China Deploys New Littoral Ships
Frigates with advanced systems complement guided missile destroyers.
China’s new 3,500-ton, 132-meter 054 Jingkai-class frigate, named Ma’Anshan, offers stealth characteristics and advanced combat systems. Note the large radome on the mast aft of the diesel propulsion intake vent structure.
The People’s Republic of
The PLAN has launched 41 frigates in five series classes since 1975, and most still are available for littoral operations. Several obsolete frigates have been scrapped or are in a reserve status, and many of
Because of a slow startup production rate for the 054 ships, the PLAN is upgrading the Jiangwei variants to be effective in modern combat scenarios. One upgrade—adding the HN-900 indigent and Russian Light Bulb datalinks—could provide vital connectivity with new DDGs and also Russian Pacific warships. Jiangwei hulls 539 and 540 are removing and replacing their original main guns, search radars, YJ-8 surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs) and two 37-millimeter guns, according to Kanwa Defence Review.
The new generation PLAN post-Luda modern DDG designs all have had only one or two hull production runs. It is possible that the 054 frigate design may be the first new PLAN surface warship to be produced in large numbers since the old 053/053H 21-ship Jianghu frigate design from 1970 to 1986. Another clue to this idea is the fact that the production is being split between two shipyards as was done for the Jianghu instead of all being produced at one shipyard. The 054 and especially the 054A are significant new vessels reflecting the PLAN modernization previously seen only in a few DDGs. These demonstrate a more versatile littoral and blue-water combat vessel that could be produced in quantity.
There are conflicting descriptions of the large radome details. Kanwa Defence Review calls it the SR-64, which is a modern sophisticated anti-ship missile detect-and-track radar in the H band. The 2006 edition of Jane’s Naval Weapon Systems calls it Type 364 Seagull C at G band. It previously was on only the newest 052B and 052C Luyang DDGs. Its maximum detection range for SSMs is 12,000 meters, and it handles target speeds of up to Mach 3.0. This mandates very high data rate calculations.
The 052C Luyang has two Russian seven-barrel Type 730 close-in weapon system (CIWS) and two Rice Bowl fire control radars. The 054 frigate has four six-barrel Type 630 CIWS, which is a Chinese copy of the Russian AK-630. The firing rate of the CIWS is 4,500 to 5,000 rounds per minute. However, there is only one Type 347G Rice Bowl fire control radar located on the deck above the helicopter hangar.
This is a serious 054 CIWS limitation, because the single aft Rice Bowl fire control radar can engage incoming targets on only one side, and there are two mounts on each side. This CIWS radar completes the anti-SSM suite by taking over contact tracking at a range of 3,000 meters. This enables a good track solution when the incoming target reaches the CIWS gatling gun maximum range. Type 054 has a backup optic-electronic OFD-630 tracker in case of electronic jamming of the gun radar, which could provide limited aid to the two Type 630 guns on the side that Rice Bowl cannot engage.
The two 054 ships have the French Crotale HQ-7 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system with eight missiles having a range of 13 kilometers. The Type 345 fire control radar is the I/J-band radar for Crotale. Two Racal Decca 1290 navigation radars, or the RM-1290 I-band Chinese copies, are located on the foremast yardarms. The electronic countermeasures jammers appear to be the Type 984 I band and Type 985 for the E/F band that are on Luyang DDGs. The passive ESM probably is an SR-210 intercept receiver as on Luyang DDGs and Jiangwei II frigates.
The combat direction system (CDS) is designated ZKSB4/6, according to a French source. It is a copy of the French TAVITAC CDS.
The enlarged helicopter hangar allows deployment of the antisubmarine warfare (ASW) Ka-28 helicopter, which is a sophisticated ASW platform. Russian ASW avionics sensors include the OKA-2 or newer dipping sonar, APM series MAD, Novella surveillance radar and
The only visible ASW weapons are two triple barrel ASW torpedo tube launchers with Yu-variant homing torpedoes along with the ubiquitous cell ASW mortars on the forecastle. There is no hint at possible CY-1 anti-submarine rocket (ASROC) loadout. It is more likely that this would be found in the 527 and later upgraded 054A versions. The 1986 ASIANDEX naval exhibition in
The propulsion is one that has been common for PLAN ships for more than 20 years using SEMT Pielstick 16 PAC STC diesels. One difference with the 054 frigates is that their diesels are license built by Hudong Shipyard. This has resulted in many reported breakdowns at sea with the lead 054 ship. It had to be towed back to port in mid-2005 during shipyard sea trials. It was expected that following the practice of all post-1990 new DDG designs, there would be only a few of these built. This was reinforced by the fact that only eight Kamewa screws were procured from
The 054A offers many powerful weapon characteristics that reflect PLAN ship evolution. A stealthy-looking model frigate, called F16U, was displayed at a 2000 naval exhibit by Hudong Shipyard. It resembles the upgraded 054A with a vertical launch system (VLS) forward and a large three-dimensional radar. Western experts predicted a VLS addition in the 054 modernization, but the actual 054A included many more unexpected weapon upgrades transforming the offensive capabilities from the 054 frigate baseline.
The third and fourth hull 527 and 528 were launched in 2006 in Hudong and
Other unexpected upgrades appeared. Four Shtil SAN-6 SAM directors provide the capability to detect and track multiple targets and to rapidly launch VLS SAMs against them. A Bandstand Mineral active ME-1 and passive ME-2 SSM track radome above the bridge greatly enhances targeting for the eight YJ-83 SSMs. A back-to-back three-dimensional Top Plate E/F-band air search radar is similar to the Russian Fregate radar on new DDGs. A new radome is added on the deck above the aft helicopter hangar where the CIWS Rice Lamp radar had been. Replacement of the 630 CIWS with the 730 CIWS, which are copies of French Goalkeeper CIWS, place the radar director above the gun such as on the U.S. Phalanx. The 100-millimeter main battery was replaced by the new Russian AK 176M 76-millimeter gun with a stealth turret.
The 054A may be the optimal candidate to carry the CY-1 ASW missile. The VLS is the optimal launcher for the CY-1 ASW ASROC. The medium frequency bow sonar can acquire submarine contacts at maximum CY-1 ranges to optimize the ASW sensor/weapon performance. New satellite communication or Light Bulb SSM datalink radomes are added port and starboard on the SR-64 pedestal. The 054A configuration resolved the problem of the inability of a single CIWS fire control to control the four 630 guns against incoming targets from port and starboard. It achieved this by using 730 CIWS units with their own fire control radars. The 054A also has underwater roll stabilizer fins beneath the mack to reduce roll.
The two lead 054 ships probably would be based where most of the East Fleet frigates always have been at the Dinghai base on
These new PLAN frigates shift the naval force balance between
The six French Lafayette-class ships built from 1994 to 1996 with a stealthy hull design are more comparable to the PLAN 054. The
Increasing Sino-Japan naval tensions and intrusions make the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) frigates worth mention. The JMSDF has nine 1980-1991 vintage frigates of three traditional non-stealthy designs. All have a 76-millimeter main gun, combined gas turbine and combined diesel or gas propulsion along with Harpoon SSM launchers and six ASW torpedo tubes. Only the largest—the 2,550-ton Abukuma class of six ships has Phalanx CIWS and super high frequency satellite communications as well as an ASROC ASW long-range launcher. The two 1,760-ton Yubari and single 1,450-ton Ishikari have British Bofor ASW mortars. All have chaff decoy launchers and passive electronic support measures systems. The Jingkai generally is superior to all of these JMSDF frigates in anti-aircraft warfare and offensive and defensive SSM combat, but not in ASW.
James C. Bussert is employed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Virginia, where he works on surface-ship antisubmarine fire control systems.