In April 2015, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), the U.S. Navy’s intelligence arm, released its latest report on the PLAN, titled “The PLA Navy New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century”. In it, ONI identified several key PLAN trends of concern to the US military, including the development of new anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) systems with additional power projection capabilities, and increases in PLAN training and global deployment.
In the six years since the last 2009 ONI report, the PLAN is stated to have made substantive improvements in technical capability and operational experience. One of the most notable is the Type 052D destroyer and HHQ-9B and YJ-18 missile combination. First commissioned in 2014, the Type 052D Luyang III guided missile destroyers (DDG) is China’s most capable air defense and multirole destroyer, equaling the AEGIS combat system in some regards. One such Luyang III DDG is seen here at dockside, loading an HHQ-9B canister into one of its forward vertical launch system (VLS) cells. The PLA Navy is looking to build up to 12 Luyang IIIs before transitioning on to the bigger Type 055 cruiser.
The HHQ-9B is a variant of the long range surface to air missile (SAM) HQ-9 family, of which beat American, European and Russian competitors to win a Turkish air defense contract in 2013. The Office of Naval Intelligence states that the HHQ-9B has a range of 150km, beating out the older 90km ranged HHQ-9 to make it China’s longest ranged naval SAM. The Luyang III DDGs, in addition to its 64 versatile VLS that carry a mixture of SAMs and cruise missiles, has four powerful Type 346 active array radars that can detect stealth and conventional aircraft up to 500km away.
Type 094 SSBN
ONI also stated that China has four Type 094 Jin class nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). Displacing about 9,000 tons submerged, each Type 094 SSBN carries 12 8,000km ranged JL-2 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). The JL-2 SLBM does not have the range to hit the continental U.S. inside protected Chinese territorial waters, but the future four Type 094 SSBNs are expected to carry the 12,000km-15,000km range JL03 SLBM, which can reach anywhere in the world from Chinese waters.
In six years’ time, the 2021 ONI report on the PLAN could feature the continuation of current trends, such as the launch of another Chinese aircraft carrier, more quite submarines and larger warships. Additionally, the PLAN of the early 2020s is likely to be testing stealthy drones, underwater robotic swarms, lasers and rail guns. These are all key parts of the US “Third Offset” plan to stay ahead of China, potentially making it less an “offset” and more a “match.”
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