant in China and is just up the railroad line from Dalian shipyard. Follow-on guided missile destroyers probably will also incorporate Ukrainian gas turbine engines.
Both classes of vessels have two MTU 12V TB83 diesels designed by Siemens AG of Germany. Similar units have been used on new Chinese domestic and export frigates as well as modern German-built MEKO frigates and other Australian and Spanish ships. The China state shipbuilding corporation, which includes the modern New Dalian shipyard where these ships are built, advertises licensed production of marine generator sets, diesels and switchboards. Because of the shipyard’s proximity to the Siemens AG office in Guangzhou, which is working on the massive three river dam project, Siemens equipment on new construction warships since the 1980s certainly was built in Chinese plants. The Shaanxi diesel engine works has a license agreement for 1163 high-speed diesel engines with MTU Friedrichshafen GmbH, Germany.
James C. Bussert is a computer specialist with the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Virginia.