Friday, October 29, 2010

Interesting little tidbit on PLAN

The 7th 054A was commissioned today with PLAN ESF as No. 548. According to this article, it was named after the city Yiyang from Province Hunan. There is also a news report here.

We found out some interesting stats on 054A like that its standard displacement is 3600 tons (we previous found out that full displacement is 4053 tons), length is 134 m, width is 16 m and maximum speed is 27 knots.

However, the more interesting is the procurement cycle for PLAN. It reported that this unit was first ordered to be built by HuangPu shipyard in 2006. It was chosen to be named after Yiyang in April of 2009. It was launched in Nov of 2009, started sea trials in May of 2010 and got commissioned in Oct of 2010. So, it takes less than a year to go from launching to commissioning. At the same time, it takes 3 years to go from getting the order to being launched. I'm not sure if the earlier ships of this batch 571 was placed at the same time, so the construction time to launching + preparation work could be much shorter than 3 years.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


There is a new minesweeper class coming into service with China recently. I thought it would be a good time to go through the history of PLAN mine warfare development.

MCM operation has long been a huge weakness in PLAN. If ASW is widely viewed as the Achilles Heel of PLAN, then MCM is not that far behind. As numerous navies started to develop a new generation of MCM ships in the 70s and 80s built with glass-reinforced plastic material, equipped with remotely operated vehicle mine neutralization system and advanced minehunting and classification sonar, China was stuck with Soviet 50s era T-43/Type 6610 minesweepers.

China bought the licensed production to Project 254K and 254M minesweepers in the 50s. The first 4 vessels that were built with Soviet supplied kits were Type 6605. After that, China started to build Type 6610 based on Soviet documentations to Type 254M minesweepers. As time went on, China eventually indigenized everything after the Soviet-China split and made more modifications to turn Type 6610 into more of a patrol boat.

A total of 33 Type 6610 vessels were built all the way up to 1987 and several of which were even involved in real combat against Vietnamese Navy. Even now, PLAN still operates about 15 of these Type 6610 minesweepers including the frequently photographed No. 830 to 834 of East Sea Fleet.

By the late 1970s, China started development of a new type of coastal minesweeper. This class, known as the Type 082 Wosao class, first joined service in 1988. They are 44.8 m long, 6.2 m wide and have a draft of 3.7 m. They were the first sign of a post T-43 + modernized minesweeping design by China. They were equipped with Type 316 mini contact sweep, type 317 magnetic sweep, type 318 acoustic sweep and type 319 infrasonic sweep. These vessels can also be used to control the Type 312 remote minesweeping drones. This ship class basically consists of the original Type I variant ships (No. 801 to 803) and the improved Type II variant (No. 806、807、816、817, 820 to 827). You can recognize the difference just by looking at the bridge. Here are some of the ships from this class.

As we arrived at the current wave of PLAN modernization, MCM was clearly a huge weakness in PLAN. The Type 082 class is modern compared to T-43, but they are only suitable for coastal operations and are not modern by international standard. PLAN needed MCM vessels that would push it to the modern level of MCM ships that came into service with different NATO navies in the 80/90s like the Avenger class, Tripartite class, Sandown class and Type 343 Hameln class. PLAN has kind of moved into this new era of MCM operation with 2 new classes in the past few years. The first one is the Type 081 minesweeper. They are built more for seagoing mine warfare operations than Type 082. They are larger, probably close to the size of T-43s, equipped with more modern sweeping systems, mine detection sonar and modern command system (like GPS, radar, display console, combat system). At the current time, we know of at least 4 units of this class (805, 810, 839 and 840). Each of these ships cost around $37 million in 2008. The second MCM class is the Type 082II (or another designation) minehunter. So far, there is only one unit of this ship built. As you can see with the photos below, it is very similar in size to Type 081. I would say they are both around 550 to 600 ton in displacement.

I think it has taken a while for the next ship of this class to come out, because it represented too much of an advancement in PLAN. Similar to other ship series, this first unit is testing out a lot of new equipments and concepts before further units are built. This is probably the first MCM ship in PLAN system that does not use any kind of mechanical sweep and probably the first one to be built with Glass reinforced plastic. As shown below, it is also the first MCM ship to be equipped with mine disposing ROV (+crane to lower ROV) and advanced sonar management system. The sonar system is reported to be able to track and identify everything with several hundreds meters. In fact, one of the pictures showed a scale of up to 200 m, but I'm not sure if they have a longer tracking mode.

As it happened, we saw a new class of remote controlled minesweeping drones recently. This development is kind of interesting, because China has been studying different navies around the world for ideas in improvement. In most cases, PLAN follows the path of USN (like 052C + combat system, 071/LCAC, Type 920 hospital ship). In this case, it seems like PLAN found German navy's Ensdorf class to be the one that would be the best for its given requirements. The dimensions of 804 is very similar to Ensdorf class and the dimensions of this new Type 8041 drone is very similar to Seehund drones. It looks like 804 will be operating with 3 or 4 of these drones + ROVs in disposing mines.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

China Maritime Surveillance

In the recent time, the Fisheries Law Enforcement Command made a lot of noise with the deployment of YuZheng-310 to South China Sea. Even so, China Maritime Surveillance has slowly become the biggest fish of the five Chinese coast guard agencies as mentioned in the last post on this project. The force is responsible for enforcing laws and order within China’s territorial waters, exclusive economic zones. Since China is having so many disputes with USA and neighbouring countries recently on the issue of territorial waters and EEZ, CMS has clearly jumped to prominence over time.

It is taking over some of the roles previously assigned to the navy, so it's not surprising to see that the naval expansion also led to CMS expansion. In fact, it has received some 037 ships as part of this recent movement in retiring PLAN ships into the Coast Guard force. As PLAN rise in stature, CMS is also continuing to rise in stature. Unlike its military counterpart, I see a balanced growth of each of the fleet of the North, East and South Sea Headquarter of CMS. This trend clearly differs from that of PLAN, which favours the growth of blue water assets for SSF and anti-access assets for ESF (while leaving NSF to rot).

This is a recent summary of the major cutters of each of the three HQs of CMS.

North Sea
Haijian-284435 ton
Haijian-221200 ton
Haijian-271200 ton
Haijian-18997 ton
Haijian-171150 ton
Haijian-11800 ton

East Sea
Haijian-523167 ton
Haijian-511730 ton
Haijian-461324 ton
Haijian-531324 ton
Haijian-49997 ton
Haijian-47800 ton
Haijian-62800 ton

South Sea
Haijian-814435 ton
Haijian-833980 ton
Haijian-711324 ton
Haijian-72890 ton
Haijian-731117 ton
Haijian-74997 ton

This expansion of CMS was made into part of the 10th 5 year plan in 2000. The first phase of the buildup happened from 2004 to 2005. A 3000-ton class Haijian-83 was built by JiangNan shipyard. A 1500-ton class Haijian-51 was built by WuChang shipyard. Three 1000-ton class Type 1 Haijian-46, 17 and 71 were built by WuChang shipyard. A final 1000-ton class Type 2 Haijian-27 was built by HuangPu shipyard.

We have now reached the second phase of the CMS buildup. There are numerous cutters being built at multiple naval shipyards for CMS. In the Huangpu shipyard, there have been two cutters Haijian-23 and Haijian-75 that have been launched recently.

They are two of the four 1000 ton Type-II class cutters that are on order for HP. They are 75.8 m long and 10.2 wide. It's actually quite amazing to see how fast these 2 ships got launched. They only began earlier this year and will be delivered before the end of the year.

In the WuChang shipyard, Haijian-15 and Haijian-84 are currently launched and fitting out the electronics.

They are the 2 1500 ton class cutter that are on order for WuChang. Each cutter is 88 m long, 12 m wide and has 5.6 m draft. The actual displacement of the ship is 1740 ton. They were launched earlier this year and may be delivered before the end of the year. Although, WuChang does not build ship as fast as HP, so it probably won't make that time frame.

Finally, a 3000-ton class Haijian-50 started construction in WuChang in April of this year and is scheduled to be delivered to East Sea in May of Next Year. It will be similar to the Haijian-83 built for South Sea.

On top of that, WuChang is also contracted to build numerous 600-ton cutters for CMS. So, WuChang clearly has a large part in this 2nd phase of CMS build up. I would say that HP shipyard is making much better progress on its orders from the recent photos. Although, I'm sure 054As and Yuan submarines are still getting higher priority in these shipyard than the CMS ships.

The third phase of the buildup is probably going to happen at the end of the 12th 5 year plan if we go by the time line of the first 2 phases of the buildup. One of the projections is that they will be going for 3 5000-ton class, 3 4500-ton class, 4 3000-ton class, 6 2000-ton class, 16 1500-ton class and 14 1000-ton class. I doubt that they will go for that many, but the next phase will probably be larger, because PLAN will be expected to operate further away from the shore. With PLAN (especially SSF) becoming more blue water, CMS will only be given more tasks to protect China's shoreline. So, I think WuChang and HuangPu shipyard will be really busy cranking new cutters out in 3 or 4 years.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

New wave of Chinese naval ship construction + closer look in its SSK program

I think that the period of late 2002 to 2007 was probably China's first naval shipbuilding boom. During that period, we saw a lot of new platforms introduced like the new DDGs(051C,052B/C), new FFGs (054, 054A) and even larger ships (like replenishment ships and Type 071 LPD). After that, we had a couple of years in 2008 and 2009 where we had a lull and only saw the end of the 022 production run, numerous 054As and some Yuan coming out. The only new ship we saw were the large hospital ship and the new submarine tender.

Part of the reason for this slow down was the move of JiangNan shipyard to ChangXin and changes in other major shipyards. A larger reason for this is the raw number of new hardware coming into service that was simply overwhelming PLAN's ability to absorb them. A final reason is the PLAN philosophy in introducing new platforms. They typically make a huge leap in the first prototype while continuing to building ships of existing variant. Once they sort out all of the problems in the first prototype, they start to mass produce this new class. As they mass produce, they continue to make smaller tweaks until the end of the production run. A typical example of this is the 054 series. They commissioned a pair of 054s in 2004, but they built 2 more older Jiangwei class frigates after that. By 2006, they started to mass produce the improved variant 054A. They have made a couple of small changes after the first 4 054As, but the production run have generally remained constant throughout the past 4 years. We have seen 10 054As appearing by now. In some cases like 022, they built the first 4 units and it did not take very long before they really started cranking them out.

And finally, there are the destroyers and the amphibious ships. 052C was a huge technology leap from what China had before. The jump was so huge that PLAN did not order another 052 series DDG until the current DDGs under construction in JiangNan (a span of 5 years). Type 071 LPD is another example where the leap was huge. The first ship 998 was commissioned by late 2007, but we only started seeing the second unit under construction in the past few months. They took a long time to learn how to operate a much larger amphibious ship with support for multiple helicopters and LCACs. I believe that we have really entered a second shipbuilding boom for PLAN, because mass production has started for some of those prototype units they built in the first period of boom.

The most interesting case study is probably PLAN's conventional submarine program. They built the first song submarine 039 in 1994. Even though it was not very advanced, China was so technologically backward back then that it didn't enter service until 5 years later. They made several changes and commissioned 3 of these modified Song (039G class) submarine from 2001 to 2003. They made some more smaller changes and really mass produced 9 to 12 of these improved Song (039G1 class) submarine from 2004 to 2006. These are currently the workhorse of PLAN. At the same time, they launched the lead unit in the Yuan (039A class) submarine in 2004, which probably commissioned in 2006. I would say that the technological leap from 039G1 to 039A was not all that great, but it still took them 3 years before we saw the next Yuan submarine coming out. The next 3 Yuan submarine launched in 2007 and 2008 were slightly modified from the first Yuan, so we could call that 039A1. The interesting part is that we did not see any more photos after the early part of 2008 of new unit (at least none that we were sure about). There was possibly one as shown below, but I'm not 100% sure.

While this was happening, I heard a lot of rumours that there were a bunch of new submarines under construction at WuChang shipyard. This was obviously verified in the past month when we saw that mysterious new diesel submarine showing up. I've been calling it 039B, but PLAN probably has a different designation for it. It probably represents a much larger evolution in technology over Yuan compared against Yuan's evolution from Song. So, I would say that this submarine is in the same position that Yuan was in 2004 to 2005. Another similarity is that Yuan submarines are still getting pumped out. These are a couple of pictures that shows the new submarine with a Yuan class submarine in the background. I do find the submarine in the background to be slightly different from the previous Yuan submarines (as shown in the first photo). The front top edge of the sail seems to be curved and it's also hard to see any torpedo tube launchers. If we look at the second photo (which gives a better prospective of the sizes), I would say that the new submarine has much longer sail and is probably a little larger too. Since Yuan is already quite a large conventional submarine, the new one seems to be designed to be quite an ocean going submarine. It's quite possible that we've had a couple of other units of this slightly modified Yuan submarine built in the past 2 years, but the pictures from WuChang shipyard don't come out as often. We know that JiangNan shipyard has started to crank out naval vessels again, so both WC and JN are probably building Yuan submarine at this point. It's the same scenario that we had in 2004/2005 with Song and Yuan. At that point, we were seeing 3 or 4 submarines coming out each year for a 3 years production run. That probably would not happen this time around, but we will probably see mass production of the latest variant of Yuan until the new submarine is ready for mass production.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

More detailed look at Chinese "LCAC"

Before, we starting looking at the Chinese version of LCAC, I have a couple of pictures showing the new amphibious ship under construction in HuDong shipyard. They have finally assembled all the modules together so that we can see the hull of the ship as a whole sitting in the dry dock. It broadly takes the hull shape of Type 071's lead ship 998. A bunch of fanboys have tried to point out minor differences here and there, but I don't want to really conclude anything before it really takes shape. For LPD, China seemed to have taken the typical path of building one lead ship, learn how to use it, sort out the problems and then mass producing later. We seemed to have moved onto the mass production phase now with this second unit.

Speaking of mass production, the 5th 054A of HD shipyard has been uncovered and is shown below. For those counting, we have basically 6 054A in service. We have 2 054A launched at HP shipyard. One of which already had number painted, but returned for some reason. We also have another 054A launched at HD shipyard that's getting the electronics installed right now. At this point, I don't know if they will build any more pairs of 054As after this 5th pair.

And finally, a more close look at the Chinese LCAC. Once in a while, we actually get a detailed description of a new PLAN asset. Although I can't be sure this is 100% accurate, it's still a good source to look at.
In the first picture, we see a nice diagram with description of each part. We can see that the steering cabin (or bridge? Not sure what I should be calling it) is on the right side of the picture and the left side if we are on the craft looking forward. On the American LCAC, it's on the other side. Following that, we see 1 large engine cabin on each side with a smokestack pointing out. After that, we see 2 lift fans on both side. And finally, we see the large propellers. The deck of the Chinese LCAC is 28.8m long, 50% longer than American counterpart and can carry 2 light armored combat vehicles.

This one really does a nice comparison. It states that the Chinese LCAC has much inferior maneuverability compared to the American LCAC. Then, it describes in what ways the American LCAC can move and shift that the Chinese one just can't. I think the author is attributing this to American one having 2-shrouded reversible pitch airscrews.

The specs themselves are more interesting. According to the table, the Chinese one is 33 m in length vs 26.8. It is 16.8 m wide vs 13.3 m. The deck is 28.8 m vs 20.4 m in length but 7.2 m vs 8.24 m in width. It makes sense since the Chinese propeller and engine cabin take more space. Front ramp is 7.5 m vs 8.65 m and the rear ramp is 4.9 m vs 4.5 m. The Chinese LCAC has a payload of 60 ton and displacement of 170 ton vs 68 ton and 165 ton for the American one. They both have maximum speed of about 40 knots and range of 200 nm. Chinese one is powered by 2 QC-70 engines (7000 kw each) and American one is powered by 4 TF-40B (3400 kw each).