Wednesday, October 24, 2007

054A Air Defense

The most important part of 054A's Air defense is probably it's HH-16 medium ranged SAM. In order to understand it, one probably should look at Shtil system. The setup of HH-16 air defense on 054A is similar in most aspects to that of SA-N-7 on Sov, so we can start by studying some of the articles on that system. Then we will look at Shtil VLU for further guidance on the performance of a VLS system over a traditional launcher. Please right click to see the article more clearly, they are written in Chinese:

Shtil (SA-N-7) was developed in the 80s with bombers, fighter-bombers, fighters, helicopters and different types of missiles to counter in mind. On each of the Soviet 956, there are launchers of 24 missiles on both front and end of the ship. It is similar to MK-13 launching SM-1. There are 6 illuminators per ship to allow for engagements against 6 targets. In early 90s, improved shtil (SA-N-12) was developed and each system costs $15 million (not including the missiles) in 1993.

Each system consists of a 3D search radar (Top Plate), Illuminators, Optronic directors (IRST?), tracking distribution machine, target display machine, firing control machine, central processing computer, missiles, launcher,

Diagram of the system, Top Plate has search and tracking mode. In search/Early warning mode, the data is collected for OK-10B and then passed to central processing machine. In tracking mode, the targets are distributed by 2 NKO machine to 12 display terminals. These tracking data goes to the central processing machine. There are 4 optronic or TV seekers, their data can be displayed on display terminal and also passed to the central processor.
The 6 illuminators operate on C band, with 4 kW average power output and 1.2 tonne in weight. They use continuous wave illumination to illuminate one target each.

NKO divides display into 8x12=96 area. It can send the target info to any of the 12 OH-4 display terminal.
There are 12 such terminals, each one can display the information of 2 targets.
4 OT-10 TV display and is used under strong ECM environment and TV seeker is doing the main tracking.

OK-10 fire control terminal. It has two display, allowing for selection of engagement against most dangerous targets.

More up close display, shows 2 UBK central processors

This system is an improvement over previous generation since it combined the searching and tracking to one radar with Top Plate. It uses parabolic pass to encounter low altitude target and shows good performance against sea clutter and other distractions. System is modular, can have anywhere from 2 to 12 fire channels.

Talks about SA-N-12's improvements including adding inertial correction (middle course update), updates to illuminator and different missile components, new target recognition technology?, increased length by 0.2m (and range to 38 km).
It fire 30 missiles in tests. 5 of which are against AShM traveling at 3 m and they all hit the target.

List some critical stats of SA-N-7 and they include:
  • max 25 km range vs planes flying at over 1000 m and 18 km vs planes under 1000 m, min is 3.5 km. Altitude is 15 m to 15 km
  • max 12 km vs missiles less than mach 2 and 8-9 km vs missiles more than mach 2, min range is 3.5 km. Altitude is 10 m to 10 km
  • system reaction is 16 to 19 s and preparation time is less than 3 minutes
  • Rate of fire is 14 s with 1 launcher and 7 s with 2 launchers
  • Kill probability using 2 missiles is 0.81 to 0.96 against planes + 0.43 to 0.86 against missiles
  • Top Plate figures include 360 degree coverage in azimuth and 45 degree in elevation, 200 km range against 2 sqm fighter targets and 0.75 x radar horizon against 0.1 sqm missile targets (It's around 0.9 x radar horizon when missile altitude <= 10 m)

This part compares SA-N-12 to Shtil VLU. As you can see, the rate of fire sped up from 12 s to 2 s. That's the main difference with using VLS instead of conventional launcher. Clearly, SA-N-12 is a significant improvement over SA-N-7 in terms of engaging sea-skimmers.

Russia moves to vertical-launch Shtil
Miroslav Gyürösi

Russia is offering a vertical-launch (VL) version of the Shtil-1 naval surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, writes Miroslav Gyürösi. The move from a system based on trainable launchers to one based on below-deck VL modules is similar to that taken by the US Navy in the mid-1980s when it switched from a Mk 26 trainable launcher to a VL system for the sixth and subsequent Ticonderoga-class Aegis cruisers.

Russian Public Joint Stock Company DNPP (Dolgoprudnenskoye naucsno - proizvodstvennoye predpriyatie), which is part of the Almaz-Antey Air Defence Concern, developed the new 9M317ME SAM as an upgrade for the Shtil-1 naval air-defence system. Developed by the Altair Naval Radio Electronics Scientific Institute Public Joint Stock Company, which is also a member of the Almaz-Antey Air Defence Concern, Shtil-1 is an improved version of the earlier Shtil system that is the export variant of the M-22 Uragan system fitted to the Project 956 (Sovremenny-class) destroyers.

The 9M38 missile was developed in the 1970s to be a common round for the land-based 9K37 Buk (SA-11 'Gadfly') and naval Uragan/Shtil (SA-N-7 'Gadfly') system. It used a configuration similar to that of the US Standard Missile, with cruciform wings of long chord and short span, plus cruciform tail surfaces. In the land-based system, the 9M38 was fired from 9A38 and 9A310 self-propelled launch vehicles, while the naval Shtil and Shtil-1 systems used a trainable launcher fed by a below-deck loading system based on 12-cell drum magazines.

In the early 1990s, development started on an improved 9M317 missile able to replace the 9M38. This armed the Buk-M1-2 (SA-17 'Grizzly') system, which entered service with the Russian Army in 1998. The 9M317 was similar in configuration to the 9M38 but the cruciform wings were of much smaller chord and span.

The new 9M317ME missile is being marketed as a further development of the older 9M38 and 9M317 but the changes are on a scale that makes the round almost a new missile. It is designed to be fired from a cylindrical container/launcher mounted in a cell within the new Shtil-1 VL system. This arrangement provides a much higher rate of fire than the original trainable launcher and magazine system used in Shtil and Shtil-1. The latter could fire a missile every six seconds, but the 9M317ME-based system being offered for Sovremenny-class destroyers can fire rounds at one-to-two-second intervals.

The new launch technique has required drastic changes to the configuration of the missile. The long-chord wings have been replaced by vestigial fixed surfaces located not on the missile centrebody but near the rear of the airframe just ahead of the cruciform tail surfaces. These fixed surfaces may be intended to control the airflow passing the tail fins. The latter move to steer the missile - the same control scheme used on the 9M38 - but are folded to allow the round to be stored in the container/launcher.

The 9M317ME is 5.18 m long and 360 mm in diameter. The tail surfaces have a span of 820 mm when deployed.

After the round leaves the VL, a spring mechanism unfolds the tail surfaces and four gas-control vanes operating in the motor efflux turn the missile towards the required direction of flight. Once this turnover manoeuvre is completed, the gas-control vanes are no longer used. Subsequent flight control is via the moving tail surfaces.

A dual-mode solid-propellant rocket motor based on a more energetic charge than that used in the 9M38 provides the missile with a maximum speed of Mach 4.5 (1,550 m/s), a significant increase over the Mach 3.0 (1,230 m/s) of the older missile.

Guidance remains a combination of inertial and semi-active radar (SAR) homing. Inertial guidance is used in the early stages of flight and then the SAR seeker is activated to complete the interception. If the missile is being fired against long-range targets, it can receive mid-course updates while flying under inertial control. Launch weight of the 9M317ME is 581 kg. It is armed with a 62 kg warhead initiated by a dual-mode (active or semi-active) radar proximity fuze, or a contact fuze.

The range of the modernised Shtil-1 system is between 3.5-32 km, while the altitude coverage is from 5 m up to 15 km. These limits are set not by the performance of the missile but by the capabilities of the existing shipboard illuminating radars. This suggests further growth potential if the system is upgraded or if new radars are added.

The VL version of Shtil-1 is being offered for surface ships with displacement of more than 1,500 tonnes, providing protection against aircraft, helicopters, fast patrol boats and anti-ship missiles. It can also control the ship's guns. Publicly, no claims are being made for an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capability, but the land-based 3M317 missile is reported to have successfully engaged Smerch artillery rockets and a ballistic missile during tests conducted in the mid-1990s. The VL system's ability to cope with tactical ballistic-missile threats may be limited by the performance of the existing shipboard radars.

The basic VL module contains 12 9M317ME missiles but, as with the unmodified Shtil and Shtil-1 systems, the upgrade is being offered in a series of optional configurations, which add greater numbers of MR-90 Orekh ('Front Dome') target-illumination radars and additional VL modules. All variants use target information from the ship's 3D surveillance radar.

Vertical-launch Shtil-1 configurations

Technical characteristic Option number
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Reaction time, [seconds] 5 - 10 5 - 10 5 - 10 5 - 10 5 - 10 5 - 10 5 - 10 5 - 10
Firing interval [seconds] 2 - 3 2 - 3 2 - 3 1 - 2 1 - 2 1 - 2 1 - 2 1 - 2
Number of target channels 2 4 4 6 8 8 10 12
Magazine capacity [rounds] 12 24 36 48 - 72 72 108 108 - 144 144
Number of VL modules 1 2 3 4 - 6 6 9 9 - 12 12

It mentions numerous things, but an interesting stats is the bottom table. This shows reaction time of 5 to 10 s + firing rate of 1-3 s. The shtil VLU is clearly a significant improvement over the original shtil.

So, what does this mean for 054A?
First, the Sea Eagle search radar is generally believed to be newer and more powerful than Top Plate radar. It is an evolution of the Sea Eagle radar on the lone 051B. An article chronically the development process of this radar said that it went through the most grueling testing process of any naval radar in Chinese history. The title of the article states that it can "see over 500 km away". That sounds even longer than S1850M, which has much larger antenna. Even so, it does seem to be upgrade vs different targets in terms of range and reliability of detection. Here is a picture of a series of Chinese radars.

Here is what the radar on 052B, 054A and test ship 891 looks like

It seems 891's search radar has more rows of antenna than 054A, which has more rows of antenna than 052B. From the previous picture, it would indicate that 052B is operating on E band (like it should, since it's Top Plate), 054A and 891's search radar look like they operating on different bands or possibly using different scanning methods. Either way, the pictures show that 054A's radar should be superior to that of 052B and the new one 891 is trying out should be even better. Another item of interest are the FCR, SA-N-12 was said to only need illumination during the terminal stage of engagement. At the same time, each FCR are improved so that they have two channels and can engage two targets that are "close by". The ones on 054A and 891 are said to also be able to engage two targets. Another big part of the sensory unit is the SR-64 radar, which I have talked about extensively in previous blogs. I think it could be the on-board tracking radar for Type 730 CIWS like the one that looks like bandstand for Kashtan CIWS, although we've also seen it on 071, which only has AK-630 and AK-176. Either way, I think it's integrated into the combat system as part of HH-16 air defense. Other sensors in the suite include the IRST that is installed on the front mast and what looks to be an E/O tracker placed closed to the bandstand radar. Although, that sensor looks different from the E/O tracker we see on 054 and 022. Either way, 054A has a whole set of sensors that are generally speaking far more advanced than what was on 956 and more advanced than what was placed on 052B.

And the final question is what level of data fusion there is. From the SA-N-7 system diagram, it's clear that it has tracking level integration between the optronic sensors and Top Plate. One question that was challenged to me a while back is whether or not it has plot level integration. We know that the system reaction time has improved from 16-19 s to 5-10 s for SA-N-12. Most of that is probably due to the much better sensors, but it could also be due to a plot level integration. Either way, we have data fusion on 052C between the 4 large AESA radar panels, so we know that such technology is possible for 054A. And we have also seen 891 testing the entire air defense suite (see previous blogs), which suggestion a high level of integration between all of the sensors involved. Therefore, we can only say at the present time that 054A has at least tracking level integration and might have plot level integration also.

Finally, if I was to go through certain performance parameter on HH-16, I would say that the system reaction time and launch rate are probably close to that of VLU shtil. A launch rate of 2s per launch is probably expected from a VLS unit. I would expect the system reaction time to be around 6 to 7 s, since that is the figure often used for the export version of HH-7. These are certainly tremendous improvements over the original shtil. As for the range of HH-16, it's often been stated as to be more than that of HQ-2. I would say that's quite likely, since HH-16's best comparison is probably ESSM with USN. Now, the range against different types of target like fighters and anti-ship missiles will probably be similar to that of Shtil. I would expect the requirements for HH-16 to be at least as good as the latest shtil or else China would've just equipped with shtil. Based on the above stats of shtil, you can get a good idea of HH-16's performance. Although it's interesting that the size of HH-16 VLS indicates that the missile itself is smaller than shtil (which is almost 600 kg).

There is also Type 730 CIWS and AK-176M left on 054A, which I will try to go through with the next article.


dlhh said...


Rear Admiral Eric A. McVadon, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Naval War College Review, Spring 2006, Vol. 59, No. 2

The East Asia security environment in which China is emerging demands that the matter of a maturing Chinese navy be put in a political context. Tension across the Taiwan Strait has recently relaxed. In Beijing, the leaders of economically successful and internationally active China do not want to jeopardize the nation’s prospects for a bright future by initiating military conflict with Taiwan and the United States—quite the contrary. In Taipei, despite profound disagreement with Beijing and a major stir in domestic politics, a cautious posture in relations with Beijing now prevails. So, remarkably, amid deep, persistent, and mutual distrust, the current prospects for avoiding conflict across the Taiwan Strait are good. Well-informed Chinese officials and prestigious Americans who have had exchanges with senior Chinese leaders confirm the relaxed circumstances and express the conviction that Beijing is confident about the situation as Chinese leaders see it developing and that Taiwan, again content with the status quo, will remain measured in its actions. War across the Taiwan Strait is not looming.

Nevertheless, Beijing is, by modernizing its military, ensuring that things will not go awry in Taiwan, that its policy of intimidation continues to work. The indisputable reality is that this military—the People’s Liberation Army (or PLA), and particularly its naval component, the PLA Navy (or PLAN)—is growing greatly in capability; further, it is a growing concern to defense and naval leaders in Washington, D.C., and other capitals, including Tokyo and Taipei. In a time of American preoccupation with the global war on terrorism, it is appropriate to draw attention to the crucial features of this modernization of components of the PLA. Beijing, if the “Taiwan problem” were to suffer a dramatic reversal, would have available an impressive force acquired for this purpose. If that force were effectively deployed, it would be sufficient in terms of hardware to undertake a two-pronged, PLA Navy–led campaign, with a big maritime component, against Taiwan and U.S. forces in a fashion that could be termed “jointness with Chinese characteristics.”


When pressed on the subject, Chinese officials began some months ago to deliver both publicly and privately (to the author and undoubtedly many others) the consistent message that the military budget is not excessive, manpower is shrinking, and the newly modernized PLA is not a threat. Chinese characterize the PLA instead as a deterrent force—as were U.S. forces during the Cold War, they are quick to remind. When pressed further, they accept unabashedly the retort that the modernization surge is, so far, narrowly focused on the Taiwan contingency. It is directed to deterring Taiwan’s movement toward independence, which they consider the top “threat to Chinese sovereignty,” and to curbing the ability of the United States to intervene rapidly and effectively were China compelled, as Beijing perceives it, to use military force against Taiwan.

So the concern is that hard-liners in Beijing, obsessed by the “Taiwan problem,” might not allow prudence to prevail in decision making in a crisis and, consequently, could order the use of military force because of what they perceive as intolerable “splittist” conduct by Taipei. In evaluating the risks of an imprudent decision by Beijing, it might be asked rhetorically whether the current Chinese Communist Party is capable of as bad a choice in a future Taiwan crisis as most observers think the party made with the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the actions in 1989 now referred to simply as “Tiananmen.” Some observers increasingly find reason to be optimistic, but it is hard to offer unqualified assurance that Beijing could not again make a very bad decision.

It is the result of decisions obviously made several years ago that a new, modern, and much more capable PLA Navy has, along with the Air Force and 2nd Artillery Corps (the ballistic- and long-range-cruise-missile force), been acquired and deployed. A stunning modernization effort continues. Regardless of how Beijing’s intentions are viewed, the surge in PLA modernization has radically changed the military situation for Taiwan. Taipei is more than ever forced to look to Washington to cope with this more advanced, capable PLA, with the strategic depth of huge China behind it.

Moreover, the PLA now hopes to bring to reality concepts its strategists have written about, such as how an inferior force can prevail against a superior opponent—that is, China versus the United States. Specifically, the critical aspects of a new navy and the highly significant synergies that may develop between it and the missile and air forces warrant full attention, because they are directed specifically at deterring, delaying, or complicating timely and effective American access and intervention. U.S. forces must be able, should the Taiwan pot boil over, to turn the tables and deter Beijing from using its proclaimed deterrent forces—or to ensure a favorable outcome if mutual deterrence fails. The ultimate American goal, however, should be to make the chances of conflict even less than they are. Understanding the important developments described here seems a necessary step toward that goal.


The following questions and answers may be an unusual way to begin probing the specific naval aspects of the issue, but they focus on an often neglected, but arguably the most surprising, single PLAN acquisition program—its bold move to build quickly a modern nuclear submarine force despite its troubled past in this arena. These incisive questions—posed to the author in 2005 by experts on the Chinese submarine force—are especially useful in that they take the PLA’s Taiwan obsession fully into account but also look beyond. They reveal the layers of complexity and uncertainty inherent in the very rapid and impressive modernization of the PLA Navy—a navy that, it is worth emphasizing, is arguably the only one in today’s world that the U.S. Navy must deter or be able to defeat, but also a navy that under different circumstances could become a high-seas partner.

How “mature” is China’s navy? Does the PLAN have the requisite human capital, organizational practices, and exercise regimen to become a world- class fleet? The PLAN is most nearly mature with respect to platforms and weapons but, approximately in the order listed, progressively less so in human capital, organizational practices, and exercise regimen. It is working to become better in each.

Are nuclear submarines a good fit for China’s emerging naval strategy? Will the balance of forces (i.e., nuclear versus diesel submarines) change in the future? The currently emerging balance is a good fit, especially vis-à-vis China’s current set of potential adversaries. If the Taiwan problem were eliminated somehow, a shift toward nuclear submarines to protect more distant sea- lanes would be a logical option. This makes the PLAN nuclear submarine program a possible bellwether for future naval policy more generally.

What are the trends in undersea warfare and antisubmarine warfare (ASW) in the western Pacific region? The superiority of the U.S. nuclear submarine force will continue; however, the Chinese are apparently developing ballistic missiles with maneuvering warheads and terminal seekers to hit ships at sea. This capability to lob numerous accurate ballistic missile warheads high over the heads of all defenders could effectively circumvent the anticipated quiet and capable U.S. nuclear attack submarines. The PLAN has previously seen these submarines as all but impossible to penetrate with its own submarines (or surface ships) to reach the carriers and cruisers it wants to disable. Despite the PLAN’s ineptitude at antisubmarine warfare, short of a (plausible) major breakthrough, the trend in submarine/ASW competition is going China’s way: the PLAN’s submarine numbers and diversity trump, or at least could saturate, likely ASW opposition for the foreseeable future, especially in case of the short war Beijing contemplates. With respect to Taiwan’s ASW capability (almost an oxymoron now), the Republic of China (ROC) Navy would still have to learn to use its P-3C antisubmarine patrol aircraft after getting them; its prospective new submarine force of eight diesel submarines, if approved for acquisition (as currently seems unlikely), would be a decade or more from operational status and even then inadequate for antisubmarine warfare against what would by then have become a remarkably numerous, diverse, and advanced PLAN submarine force.

What strategic dilemmas might Washington encounter as a result of China’s new nuclear submarine force? Beijing’s smug confidence that Washington must always keep in mind China’s status as a nuclear power will be reinforced if the PLAN is successful with its ongoing program to build several modern Jin-class (Project 094) nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs). Its sequential construction of Shang-class (Project 093) nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) adds the component of reach (range and speed) to the existing qualities of numbers of its nuclear and conventional submarines, as well as quietness for a growing portion of that force and potency of weapons for a similar portion—especially for the new Kilo-class diesel submarines from Russia, with their long-range, supersonic, sea-skimming antiship cruise missiles (ASCMs). A “new PLAN” with these new nuclear-powered submarines and stunning array of other new and modern platforms and weapons is highly likely to view itself in a different strategic light, as yet unrevealed, than has the “old PLAN.”


Harking back to the title of this article, the PLA Navy might best be described as an adolescent rather than mature navy, with the caution that adolescents can exhibit qualities across the range from juvenile to adult, often commit crimes that warrant treatment as adults, and mature unpredictably. To extend the adolescence analogy a bit more, the PLAN is growing remarkably in size and strength, even “bulking up” (in the American vernacular); all observers remark how it has grown since the last time they saw it.

Simply fielding more modern units does not make the PLAN a truly modern operational force. The limits on how China’s and the navy’s leaders are able to employ their new capabilities represent significant shortcomings, and success in the effort to overcome them is far from assured. Put another way, the PLAN has matured remarkably insofar as acquiring platforms and equipment (ships, submarines, aircraft, radars, and so on) and weapons (antiship cruise missiles, air defense missiles, torpedoes, and the like) is concerned, but this “new PLA Navy” has not matured fully in exercising its forces and developing the command and control capabilities, coordination means, and intelligence and targeting support needed to make that force fully operational—especially in comparison with its most important and most capable potential adversary, the U.S. Navy.

Better officers are on the way up—if they make it. The PLAN recognizes that to conduct complex joint operations, exercise greatly enhanced command and control, and effectively employ modern weapons it needs a better-educated, more worldly officer corps, and it is striving to do that, or so it says. PLAN officers are taking more prominent positions in institutions that do strategic thinking; for example, in two recent firsts for naval officers, Admiral Zhang Dingfa headed the Academy of Military Science (he now serves as the commander of the PLAN), and Rear Admiral Yang Yi is still director of the Institute of Strategic Studies at the National Defense University in Beijing. The PLA Navy seeks officers educated in first-rate civilian universities. The emphasis, however, appears to be on specific technical and scientific education; this approach neglects, it seems, the parallel need for specialists in operations, security issues, strategic studies, and international affairs.

Details aside, an important and yet unanswered question is whether the PLA Navy wants officers better educated or considers them better Red. That is, will competent, forward-thinking officers be selected for flag rank, or will party loyalty and personal connections continue to prevail as the paramount selection criteria? This author has lectured and conferred at the National Defense University and other PLA institutions on several occasions at which junior officers asked all the questions and did all the talking while flag and general officers who were students remained silent—at least in part, it appeared, for fear of being outshone in these lively and insightful discussions. It would seem that at some point the demands of a modern PLA will force the promotion of more of the officers who have all the intelligent questions and original thoughts.

Organization is improving, but maybe not yet enough. The PLA Navy structure has been streamlined: naval aviation no longer stands alone as though an almost separate service; closer ties have been established with the PLAN’s marine corps; and there are fewer layers in the chain of command. Nevertheless, the author has observed and been told, there is still much deadwood at the top: individuals in green uniforms with two or more stars on their shoulders (PLA ground-force generals) who persist in treating the PLAN as mostly an adjunct to the army, and senior officers who, through lack of vision, fail to move decisively toward true joint operations. These generals represent obstacles at a time when real coordination with the 2nd Artillery Corps and the PLA Air Force would lead to enormous advances in the ability to polish off Taiwan, threaten American intervention capabilities, and keep Japan off balance.

China’s navy is still failing to conduct exercises needed to develop its potential capability. It continues to steam in the littoral for the most part. However, the PLAN aspires to, and is erratically striving to conduct, training and exercises in more distant waters; to make its training more like combat; to challenge itself in exercises with active, maneuvering opposition forces; and otherwise to add realism to its training and exercise activity. It has even been so bold as to engage, in August 2005, in a major multiphased exercise with the Russian Navy, a notable advance beyond the minor, very basic exercises it has conducted with the French, British, Australian, Pakistani, and Indian navies in recent years. A few years ago the PLAN would not have participated in such exercises at all, fearing not only prying (as well as spying) but embarrassment, that its shortcomings and backwardness would be revealed. Chinese naval leaders now seem sufficiently confident in their crews to seek international partners for exercises. (It will be interesting to see if several unflattering post-exercise Russian media reports rejuvenate concerns that bilateral exercises lead to ridicule and embarrassment.)

Still, the import of the Russian-Chinese exercise should not be overstated. It was initially described by many as preparation for countering U.S. forces in the region. As later and more accurately described, however, it primarily demonstrated that Sino-Russian bilateral relations are strong, especially military-to-military relations and arms sales. The exercise itself, held in waters just off the Shandong Peninsula, was hardly a simulation of access denial against approaching U.S. forces. Its significance in that respect would seem to be less direct. The fact that it was held at all suggests that the Russians are more likely than we might have surmised to provide logistic and possibly intelligence support—specifically, to offer to resupply missiles and spare parts for the key Russian weapon systems that China would employ in combat with Taiwan and the United States.

If it would be exaggeration, then, to assess this exercise as a sign of emergence as a fully mature force, the PLAN is creeping toward real blue-water exercises with composite task forces including surface combatants, submarines, and aviation. So far, only in occasional and isolated distant submarine transits does it approximate the task of confronting an enemy, the U.S. Navy, that it might need to keep at arm’s length, many hundreds of miles from the Chinese coast. In short, the PLAN is not visibly conducting exercises, alone or with other services, that rehearse confrontation with approaching U.S. Navy forces. The United States should be alert to such a development with this new force, a force designed to have the capabilities that could make such operations feasible.


A new aspect of budding maturity, what could facetiously be termed “socialization,” is looming and demands attention—the prospect that the PLAN and the 2nd Artillery Corps could (and should) join hands to bolster the nation’s capability to attack Taiwan and pose a significantly greater and more diverse threat to the ability of the United States to intervene in the region. The greatly increased number and highly improved accuracy of China’s medium- and short-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs and SRBMs), plus strategic and technical writings, suggest strongly that senior Chinese military leaders have recognized the enhancement of naval capabilities that would result from support by ballistic and land-attack cruise missiles. China’s MRBMs (the DF-21C) and SRBMs (DF-15 and -11), with conventional warheads, have capabilities well beyond the psychological intimidation of Taiwan. Prospective synergies stem from the ability of these potent missile arsenals to suppress Taiwan’s offensive and defensive air power, support amphibious and airborne assaults on the island, strike American bases in the region, and possibly damage heavily Taiwanese naval forces before they could leave port.

However, the most important aspect of the increasing ballistic-missile threat is the prospect that within a few years China may be able seriously to threaten not only American land bases but also carrier strike groups, with maneuvering reentry vehicles (MaRVs). MaRVed missiles, with conventional warheads, would maneuver both to enhance warhead survival (defeat missile defenses) and home on mobile (or stationary) targets. The implications for the PLAN of this prospective 2nd Artillery capability are, of course, profound; they include the ability to degrade U.S. air and missile defenses (including the Aegis systems and carrier flight decks). That would allow follow-on attacks by layered, diverse, and appropriately redundant PLAN submarine, air, and surface forces firing large numbers of very modern and capable ASCMs, torpedoes, and even their guns if the earlier attacks suppress most defenses. This and what follows are in clear outline the sort of threat the PLA and PLA Navy wish to pose to U.S. Navy forces. The precisely focused force the Chinese have built and what they have written about its use leave no doubt about the concept—although there are grave doubts about their ability to conduct it.

Whether, or how soon, the ballistic-missile threat becomes a factor in the ability of the PLAN to deter, confuse, and delay or, alternatively, confront approaching U.S. Navy forces, the ability to launch lethal antiship-cruise-missile attacks is an area where the PLAN is already near or at maturity—even if the targeting of American forces at which to launch them has not reached a mature state. The PLAN became early a cruise-missile navy, as a way of overcoming other deficiencies. Now it must be described as a modern cruise-missile navy, at least with respect to the platforms and lethal, evasive missiles it is deploying. The PLAN’s four newest classes of submarines, armed with potent ASCMs, fall just below MaRVed ballistic missiles in the hierarchy of potential or emerging threats to U.S. forces.

At the top of the submarine component of the overall threat are the eight new Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines from Russia that are now being successively delivered to China. These submarines threaten carrier strike groups through their ability to launch, while submerged over a hundred miles away, the SS-N-27B/Sizzler antiship cruise missile. After a subsonic flight to the target area, the SS-N-27B makes a supersonic, sea-skimming, evasive attack. It is described by its marketers and others as part of the best family of cruise missiles in the world and, in the opinion of some, as able to defeat the U.S. Aegis air- and missile-defense system that is central to the defense of carrier strike groups.

Shang-class (Type 093) SSNs are possible partners for the new Kilos. The surprisingly rapid construction of successive units in this new class of nuclear-powered attack submarine implies special utility in a Taiwan contingency. The Shangs could, if they prove sufficiently quiet and fast and are properly equipped with sensors, be part of the net by which the PLAN locates and identifies approaching U.S. carrier strike groups. If used this way, they could be part of a matrix composed of such detection and reporting means as satellites, merchant ships, and even fishing boats with satellite phones.

Having served as part of the matrix that detects targets for the ballistic missiles and Kilos, the Shangs could then join with the Song- and Yuan-class nonnuclear submarines (SSs) in attacks against selected U.S. forces that have, as expected in the sequenced PLA attack concept, suffered by that point significant degradation of their air and missile defenses. These three classes of submarines could carry out, from several attack axes, submerged launches of large salvoes of subsonic, but still very capable, ASCMs. Of course, further follow-on attacks by torpedoes cannot be discounted if they appear to be needed.

China’s other new nuclear-powered submarine program, the Jin-class (Project 094) ballistic-missile submarine, is primarily a part of China’s strategic deterrent, but it will necessarily play a role as backdrop for this Taiwan scenario. As with China’s modernized and augmented land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, Beijing can act more confidently in bold undertakings vis-à-vis the United States when its strategic forces are more secure. With the Jins, Beijing is adding a layer of insurance that American missile defenses could be saturated—and that Washington would know it. Washington, of course, would have to take into account the fact that it is dealing with a capable nuclear power whose missiles have become very mobile and hard to detect.


The success of the described PLAN submarine attacks using submerged-launch antiship cruise missiles depends to some degree on thwarting or coping with U.S. antisubmarine warfare capabilities, primarily aircraft (P-3Cs and to a lesser extent shipborne helicopters) and SSNs. One method by which the Chinese might complicate the ASW picture for the Americans is to use large numbers of submarines, including the score or more older submarines—Han-class SSNs and Romeo- and Ming-class SSs—which may be noisy but cannot be ignored. In round numbers, the PLAN might, in a campaign where it has chosen the time to ready the crews and initiate operations, be able to deploy more than twenty modern SSNs and SSs and roughly the same number of older submarines. The long range of the ASCMs carried by the new Kilos means that those submarines need not come within a hundred miles of the target ships, if targeting information can be obtained remotely—greatly expanding the areas that American SSNs and P-3Cs would have to search. The speed and practically unlimited underwater endurance of the new Shang SSNs could allow them to close targets promptly to launch their shorter-range ASCMs after the initial attacks by longer-range missiles have degraded defenses.

The role of Taiwan in antisubmarine warfare deserves some attention. Taiwan’s current ASW capability is minimal. That capability might improve in the foreseeable future were Taiwan to obtain from the United States the much-discussed P-3Cs, but that will depend on how seriously the ROC Navy pursues the demanding task of learning how to do antisubmarine warfare with that aircraft. If it does that well, Taiwan’s P-3Cs might offer a measure of help in the big ASW problem that the PLAN could create in the East China Sea and beyond. The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force would offer another measure of assistance, if Tokyo were to make a political decision to involve its forces in that way. All this said, China’s growing and improving submarine fleet has outpaced U.S., Japanese, and Taiwanese ASW in the difficult littoral waters of the region, which generally favor submarines seeking to escape detection. Open-ocean areas may be a slightly riskier proposition for the PLAN’s submarines, unless they actually achieve the elusive new levels of stealth to which China aspires.

The previously described antisurface-warfare roles seem the most likely ones for the PLAN’s new Shangs. It does not seem likely that the PLAN, inexperienced compared to the U.S. Navy in undersea warfare, would use its few new SSNs—precious to the Chinese but almost certainly not comparable to American SSNs in capability and stealth—in an effort to strip the carrier groups of their submarine protection. So far, China has conceded that aspect of the game to the United States and chosen to avoid dueling with the superior American submarines. By electing to develop a land-based ballistic-missile threat against ships at sea, China is pursuing a path that could keep U.S. submarines from blocking a critical initial attack on carrier strike groups. If in the event the ballistic-missile concept is not usable or fails in execution, the new Kilos with the SS-N-27B, the many other submarines with ASCMs, and the increasingly capable PLA naval air force B-6s, FB-7s, and Su-30MK2s (to be mentioned in more detail later) provide other alternatives that largely avoid American underwater-warfare superiority. The point is that as the Shangs are introduced into the fleet, it seems unlikely that they will be expected to take on American SSNs directly.


The intensity and persistence of PLAN attacks on U.S. Navy forces could well be affected by Beijing’s perception of the fragility of a government on Taiwan subjected to a major assault from everything from ballistic missiles to aircraft to special forces—and much more. It should be remembered that the primary purpose of denying or delaying access by U.S. forces would be to convince Taipei that waiting for help is futile, that capitulation and negotiation—on Beijing’s terms—are the only reasonable option. Success against U.S. forces is, therefore, important largely for its effect on Taipei’s will to fight on. Success in such conflict would be sweetest for the PLA if the United States never became actively involved, concern about the capabilities of a modernized Chinese force having led American leaders to delay or withhold carrier strike groups.

Returning from strategic considerations to the fight itself, were one to occur, the Chinese can be expected next to deliver air-launched antiship cruise missiles once the air defenses of the U.S. strike groups, and possibly regional bases as well, are degraded. So this “layer” in the assault might be the PLA Navy Air Force, attacking several hundred miles out to sea from China (in some cases possibly much farther) with potent new air-launched ASCMs fired from new aircraft from Russia (the Su-30MK2) and indigenous long-range B-6s (a new version with new missiles) and FB-7 maritime interdiction aircraft, also with new ASCMs. (Note how many times the word new appeared, correctly, in that sentence.) Some PLA Air Force aircraft have similar capabilities. At a minimum, the U.S. Navy would have to be concerned about vulnerability to such an attack and, if it had, indeed, sustained damage, might feel it had to retreat. Beijing would make sure that such a development was not lost on Taipei—and we are seeking here to understand more fully how Beijing envisions a conflict with its modernized forces, not necessarily the reality.

Surface combatants would be a final layer if a supposedly casualty-averse Washington and teetering Taipei have not yet taken the point. Cleanup attacks might in such a case be intended, with very capable ASCMs from the several new or upgraded classes of destroyers and frigates. These warships are led, with respect to lethal firepower, by Russian Sovremennyys (soon to increase from two to four) with supersonic, very evasive SS-N-22s. China has built or is building enough new and modernized destroyers and frigates to form several modern surface action groups, each capable of long-range attacks with almost equally lethal, although subsonic, ASCMs. Also—and here it is finally beginning to overcome a long-standing shortcoming—the PLA Navy is on the way to acquiring good fleet air defenses using surface-to-air missile systems.

To capture succinctly the scope of the modernization of the surface combatant force, it can be said that the Chinese are now building and dramatically upgrading more classes of modern destroyers and frigates (these combatants clearly outmatch those of Taiwan) than previous rates suggested they might acquire ships in this decade.

The question that cannot now be answered is whether such a visible and slow-moving force, even with dramatically improved air defense, could actually engage even a damaged U.S. force and not be subject to devastating attack by other American strike forces. There are, however, broader uncertainties for the PLAN. As noted, the concepts outlined above emerge from the force Beijing is building and from PLA doctrinal and other writing. Beijing has made hard decisions and executed expensive programs in the ongoing surge in the modernization of the PLA, with great emphasis on naval, air, and missile forces for such operations as described. But surveillance and targeting support will be needed if this force is to deter or confront American intervention efforts. To that end, it appears that China is making significant efforts to gain a varied capability from space, land, sea (including undersea), and air to locate, identify, track, and target naval forces. China is lagging in this arena—real success in the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) arena could take a decade—but one might make a guess that some rudimentary, if not reliable and consistent, capability could be cobbled together within a couple of years. In other words, there is impending danger that U.S. ships could be detected and effectively targeted. At least equally important is whether China will be able to coordinate, command, and control such operations—that is, what of the C4* to go with the ISR? The PLAN, although now more realistic and somewhat bolder in its training and exercises, as mentioned above, has not, for example, touted or otherwise given evidence of rehearsals of encounters with simulated carrier strike groups hundreds of miles east of China, as it might do as part of a deterrence scheme.

There is, as described, no doubt about the acquisition of modern platforms and threatening weapons, but there remains puzzlement as to whether and how promptly the PLA Navy and the other crucial components of the PLA will make all this capability truly operational. There is, nevertheless, an additional serious corollary as to whether Beijing would feel compelled in some circumstance to initiate hostilities against Taiwan and to confront U.S. forces even if preparations were short of optimal. It is hard to relax with respect to Beijing and Taiwan, even if we think Chinese command and control is not up to the task.

This all adds up to a complex planning and execution challenge for an inexperienced PLA. In the scenario depicted above, it would be conducting two major campaigns simultaneously: one to subdue Taiwan and the other to delay effective American intervention. The campaign against Taiwan would likely include initial ballistic-missile and land-attack cruise-missile attacks; special forces, fifth-column sabotage, and other such actions; information operations; major air attacks; and amphibious and airborne assaults to secure lodgments to allow occupation and control of Taiwan. The campaign against the United States, in addition to being preceded by extensive efforts temporarily to cripple American C4ISR, would, it should be remembered, consist of the described ballistic- and cruise-missile attacks on carrier strike groups and possibly regional U.S. bases, submarine attacks using various forms of antiship cruise missiles, and then selections from such follow-on options as ASCMs from air or surface forces. This would be an extraordinarily demanding undertaking against a daunting foe for a PLA leadership that has no experience in such combat.

The author’s guess is that the PLA would quickly succeed against Taiwan but would probably falter against U.S. forces, against which it would encounter surprises, countermeasures, and other capabilities that would likely cause severe reversals. It must also be remembered, however, both that China’s best strategic and military minds are working on these problems and that Beijing may feel it has to act against Taiwan regardless of how challenging the prospect may appear. Moreover, it is unlikely that the leaders of today’s modernized PLA would tell the civilian leadership that their military is not ready. On the contrary, Beijing and the military have reason to believe that their forces are of such a nature as to avoid American strengths, like SSNs and advanced C4ISR, and to make the most of China’s strengths, such as its ballistic and cruise missiles and new conventional and nuclear submarine forces. The United States has the task not only to deter this modern military that could embolden Chinese leaders but also, irresistibly yet subtly, to lead those leaders to the conviction that a decision to attack Taiwan is not in China’s interests and would not likely result in reunification.


The PLA, especially the PLAN, now seems almost wholly, even obsessively, focused on the Taiwan problem. Two other factors should be taken into account, however, and already seem to be intruding into Chinese strategic thinking. First, an emerging China wants to build a military appropriate to the country that it is becoming. Second, China’s all-important national economic growth, which keeps the Communist Party in power, is dependent on ocean commerce. As the PLA Navy tries to look beyond Taiwan or to decide what, even now, it should be thinking about besides that, it sees a long-term capability to secure sea and land routes for the flow of oil and natural gas, as well as other commodities, as a leading priority for China.

Will we see an organic air capability and a shift to more nuclear submarines? A PLA Navy able to carry out that mission would almost certainly have some form of organic air, so that it could effectively operate beyond the range of land-based aircraft—far south in the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca, even to the Indian Ocean. Current shipyard work on the incomplete aircraft carrier Varyag may be the start of a move in that direction, unlike so many Chinese aircraft-carrier rumors of past decades. Another consideration could be a leaning toward submarines with greater range, speed, and independence from land bases. This could mean that nuclear-powered attack submarines, despite the added cost, might be preferred over diesel-electric or even air-independent-propulsion submarines.

SSNs are a possible bellwether of PLAN strategic thinking. China is now building and buying three classes of nonnuclear submarines: the Kilos, the Songs, and the Yuans (some speculate about the exact character of the Yuan propulsion system). These submarines, along with the older Mings and remaining Romeos, represent a major investment and will almost certainly constitute a majority of the submarine fleet for the next fifteen years or more. It will, nevertheless, be worthwhile to keep an eye on China’s success with the Shang attack class, to ascertain whether it will feel the need suggested above for a faster, more independent force to protect distant sea lanes, and whether an emerging China will follow the American example and diversify its SSN fleet to include land-attack cruise-missile capabilities and the ability to insert special forces—or possibly other, novel capabilities needed in emerging missions for an emerged China.

China’s navy has developed in many remarkable ways, but perhaps the biggest test of maturity is the bold attempt to leap to a new status in the prestigious and unforgiving domain of nuclear submarines—where it had previously faltered. To a significant degree, the success or failure of its new nuclear-powered submarines, the Jin-class ballistic-missile class as well as the Shangs, is likely to determine future decisions for the Chinese submarine force. The American example in diversifying its nuclear submarines may also become a factor, in the form of an example. The outcome for the nuclear submarine force could set the tone for a navy that either comes to feel that it ranks with the best or, having “tried out for the pros,” finds that once more it has faltered.

In any case, it is instructive to imagine a particularly intelligent and competent young Chinese naval officer just beginning his service. That junior officer must today see the prospect, at least, of a promising career ahead as a nuclear submariner in a globally capable “real navy”—the prospect of professional challenge and esteem comparable to that of an American counterpart. That in itself is a remarkable and telling change from a few years ago, when serving on troubled Chinese nuclear submarines was thought by some to be as much a joke as a job. Such success as the Chinese submarine force attains would tend to be infectious and to bolster the professionalism of other components of the modern PLAN, where newfound pride is thriving as well. The PLA Navy is not fully mature, but it has established its potential for that status in the air, on the sea, and, conspicuously, under the sea.

Feng said...

He is clearly well versed on a topic like this, but I generally find them to emphasize the Russian import threats a little too much.

dlhh said...

He mostly mention Russian weapons because PLA indigenious weapons specifications are not transparent and he cannot verify its capabilities.

Do you know what torpedoes the modified 091G Han uses? In Hui Tong website, he claims that the 091G uses YU-3A, which I find amazing that a nuclear sub will not be using the best PLA torpedo, the YU-6. Surely, after modifications they will make sure it can fire the best torpedo!

Your article on 054A defence is informative, but can the reaction time be enough for a Mach 2.8 Ashm?
Hyperspeed Mach 5 Ashm are now being developed and I wonder if the PLA takes all this new speeds into consideration?

dlhh said...

On the Admirale Eric's article, it seems that the PLA is now only focused on Taiwan and have not initiated any deep sea exercises, only exercises in its own shallow waters. Wonder if deep seas exercises is neccesary for the Taiwan conflict?

The majority of PLA ships & subs also do not have Towed or varible depth active sonar, which implies a very poor ASW capability in deep waters.

This certainly implies that the PLA cannot project force far away from its shores, for the time being, at least.

Feng said...

It's my belief that all the modern submarines in PLAN are using Yu-6 (that includes upgraded 091s), but we don't really have any pictures showing that. All the torpedo pictures involving Yu-6 are shown with diesel subs.

As for mach2.8 missiles, 054A is designed to handle supersonic missiles. In fact, SR-64 is designed specifically to track missiles up to mach 3.0 in speed. I hope to get into more on this with the next article.

As for ASW, China believes in using sub and sub chasers against other submarines. I don't really have a problem with submarines not have TAS, since all recent subs have flank array sonars. If you look at 093, it has 3 huge flank sonar on each side. Of course, I would like to see them installing TAS on future ships, but they are going to rely on 093 for any blue water operation

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