Sunday, August 12, 2012

Type 056 Class

I've talked about the Type 056 class before, but this is a more in depth look at it now that we are seeing mass production across numerous shipyards. Ever since we first saw 022 and 054 class in the middle 2000s, we've speculated about a new class of ship between 1000 and 1500 ton to fill in the middle and replace the patrolling duties of the Type 037 class and Jianghu class light frigates. As early as 2008, I put an entry where I talked about this. In the recent years, we've seen the expansion of China's civilian maritime surveillance force with the induction of many new cutters. A lot of the cutters built for CMS and FLEC fleet are already taking up the role of patrolling South China Sea and East China Sea in the disputed regions. It certainly raises tension when warships are patrolling the disputed regions. When we saw a Type 056 model presented by the deputy commander of the PLA Hong Kong Garrison in late 2010, discussions about the number, the role and the capabilities of this new Type 056 class started again. It seemed like at least four of the first batch 056 will be replacing the 6 Type 037 currently assigned to protecting Hong Kong. Outside of that, I saw heated discussions in forum over whether these ships are needed when the cutters are already such a big part of China's near shore security force. But the recent grounding of Jianghu class 560 shows that PLAN is still a very large part of the patrolling effort in China's surrounding waters. In fact, 6 Jianghu class frigate (558 to 563) were upgraded in 2010 for the very purpose of patrolling South China Sea so that the more advanced Type 054A and 052C class ships can be used for blue water operations. After all, these civilian ships (with maximum speed of 18 to 20 knots) aren't likely to be too useful if a real conflict breaks out with Vietnam. Over the few months, we've seen the Type 056 program exploding in four different shipyards around the country. We've seen at least 2 056s in HD shipyard, which also produces 054A and 071 amongst many other naval ships. We've also seen at least 2 056s in HP shipyard, which also produces 054A, cutters and rescue ships. We've also seen one 056 launched in WuChang shipyard with possibly more under construction. WC typically produces conventional submarines and large cutters. Most surprisingly, we've also seen one 056 launched recently in LiaoNan shipyard in Dalian. This is not the Dalian shipyard that has done all the works with Varyag and 051C, but a smaller shipyard more known for repairing ships. Although, it did build some Type 022 class FACs. The 056 class itself is probably most comparable to the K130 class of Germany (although smaller and probably has less endurance). It features a rather stealthy hull like most modern ships of its class. At front, it carries 1 AK-176M main gun and two of the new 30 mm CIWS on each side of the foremast. It uses Type 360 radar for volume search and type TR47 FCR for the CIWS. At back, it carries a 8-cell HQ-10 SAM with its accompanying FCR. In the middle, it carries 2 dual-pack YJ-83 launchers for ASuW. I was one of those that thought Type 056 would carry S-100 UAVs in its small hangars like the K130 class. As it turned out, the space that I thought were hangars are actually carrying torpedo tubes. Along with its sonar suite (including bow mounted sonar) and possible helicopters for short patrols, these ships should provide for ASW with conventional submarines in near water. The first launched Type 056 ships are not equipped with Tow Array Sonar. My guess is that the torpedo tubes can easily be removed to provide for hangar space for UAVs for the variant of Type 056 built more for SAR, patrolling and ASuW in mind. I think we are already seeing some minor differences between different 056s hulls, which could point to different variants of 056s.