2013 was another interesting year to look back on for the Chinese Navy, even if we did not see the commissioning of CV-16 or the launching of 052D. Here are some of the progress of the major projects and the anticipated launching for next year.
Carrier Project - For much of the first half of the year, CV-16 rested in Qingdao while China continue to study what it learnt from 2012. As you will be able to find on this SDF thread and this link containing recent Jane's Article, China has built a naval aviation training facility with multiple take-off and landing strips along with hangars for J-15s, trainers and helicopters. By June, we finally had the second round of flight tests from sea trials for CV-16. After which, 5 pilots have been certified for carrier operation. So far, we have only seen prototype No. 552, 553 and 554 conducting test flights off CV-16. Hopefully as we go forward over the next year, we will see production versions of J-15s and more pilots join flight operations. We have also seen J-15 conducting flights with payload like YJ-83, AAMs, bombs and buddy store. This is still a very early stage of flight operations for PLAN. We should see continued expansion in flight envelope and scale of flight operations over the next couple of years. Without help from existing carrier operators, PLAN have to proceed slowly to learn all of the lessons of carrier operations.
The other part this project is the construction of new carrier. Whereas CV-16 has the designation Type 001, the first domestic carrier is already given the designation of Type 001A. By all account, it should be a STOBAR carrier similar to CV-16. The question at this point is what kind of changes we will see from the not so well designed Admiral K class. Work for this type 001A class has reported been started in the second half of this year in Dalian shipyard (which did the refitting work for CV-16). We saw modules earlier in both Dalian and JiangNan shipyard, but those may just be demonstration modules. Over 2014, we should see more pictures of the modules taking shape. We may see both Dalian and JiangNan build 1 Type 001A carrier.
Submarine Program - I've written extensively this year about China's nuclear submarine program. We finally saw a newly launched Type 093B + newly launched Type 094 from the GE photos. Based on Kanwa's measurement, the Type 094 is also modified based on the location of the hump relative to the bow. Based on all that we have heard, a lot of improvements are needed in the upcoming boats before they can really become the deterrent that China needs.
The conventional submarine program was also quite active, but a lot more under the radar. The type 032 testbed was unveiled in July, whereas the type 039B production continued. It looks like the first 8 to 10 039A/039B have now replaced the Song submarines in the 22nd flotilla at Daxiedao and the newer 039B submarines (2 to 4) are going to the 12th flotilla at Lushun. We have also seen a new submarine launched at WC shipyard that's either a new modified version of Yuan (Type 039C or a new designation). In 2014, it will be interesting to see what this new boat looks like.
052C/052D - Over the past year, we've seen the 3rd and 4th 052C join service. The 5th and 6th should join service sometimes next year. The progression of this batch of 052Cs hasn't been as fast as expected. We've seen them numerous times in sea trials and at naval bases before they were commissioned. The time from launching to commissioning is over 2 years compared to about 1 year for 054A. The first 052D went on sea trials this year. We saw that it is still using the Type 517H long range radar as 052C. Seems like Chinese navy really likes the anti-stealth quality of this radar vs the possible benefits of a more modern volume search radar like S1850M. Outside of that, it seems like Dalian shipyard has also started building 052D. I think this class will eventually reach 8 units, although there are speculations this might reach 12. Type 055 might be on hold as they are really ramping up type 052D production next year.
054A - The production of 054A has continued this year with 3 more units launching. We saw some changes on the 10th 054A from HD shipyard equipped with a new generation of variable depth sonar (also seen on Type 052D ships). By this point next year, we should have 20 054As + 2 054s in service. Not sure if that will be the end of 054A production finally, but this has definitely turned out to be the most successful of Chinese naval projects in the past 10 years.
056 - This program has a chance to compete with Type 054 series in success. We have already seen 18 of these ships joining service, in sea trials or launched less than 2 years after the first launching. Most recently with the 5th 056 from HD shipyard, we saw a new large variable depth sonar installed in the back. This might mark a new ASW variant of Type 056 intended to replace the Type 037 sub-chasers. Other Type 056s are probably going to replace the other versions of Type 037s in service. This class may end up with 40 units by the end of its production run. At which time, all of the older patrols boats should be retired from active service.
AOR (Type 903A) - This year, the 2 Type 903A AORs in sea trials from Guangzhou and HD shipyard both joined service with East and North Sea Fleet respectively. That gives them a total of 4 Type 903 AORs. Most recently in November, we saw a new AOR under construction at Guangzhou. We will find out in 2014 if this continues to be a Type 903 or a new class of ships.
Zubr - There has not been much movement in the construction of new Type 071 or LHD, so the main amphibious project this year has been the import and domestic construction of Zubr hovercraft. In June, the first Ukrainian built Zubr arrived at Guangzhou. At the same time, the first domestic Zubr has been building at a brisk pace in HP shipyard and now looks to be ready to be launched. The second domestic Zubr looks to have started construction too. The original contract called for 2 to be built in Ukraine and 2 in China. I would not be surprised if more are built in China. It is quite possible that they will only end up taking one from Ukraine and end up with more than 4 Zubr. While I don't think the current threat environment calls for many Zubrs, it certainly would not be a suprise to see a production of 8 to 10 of them. We will find next year if that will be the case.
Looking back now on this past year, it did not unveil as many new platforms as 2012, but was still a very productive year in terms of newly launched and commissioned ships. Looking forward to 2014, I expect more new classes of ships to be unveiled. It would be interesting to see what that newly launched conventional submarine look like. I expect Type 001A pictures to start coming out. Works on a new LHD will probably start in HD shipyard and same with new AOR from Guangzhou shipyard. The pace of maritime cutters construction will continue unabated in the various shipyards around the country. One visible fruit of this modernization is the growth in the export of naval ships to other countries. Most recently, 2 Type 035 submarines were purchased by Bangladesh. With all of this optimism, one still needs to curtail some of the enthusiasm. A lot of sailors need to be trained to use all of the new hardware. The results of training all of the sailors to new ships and technology will determine the success of Chinese naval modernization programs. Although we don't hear as much like we do with USN programs like LCS, there have also been many issues with certain PLAN programs like 051C. Overall, that's to be expected out of such a comprehensive modernization effort.