China Adds Air Defense To Destroyers' Resume

October 2007
By James C. Bussert

A Chinese Type 051C destroyer is serviced in a shipyard. This destroyer has been equipped with an adapted land-based air defense system for fleet defense. Note the aircraft carrier in the background.
The Middle Kingdom’s new north star shifts the delicate sea balance of power.

How better to meet the needs of an ideal air defense ship than to put the land-based S-300 system that has protected Peking and Moscow on a large guided missile destroyer? China is sending the two newest, largest 6,000-ton 051C guided missile destroyers (DDGs)—hulls 115 and 116—to be flagships for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) North Fleet. The 051C, which began construction prior to the later 052A and 052B ships, will be a new fleet command ship with air defense and coordination capabilities.

Although China’s once-mighty North Fleet still lags the East and South Fleets with their 052 Luyangs and 956 Sovremennyis, its two new 6,000-ton air defense ships add significant capability and pose a serious challenge to other fleets that operate in the area. The traditional Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) warfighting lead over the North Fleet—the JMSDF 2nd Escort Flotilla alone is more powerful than the entire PLAN North Fleet—has been threatened by recent long-range ship-to-ship missiles (SSMs) from newer PLAN platforms. The new 051C air defense capability affects both the North Fleet and the rest of China’s blue-water force.

In 1989 when the PLAN wanted to send a Luda destroyer on a five-month South China Sea cruise, the North Fleet flagship was sent from Dalian to the (Nansha) Spratley Islands. That illustrates that Luda 110 was best manned and prepared to carry out that arduous, difficult cruise, as it was selected over any of the other 10 East or South Fleet Ludas.

When the first 4,000-ton new generation Luhu DDG 112 was completed in 1994, it replaced Luda 110 as the North Fleet flagship. The impressive Luhu, with the first VDS in the design and not a backfit, was a credible antisubmarine warfare (ASW) warship and served as flagship for North Fleet commander Vice Adm. Zhang Zhannan, PLAN, until relieved by the newest 051C DDG 115 in late 2006. The planned North Fleet structure will base the First Detachment in Qingdao and the Tenth Detachment in Lushun. Each will have a 051C air defense ship.

After relying on 3,000-ton Luda destroyers for 30 years, in 1985 China began building a series of one or two increasingly modern DDGs. The 4,000-ton Luhu evolved into the 5,000-ton Luyang series. Except for the first Luhu 112, none of these new-generation DDGs was based in the North Fleet, and only six old Ludas and four old 053H series frigates were based there.

Two of the North Fleet Luda destroyers, Kaifeng DDG 109 and Dalian DDG 110, were upgraded with French short-range surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and DD 105 was the Luda II trial ship with a helicopter deck and hangar in the 1990s.

All of the new-generation Luhai and Luyang 052B and 052C and Sovremmenyi DDGs are in the East and South Fleets because of East Fleet Taiwan and South China Sea priorities. The 052B SAN-12 and Sovremmenyi SAN-7 both used F-band Front Dome SAM datalinks. The Russian MR-600 Mineral-ME radar datalink system had been on other PLAN warships prior to 051C. Russia exported 10 Mineral-ME systems to China.

The 051C is largest PLAN DDG, and the most capable new systems are the Russian SAN-6 vertical launch system (VLS) and S-300 air defense sensor and missile systems. In the 1970s, the PLAN unsuccessfully attempted to install a Soviet SA-2 launcher on two Jiangdong frigates. Next, imported French short range (13-kilometer/7-mile range) Crotale launchers were put on some frigates and four old Luda destroyers. The imported Sovremmenyi SAN-7 had a 25-kilometer/14-mile range, and China’s 052B DDG had a SAN-12 medium range (35-kilometer/19-mile range) system. The 052C had an indigenous VLS that launched SAN HH-9 missiles with a 100-kilometer/ 54-mile range.

The 051C is a less advanced design than the 052C with its Aegis-like PAR (SIGNAL Magazine, July 2005) and cannot match the JMSDF Aegis Kongou class. But the 051C does fill the need for large fleet air defense ships. The two 051Cs are in response to increased tension created by Chinese incursions into Japanese economic waters and oil field and island rights contention (SIGNAL Magazine, November 2006). The JMSDF consists of four Escort Flotillas. Escort Flotilla 2 consists of the flagship Aegis DDG 173 Kongou, DDG 170, DDH144, and five conventional destroyers (DDs). Because neither of the two PLAN 052C Aegis DDGs is based in the North, the Kongou and its DDG, along with DD consorts with years of training and operations, are stronger than the PLAN North Fleet, even with the 051C.

An obvious question is why China would develop its newest and largest DDG lacking the desirable Aegis-like radar, stealthy architecture and combined diesel and gas (CODAG) propulsion featured on prior operational new construction DDGs. All previous Dalian Shipyard-built warships had a high radar cross-section shape and probably steam propulsion. Could it be a limitation in Dalian shipyard capabilities? A more likely explanation could be the development time lines of the 051 series. The 051 series warships were started years before the next-generation 052 series warships. China faced complexity and procurement problems for obtaining and integrating the highest Russian naval technologies for 051C along with extensive negotiations to obtain the high-technology Russian S-300F AD radar. After export approval would have come the task of converting the radar and displays over to the challenging shipboard space, shock and power environment.

The Luyang class 052B was launched in 2002, and 052C was launched in 2003. The 051B Luhai was launched in 1997, but the 051C was not launched until 2006. Since Luhus were hull number 112 and 113, and 051C is hull 115 and 116, it seems that a third Luhu 114 was cancelled. The 051C design probably preceded the 052 series by several years.

The evolution of these ships’ technology followed a long and tortuous path. The 9,400-ton Soviet navy Slava cruiser built in 1983 had the SAN-6b Rif-M VLS with a huge 35-ton 3R41 Volna engagement radar named Top Dome. The Soviet-designated SAN-6 on the Slava was a navalized S-300 Fort-M. The Top Dome radar was not sold to China, probably because of its cost and bulk with the Rif-M naval system, and it most likely was too large and heavy for the 4,000-ton 051C hull.

The Volna SAM illumination guidance (IG) radar on 051C is the 30N6E1, which is mounted forward of the aft helicopter hangar. This is the export designation of the S-300 land air defense radar for the Russian SA-10 Grumble. China received 20 batteries of long-range land-based S-300P from 1997 to 2006 to protect high-value targets such as Peking and Shanghai. China contracted with Russia for two sets of S-300F Rif naval SAM systems from NPO Altair Design Bureau in 2002, and these ended up on the 051C ships. The 30N6E detect and track system is mounted aft. The ship’s air defense protective umbrella extends out 150 kilometers (95 miles).

The long-range air early warning radar on Slava was the Top Pair three dimensional (3-D) radar. It consisted of Top Sail and Big Net 850-megahertz radar antennas mounted back-to-back facing opposite directions. The PLAN 051C uses the Fregat M2EM 3-D surveillance radar for this function. Fregat is a 300-kilometer (190-mile) range E-band Russian radar.

Fore and aft 100-millimeter fully automatic main twin gun mounts fire at 90 rounds per minute (RPM). The Type 344 fire-control radar has replaced the earlier 343G radar for the stealthy PJ33A twin-barrel 100-millimeter main battery. The 051C carries only eight 120-kilometer (75-mile) range YJ-83 surface-to-surface missiles compared to 16 on the 052A, 052B and 052C Luyang class ships. Two Type 730 close-in weapon systems with a firing rate of 4600 to 5800 RPM are controlled by Rice Bowl fire-control radar directors.

AKD3000 Ku frequency satellite communications radomes with Dong Zhong Dong naval antenna have been observed. Standard Chinese navigation radomes that are Global Navigation Satellite Network (GLONASS) and global positioning system (GPS) compatible are mounted near the engineering stack. Drawing from electronic warfare imported from the Dutch Signaal Company, the RAPIDS electronics support measures (ESM) suite now is produced as the Chinese Type 445, and the RAMSES electronic countermeasure (ECM) system has evolved into the Chinese built Type 445. Modern export designations are ESM 923 and ECM 981. This is not as capable as the SLQ-32 looking ESM on the 052 Luyang DDGs. Earlier one-way datalinks are replaced by the new two-way Chinese HN900 tactical datalink on the foremast yardarm. A Russian Mineral-ME3 I-band datalink in the Front Dome radome facilitates joint operations with Russian warships by having parallel Chinese and Russian datalinks.

The antisubmarine suite appears to be a French DUBV-23 medium-frequency bow sonar, a pair of Type 87 six-barrel automatic reloading ASW mortars on the bow and two over-the-side torpedo launchers. The only wild card would be if the VLS cells included the ASROC copy CY-1 long range ASW rocket, as the U.S. MK 41 VLS does. This is unlikely because an air defense ship would want to be able to carry all of the SAMs possible in its inventory.

Standard weapon system reference sources state that the Dalian-built Luhai 051B has imported gas turbine engines such as the Luhu and Luyang 052 series DDGs that were built in Shanghai. The 051C would be the only modern PLAN DDG that does not have CODAG propulsion. The frigates and even larger ships all have relied on diesels for propulsion. The traditional steam plant has not been used on a PLAN destroyer warship since the dated Luda class. Kanwa Defense Review offers a dissenting view that Luhai has steam propulsion such as the other Dalian-built 051 Luda and 051C warships. Steam propulsion is less expensive to procure, and the extremely high price paid for the anti-SSM and Russian SAN-6 VLS and S-300 area defense complex may have driven China to pursue savings in the propulsion plant to control ship cost.

James C. Bussert is employed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Virginia, where he works on surface-ship antisubmarine fire control systems.



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