Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Looking at cruisers and Type 055

When I read Pop3’s comments that an initial estimate of the Type 055 design’s displacement was over 20,000 ton, the first thought that came to my mind was Kirov class cruiser. Since the retirement of Iowa class, Kirov has been by far the largest non-carrier surface combatant. There has been numerous estimate of Type 055 size based on the land simulator in Wuhan. I want to look over cruisers from around the world and comparing them to what Type 055 might look like.

The first one to look at is Kirov class cruiser, which was built around the P-700 Shipwreck AShM. It is estimated to be 252 m long, 28.5 m in beam and 9.1 m draft for full load displacement of 28,000 ton. In order to achieve 30+ knots in speed, it was installed with nuclear and steam turbine propulsion (CONAS). As one could imagine, the propulsion unit takes up a lot of space. In terms of missiles, Kirov is installed with 20 P-700 AShM, 96 S-300F long range SAM, 128 SA-N-9 short range SAM and 40 SA-N-4 point defense SAM. It is also installed with 8 AK-630 or 6 Kashtan CIWS for last-ditch defense. And finally, it has one AK-130 main gun, ASW rocket launchers and torpedo tube launched torpedoes. At 20 knots operating on nuclear power, it has unlimited range. This allows Kirov class to operate by itself far from home base. However, such design requires additional storage space that would not be expected out of a normal surface combatant.

At the same time that Kirov was being built, the smaller conventionally powered Slava class Cruiser was also being built around the P-500 Bazalt AShM. It is estimated to be 186 m long, 20.8 m in beam and 8.4 m draft for full load displacement of 12,500 ton. In terms of missiles, Slava class is installed with 16 P-500 P-500 AShM, 64 S-300F long range SA and 40 SA-N-4 point Short range SAM. It is also installed with 6 AK-630 CIWS and a AK-130 main gun.

Looking at Slava class, I think it’s quite obvious why China was not interested in purchasing the almost completed 4th unit (Ukrayina) when the Ukrainians offered it for S600 million. The much smaller 051C carries 48 S-300F missiles (using 1 Top Dome FCR instead of 2 on Slava) along with 2 PJ-12 CIWS for air defense. Having a pair of 051Cs probably offers stronger area air defense than 1 Slava class. More importantly, 052C/052D has become a major success compared to the slightly larger, but less powerful 051C class. The size of the S-300F VLS along with the large and bulky top dome FCR took away the option of installing a hangar on 051C.

Turning our eyes away from former Soviet cruisers, KDX-3 is another very powerful cruiser currently in service. It is 165 m long, 21.4 m in beam and 6.25 m in draft for full load displacement of 11,000 tons. It is installed with 4 LM-2500 gas turbines along with 2 shafts in COGAG configuration allowing for 30+ knots in speed. In terms of missiles, it has 80 cell MK-41 VLS and 48 cell K-VLS for Korean LACM and ASROC. It is also equipped with 1 Goalkeeper CIWS and 1 RAM CIWS for point defense. And finally, it has a MK-45 main fun and 2 triple barrel torpedoes.

The Arleigh Burke class has similar layout to KDX-3. Flight IIA is 155 m long, 20 m wide and 9.3 m in draft for full load of 10,000 ton. It is also installed with COGAG propulsion (4 LM-2500 turbine + 2 shafts) and capable of 30+ knots. In terms of armament, it’s installed with 96 cell MK-41 VLS, 1 MK-45 main gun, Phalanx CIWS and 2 triple barrel torpedoes. It also carries hangars for 2 MH-60 helicopters for ASW/SAR missions.

I think the 4 examples show that the Soviet system is bulkier. Similarly sized cruisers like Slava class does not carry anywhere near the firepower of Arleigh Burke class or KDX-3. The Cold launched S-300F has many advantages over hot launched MK-41 VLS, but also takes up more space and has less flexibility. The combined nuclear/gas turbine and steam turbine option on Soviet cruisers are likely to take up more space than the COGAG arrangements on Arleigh Burke class. Most of the electronics on older Soviet cruisers are heavier. The most visible proof of that can be seen in the FCR for S-300F, which takes up much more space than SPY-1D.

So I think it’s quite obvious that PLAN will go for something similar to KDX-3 than Kirov class. Type 055 should be a much stealthier design than that, since newer AAW destroyers like Type 045 have set blueprints on how to design really stealthy warships. As we spoke in previous blog entries, Type 055 will most likely be using 4 QC-280 gas turbines to generate power for an integrated electric propulsion system. It will use the universal VLS already found on 052D, since it will support both the cold launched and hot launched naval missiles in service with PLAN. Type 055 is probably going to hold 112 or 128 cell VLS with no additional launchers for LACM or AShM. In addition, I think it will carry 2 HQ-10 launchers along with 1 or 2 PJ-11 CIWS for point defense. For a large ship like Type 055, PLAN may also have helipad space and hangar space for 2 Z-15 or Z-20 sized helicopters. All of which would call for a ship that’s probably larger than Arleigh Burke class and probably also KDX-3 class. I would estimate it to be around 175 m long and 22 m wide with full load displacement of around 13000 ton.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Type 055 program update

While reading pop3’s various posts on Type 055, I was struck by how long this project has been planned.

As far back as 1968, the Type 055 designation was given to a new large missile destroyer program. By 1970, the701 Institute, Hudong shipyard and NSF commenced work to develop this ship. As one could imagine, China did not have the money or technology needed to develop a large missile destroyer back in those days. By 1981, this program went from an official program to one under research development. Back in the 80s, many PLAN program was dropped due to underfunding and weak technology base. Type 055 program from that time would’ve required CODOG propulsion, ASW helicopter, ECM/ESM system, SAM, sonar countermeasure system, integrated communication system, 3D search radar and rocket assisted torpedo. Those requirements were probably 20 years ahead of its time. If they had built a cruiser, it would’ve been as large as Kirov to fit all of the missiles and electronics that were available at the time. They would not have the propulsion system needed to power such a ship. Even if they did have the appropriate propulsion system, that ship would still not be very capable. That’s why China ended up developing Type 052 destroyer.

The most recent reincarnation of Type 055 came about in December of 2009. The project calls for 10k+ ton cruiser with high speed, long endurance, long self-sufficiency and excellent global navigation. It would be a stealthy design with lo acoustic, radar, infrared and electromagnetic signature. It will need to be survivable by itself and be able to lead a fleet. It must have early warning defense system as well as long, medium and close range hard+soft kill weapons. So many requirements were included in the Type 055 design that an initial design was estimated to be over 20,000 ton in displacement. A lot of work was put in to reduce redundancies and complexities in order to better utilize space. For example, the new universal VLS system supports 4 different types of missiles from 4 different firms. Each firm has their own control system, so all of this need to be integrated into one system. In addition, Type 055 will use integrated electric propulsion system, which has smaller space requirements, lower noise level and better fuel economy than previous power generation system. Pop3 estimated the cost of each Type 055, excluding missiles, to be about 6 billion RMB ($900 million). I think that’s reasonable since it’s comparable to what South Korea paid for KDX-3 and quite a bit less than what Japan paid for Atago class. While Type 055 may turn out to be better (or at least more powerful) than those 2 classes of ships, I have a hard time making that prediction at this stage.

Type 055 will be China’s first major large surface combatant series since Type 052 series. On SDF, Jeff Head start a thread on 052 Historical analysis and put some great thoughts on the history of this program. The overall dimension and propulsion of the type 052 platform did not change too much from Type 052 to Type 052D, but the firepower increased exponentially to become a truly capable multi-role destroyer. Now that Type 052D has been packed in with the most recent Type 346A MFR, 64 cell universal VLS, HQ-10 and PJ-38 main gun, it is probably at the limit of what the Type 052 hull could fill. PLAN is developing Type 055 to be a blue water large surface combatant that can defend itself against many different threats. Type 055 will also probably go through different iteration until reaching the limit of what the initial dimension and propulsion system could support. Comparing to the development of Type 052, Type 055 contains much fewer risks, since most of the weapons (universal VLS, Type 346A radar, HQ-10 and PJ-11 CIWS, YJ-18A AShM and PJ-38 main gun) have already been tested out on Type 052D and Type 054A+. Using relatively mature weapon and radar systems would significantly reduce this type of delays to commissioning of the ship. The 701 Institute has also built a full sized land based simulator of Type 055, which will allow training programs to start before the first unit is launched. Such a real world model would also identify any unexpected results in signature profile and any electronic interference. All of this would reduce the amount of troubleshooting when the first Type 055 gets launched. The Type 052 program never had this kind of luxury, since PLAN was dealing with integrating imported subsystems from different countries at the same time a new hull with new propulsion system was getting tested. No. 113 also uses different propulsion than No. 112 since arms embargo went into affect by then. All of this added a lot of delays to the Type 052 program. I think it’s really interesting to see how much things have changed in 25 years.

PLAN modernization philosophy

Most recently, I have been reading writings from pop3, a good source for PLAN, on the upcoming Type 055 cruiser. At the same, I have also been reading and discussing the issue of India’s purchase of Rafael fighter jet. While reading pop3’s thoughts on PLAN development leading up to Type 055, it made me really reflect on PLAN’s philosophy in its drive to modernization.

When the news of India’s purchase of Rafael came out, I was quite surprised by how much money they are paying for just 36 Rafael. Of course, India’s leaders were eager to point out they had haggled down price from over $13 billion to over $8 billion. That claim would ignore that the original MRCA rfp was to purchase 126 fighter jets for $8 billion. Even so, it was quite shocking that when they finally settled on direct purchase of 36 Rafael, the average total cost came out to be well over $200 million. If they had actually gotten all ToT and local production from Dassault as they had originally wanted, the cost would undoubtedly have been even higher. If we ignore the service, support, missiles and spare cost of this deal, the fly away cost + “India modification work” would still come out to $160 million per aircraft. I think that would be higher than the fly away cost of F-35, J-20 and probably PAK-FA. For an air force that has continually complained about lack of available squadrons, it seems very curious that price was not a bigger factor in its MRCA competition. To be fair, India is not the only country in the world that ends up paying premium for the weapon system that best fit its performance criteria.

I think that most people would agree PLAN has done a really good job of modernization up to this point. They have managed to do so with little access to Western exporters and relatively weak technology base (at least back in the 90s). At the same time, PLAN also had very limited funding for much of 80s and 90s. The question is what I have they done right to get to this point. It certainly helps that they have a productive domestic shipbuilding industry and low cost manufacturing base. South Korea and Japan have also been able to build very powerful ships at reasonable cost by leveraging their competitive shipbuilding industry. However, they both had access to all the major exporters, which China does not have. So what else allows China to modernize so quickly?

I think the first part is to look at the practical nature of its naval acquisitions. I want to focus on Type 054/054A program in this example. I read that France sold data of La Fayette frigate to China at the same time it had sold the ships to Taiwan. That certainly sped up their development of hull of Type 054, but I think it also showed they were very practical. While La Fayette is a modern frigate design with advanced signature reduction technology, it does have drawbacks in the role of ASW escort. It uses CODAD propulsion that is quite underpowered and noisy (compared to something using COGAG propulsion like OHP class) for ASW operations. Type 054 and 054A have the same shortcomings. Even so, PLAN recognized that it had access to all the components (including the diesel engines) needed to serially produce a much better frigate than Jiangwei class. There was no reason to wait on a perfect frigate for its requirements. The interesting part is that only 2 Type 054 class frigates were built before they moved onto Type 054A. Even after they had built Type 054, they built 2 more Jiangwei class frigates. At the time they built Type 054, most of the subsystems for Type 054A was not ready. The development of Type 382 Sea Eagle radar (looks like Top Plate) completed in 2002. The development of Type 366 OTH radar (Chinese version of Mineral-ME) completed in 2004. The AJK-16 weapon system (which fires HQ-16 missiles) only started land based testing in 2004. The actual testing on sea came after that. The Yu-8 rocket assisted torpedo completed testing in 2006. So none of these subsystems were ready when Type 054 was laid down. Instead, Type 054 was fitted with the AJK-02 weapon system (HQ-7) and Type 360 search radar. Looking at the firepower of Type 054 vs the most recent Jiangwei units, I would say Type 054 is only slightly more powerful than those Jiangwei. Type 054 would be close to twice as expensive as Jiangwei, but PLAN decided it was important to build and test out this new hull design before adding the new subsystems. When Type 054A was being designed, Type 701 Institute could focus on just integrating the new weapon system onto the same hull as Type 054. Since that point, Type 054A has become the workhorse of PLAN even as newer technology and weapon system has become available. I think they found it more important to mass-produce a good enough design since their frigates have been modernized cheaply and quickly this way. Each 054A probably costs around $250 million, which is very cheap. They can now wait for available technology to catch up to design requirements of Type 054B, since all of the older Type 053 frigates have already been replaced.

Another interesting element is China’s goal of not utilizing imports for mass production. Back when Type 052 project first started, China simply did have the technology needed to build what PLAN wanted. They ended up importing various parts from various countries, but were dealt a reality check when military embargo was put in place after the June 4th student crackdown. All of that caused delays in the development and production of the 2 Type 052s. I think Type 052 was way ahead of its time in terms of the technology employed, but PLAN simply could not afford to build more Type 052 until their military industrial complex caught up. Once that happened, they were still very cautious in building 2 Type 052B, 2 Type 052C and 2 Type 051C before the mass production of Type 052C happened. They did not want to rely on importing Ukrainian gas turbines, so waited until domestic version of DA-80 was ready for production. They were willing to test out new technology like Type 346 radar and AJK-03 VLS on 2 ships, but were not willing to mass-produce more Type 052Cs until the technology was more mature. Since QC-280 became available, Type 052C and 052D production has been continuous. It does not matter to PLAN if the subsystem is foreign designed or inspired as long as domestic firms can produce them cheaply. Due to cost and lack of import options, PLAN was driven to rely on domestic production for all of the new naval surface combatants. One could say that PLAN modernization has completed now that probably 2/3 of its ships have been replaced with modern designs.