Not since World War II has a single shipyard launched multiple large warships in a single day. But Hudong-Zhonghua Shipyard in Shanghai, one of China’s best naval and civilian shipyards, just did that. On January 22, 2015, it showed off its prowess in military mass production by simultaneously launching a Type 071 Landing Platform Dock (LPD) amphibious warship, a Type 054A frigate, and a Type 815G Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) ship. For comparison, the U.S. Navy commissioned only four warships (including a submarine) in all of 2014.
The Type 071 LPD, the fourth in the class is named Tanggula Shan and will be followed by at least two more Type 071 LPDs. Displacing between 20,000 and 25,000 tons, it can carry up to four Type 726 hovercrafts, which can transport a combination of 65 vehicles or 800 infantry across 60 km of ocean to shore, as well as six Z-8 transport helicopters. Once all six Type 071s enter service, China will have the second largest offshore amphibious assault capability in the world, after the U.S. Marine Corps. A task-force of Type 071s would provide decisive force to take or hold disputed small islands, or as the tip of the spear for a larger invasion from the sea.
The 4,500-ton Type 054A frigate, the 21st in the class, has improvements over the previous Type 054A frigates. It carries a variable depth sonar in its rear, to improve its submarine detection capabilities. It also has two Type 1130 Close In Weapons Systems (CIWS), replacing the previous two Type 730 CIWS. The Type 1130 CIWS has eleven 30mm barrels, and can fire up to 11,000 shells a minute. As China will likely face enemy submarines and supersonic anti-ship missiles in the near future near seas, 054A+’s upgrades would increase its chances of survival.
While not directly as lethal as its fellow debutants, the Type 815G ELINT spy ship will still provide a critical role in Chinese naval and joint operations. Of particular note are the two sensor domes on the Type 815G’s superstructure; the large size of those domes indicates high sensitivity to record distant enemy radar emissions, electronic jamming frequencies and communications signals. A Type 0815G spy ship showed up at the multinational RIMPAC 2014 exercise (where China was also a participant). In future cyber/kinetic operations, such as those that the late Air Sea Battle concept envisioned, the Type 815G spy ships will help Chinese commanders prepare and understand the battlefield.
The three warships of January 22, 2015 will be joined in the following years by other PLAN milestones, such as the Type 055 destroyer, domestically built aircraft carriers and the quiet Type 095 nuclear attack submarine. Modern naval construction techniques like modular building and computer aided design have improved the pace, cost effectiveness and capability of Chinese warships. Amidst sequestration and austerity triggered cutbacks, western navies are struggling to keep naval shipyards in business, China’s success in rapidly launching modern warships is even more stark.
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