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The People's Liberation Army Navy Surface Force is a branch of the People's Liberation Army Navy. It consists of all surface warships in operational service with the PLAN. The Ships are organized into three fleets: the North Sea Fleet, the East Sea Fleet, and the South Sea Fleet. The People's Liberation Army Navy is turning away from its traditional focus on coastal and littoral warfare and instead prioritising the development of blue water capabilities. This has led to a significant reduction in fleet numbers as the PLAN replaced a larger number of smaller ships with a smaller number of larger and more capable ships, including aircraft carriers, large destroyer, amphibious warfare ships and large auxiliary assets.
For the submarine branch of the People's Liberation Army Navy, please see: People's Liberation Army Navy Submarine Force.
The 67,000 tonne Liaoning is currently the sole operational aircraft carrier in service with the PLAN. Liaoning, previously known as the Varyag, is an Admiral Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier which the Chinese purchased from Ukraine in 1998 through a private tourist venture in Macau. At the time, Varyag was only 70% completed and stripped of all military equipment as well as her propulsion. After the purchase, Varyag was towed to Dalian, where she underwent extensive refurbishment, coordinated by the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company. On 10 August 2011, it was announced that the refurbishment of the new Liaoning was complete, and that the ship was undergoing sea trials. Liaoning was finally commissioned on September 25, 2012.
In July 2011, a senior researcher of the Academy of Military Sciences said China needed at least three aircraft carriers for its fleet. During the same month, another Chinese official announced that two aircraft carriers were being built at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, the aircraft carriers are reportedly based on a similar design to the Liaoning, suggesting a displacement of approximately 65,000 tonnes. A new Chinese variant of the Sukhoi Su-33 fighter aircraft, known as the Shenyang J-15 (or Flying Shark) are expected to fly from the new aircraft carriers.
In 2013, Chinese media reported that the PLAN is designing and planning to build a 110,000 tonne 'super aircraft carrier'. Media reports also stated that the current aircraft carriers under construction are based on the Liaoning, but would be larger and would displace around 80,000 tonnes. The PLA Navy plans to establish three aircraft carrier battle groups by 2020. The Liaoning and China's first domestically built carrier, currently under construction, will be part of the battle groups. One of the battle groups is to be deployed in the East China Sea, while the other two are to be deployed to the South China Sea.
The recent construction of the large Yuzhao-class amphibious transport docks (LPDs) (pictured) indicates an important shift toward blue water capabilities for the PLAN. However, the Landing Ship, Tanks (LSTs) of the 072 series still constitute the core of PLAN amphibious capabilities. With approximately 26 confirmed in service, the PLAN possesses the capabilities to conduct amphibious operations in the littoral waters of the South East Asian region, as well as a limited capability in outer sea landings. Most vessels are only capable of transporting troops while some are capable of transporting limited numbers of armored vehicles. For a list of smaller amphibious craft of the PLAN, see: List of active People's Liberation Army Navy amphibious watercraft.
Destroyers are the largest principal surface combatants in the People's Liberation Army Navy. Since its humble beginnings in 1949, impressive advances have been made over the past two decades, with modern Chinese destroyers now generations ahead of their earlier counterparts. These destroyers are in no way built in such great numbers as the US Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. However, China's rapidly expanding military and shipbuilding capacity should be able to keep pace with PLAN requirements.
The People's Liberation Army Navy had traditionally focused on the principles of coastal defense. With this came a series of warship designs based on the Soviet Navy's own destroyers and frigates. The first PLAN destroyers were the Anshan class, directly purchased from the Soviet Union. These were armed with torpedoes and various surface- and air-warfare guns. The Anshan's effectiveness in naval warfare was significantly enhanced with the torpedo tubes being replaced by anti-ship missile launchers. Although retired from the active service, the Anshan class destroyers remain on PLAN's list and act as training ships and perform public relations duties.
The Luda class followed from the 1970s onwards, with many similarities to the Soviet Kotlin class. The Ludas are armed with six anti-ship missiles and various guns and ASW weapons. Both the Luda and Anshan were key vessels to PLAN's coastal defense doctrines, as small coastal defense destroyers. These ships were all armed with mostly manually operated air defense artillery with no surface-to-air missiles and no ASW torpedoes. One Luda class ship, 160, was lost in an accident. By the mid 1990s, all Anshan class destroyers were retired. The PLAN focus shifted in the 1980s. With the import of Western systems, and a focus on blue-water multi-role operations, the Luhu class emerged. The first vessel, Harbin (112) (seen and commissioned by the early 1990s), was a significant shift from traditional Chinese warship design. There was much more focus on air defense and ASW warfare, including the installation an 8-celled Crotale launcher, a short range missile system later indigenously produced as HQ-7. A second vessel, the Qingdao was launched later in the mid 1990s. Towards the end of the 1990s, the Luhai class was introduced as an enlarged version of the Luhu. These ships were the first truly modern combat vessels with blue water and multi-role operations in mind. These destroyers were still obsolete by Western standards, and delays in their construction resulted in just three being built. Since the late 1980s, the older Luda, and later the Luhu and Luhai classes have been through various upgrade and refit programmes. Both 112 and 113 of the Luhu class, and 167 of the Luhai class have undergone major refits. All three now carry sixteen YJ83 Anti-ship missiles, improved HQ-7 SAM (Based on the Crotale), and enhanced electronic, sensor and weaponry capabilities. Upgraded to the Luda class have been more sporadic. One vessel was refitted with a double hangar and helicopter deck. At least four others have been upgraded with HQ-7 short range SAM, new automatic air defense artillery (as opposed to the old manual mounts), torpedoes and sixteen YJ83 anti-ship missiles. Though the other remaining ships continue to retain original weaponry, they have all undergone major refits to extend their surface lives. All Ludas are being fitted with satellite communications and navigation systems to allow them to operate beyond coastal waters.
In 1996, China signed a deal with Russia for the purchase of two Sovremenny class destroyers. The first ship arrived in January 2000 and the second in January 2001. These ships significantly improve the PLAN's fighting capabilities. Each ship displaces 7,940 tons full loaded. Weaponry included ASW torpedoes and mortar launchers, AK-630 automatic CIWS cannons, two twin mountings of 130 mm rapid fire cannons, the short-medium ranged SA-N-12 Grizzly Surface to Air Missile and the SS-N-22 Sunburn supersonic sea-skimming anti-ship missile. Two improved Sovremenny class vessels were acquired in 2002, and include a longer range SS-N-22 missile, improved air defense missiles, and the Kashtan CIWS cannon and missile combination.
Since 2003, three new classes of indigenous destroyers have emerged. The Type 052B destroyer was the first, and features a stealthy design, modern layout, and adopted many Russian and indigenous weapons and sensors. Its armament included two indigenously designed Type 730 CIWS (first of its kind in China), sixteen YJ83 anti-ship missiles, two SA-N-12 Grizzly air defense missile launchers (48 missiles, 50 km range), torpedoes, anti-submarine rockets, a 100 mm artillery mount, and a hangar to hold one Kamov KA-28 ASW helicopter. This was followed by the Type 052C destroyer, which included 4 statically mounted phased array radars of indigenous design, providing the ship with continuous 360 degree coverage for search, tracking and direction for multiple SAM missiles. The Type 052C destroyer was the first PLAN warship to utilize a Vertical Launching System, with HQ-9 long range air defense missile (48 missiles, 200 km range, similar to the Russian S-300 missile). It is also armed with a new anti-ship cruise missile known as the YJ-62. The third class was the Type 051C destroyer. This class uses the same hull and layout as the Luhai class. Initial construction was delayed by the slow acquisition of the Russian S-300FM long range SAM. The ship uses VLS launchers with 48 rounds of the S-300FM. The S-300FM is capable of engaging low to high altitude targets as far as 150 km. The most recent class to be developed is the new Type 052D destroyers.
Frigates are the most numerous principal surface combatants in the People's Liberation Army Navy. In spite of the more recent trend to construction of larger warships, like destroyers, this status is unlikely to change in the near future.
Frigates were the first large surface combatants made available to the PLAN. The Soviet Union sold several frigates to the PLAN in the 1950s, including the Riga-class frigates. These frigates became the foundation of Chinese built designs, such as the Type 053 frigates. These ships were mostly armed with naval guns, though later designs managed to replace torpedo tubes with a twin launcher for SS-N-2 Styx anti-ship missiles.
Initial attempts to fit anti-aircraft missiles to frigates resulted in a single ship known as the Jiangdong. The ship was completed in 1970 carrying two twin launchers for the HQ-61B short ranged SAM, this vessel served as the sole PLAN SAM capable frigate until the 1990s. Its effectiveness in engaging missiles and aircraft was thought to be limited. The same hull was later used for the Jianghu class (Type 053H) class. During the 1970s the PLAN introduced the Jianghu class. Essentially, a scaled down version of the Luda class of destroyers, this large class of missile frigates would have many follow-on variants. The first hull, 515 Xiamen was completed in 1975, and mass production followed until 1996. All Jianghu class ships are armed with four SY-2 anti-ship missiles (indigenous and improved versions of initial Soviet SS-N-2 Styx). Gun armaments vary across the class, including a single 100 mm mount or a more modern Type 79 100 mm twin mounts. The latest eight hulls (built during the early 1990s) feature automatic twin 37 mm Type 76A AA guns. One Jianghu, hull 516, was refitted recently to carry a battery of 122 mm rockets, fixed on stabilized launchers. A total of 27 Jianghu Is were built, and they remain in use today with various upgrades and refits to extend their service life. The vessels are deficient in modern anti-aircraft, anti-ship and anti-submarine fighting capabilities.
The first Chinese frigate to carry a helicopter was a modified Jianghu II, the Siping 544, dubbed as the Jianghu IV class. Only one ship was modified, despite great optimism that most of the class would follow suit. The Siping is believed to perform more as a test ship, with a single helicopter hangar and a new single 100 mm gun mount similar to the French Creusot-Loire rapid fire main gun. Its fighting capabilities have been retained with twin SY-2 missiles and AA guns. The fitting of the helicopter hangar meant the sacrifice of the aft SY-2 missile launchers. A further step for the Jianghu class was made by the appearance of the Jianghu III/V class, first commissioned in 1986. These ships are the first to have air conditioning onboard Chinese warships. They feature heavy Western influence, and instead of using the SY-2 missiles, they are armed with the YJ8 series. The Jianghu V class carries the YJ82 with extended range. There are three ships in the Jianghu III class and six ships in Jianghu V class.
The Jiangwei I class was launched in 1991 and represented a shift away from the old Jianghu concept. Major features included a sextuple HQ-61B SAM launcher, modernized electronics and radar, six YJ8 missiles, automatic Type 76F anti-aircraft guns and a hangar and helicopter deck for one French AS 565 or Z-9C helicopter. Four of the Jiangwei I were built between 1990 and 1994. Though a great versatile design, it suffered the same weaknesses in air defense, as its SAM had to be manually reloaded as well as unsatisfactory performance. The four ships have been refitted since for life extension, and continue to serve the PLAN. The HQ-61 SAM system was later replaced by HQ-7 SAM systems during refits. The first Jiangwei II was launched in 1997. This has a similar design layout to the Jiangwei I but has incorporated major improvements. These included eight (not six) YJ82/3 missiles, octuple HQ-7 SAM (replacing the HQ-61B), improved fully automated main gun, and a redesigned aft structure. Ten Jiangwei IIs have been built, the last ship commissioned in 2005. All Jiangweis have since been refitted with a stealthier gun casing for their 100 mm main guns.
In 2005, The Jiangkai I Type 054 frigate entered PLAN service (hulls 525 and 526). The Type 054 is considerably stealthier than all previous PLAN frigate designs. The Type 054 Ma'anshan class is armed with an HQ-7 octuple launcher, eight YJ83 anti-ship missiles, a 100 mm main gun, four AK630 CIWS turrets, ASW torpedoes and rocket launchers, carries one Ka-28 Helix or Z-9C, and displaces 3,400 tons. This represents a new generation of frigate design in the PLAN, and a shifting focus on larger multi-role platforms. The air defense missile armament is no better than the Jiangwei II class although this may be upgraded later. The Type 054 has now been superseded by the Jiangkai II Type 054A frigate, which is in series production. The 054A features a number of important improvements over the original 054. The main air defense armament has been upgraded to a 32-cell VLS HQ-16 medium-range SAM system, giving area air-defence capability for the first time to PLAN frigates. In addition, the four AK630 CIWS have been replaced by two autonomous Type 730 CIWS. The Type 054A is altogether a well balanced and stealthy frigate design, with considerable firepower and multi-role versatility.
Corvettes are the smallest principal surface combatants in the People's Liberation Army Navy and the first modern corvette class to be operated by the PLAN. Traditionally the PLAN operated extensive fleets of missile and gun boats for defence of its littoral waters. However as the PLAN moved towards developing blue water capabilities, there is a growing need to replace a larger number of smaller vessels with a smaller number of larger and much more capable vessels. A total of 20 corvettes are initially planned, but it is expected that anywhere up-to 60 corvettes could be eventually brought into active service.
Following the designing and building of the Pattani class corvette for the Royal Thai Navy in the mid-2000s, speculation of a domestic variant of the design was rife. The speculations were confirmed in November 2010 during a visit by Maj. Gen. Wang Junli, Deputy commander of the Hong Kong Garrison and the Hong Kong University's Vice-Chancellor Tsui Lap-chee when a model of the Type 056 was presented. The first ship was launched in May 2012.
Though the Type 056 appears in the 21st century, the design concept can be referred to as early as the 1980s, when the PLAN were considering developing a larger patrol ship to replace the Type 037 to improve the living conditions on the ship, which was firstly called by Type 038. However, this concept was not realized until the appearance of Type 056 in 2012 due to the shortage of funds.
The Type 056 has a stealthy hull design with sloped surface and a reduced superstructure clutter. There is a helipad at the stern for a light helicopter but has no organic helicopter support facilities. The main anti-ship armament consists of YJ-83 sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missiles in two twin-cell launchers. The primary anti-aircraft armament is one FL-3000N short range missile system with 8 rounds. A 76 mm main gun based on a Russian AK-176 is mounted forward. 2 triple torpedo tubes are mounted for ASW operations. Type 056 is the first Chinese warship with modular design, which makes it cover the roles from OPV to multi-role frigate. The PLAN used versions may include patrol type, ASW type, ASuW type, AAW type and commander type; while the export versions can be quite differently fitted according to consumer's requirement. For the moment, at least 3 variants of Type 056 for export exist with the same design of hull but varying bridge designs and armament layouts.
With increasing acquisition of destroyers, submarines, frigates and auxiliary support assets, missile and gun boats mostly disappeared from the PLAN fleet, with numbers reduced dramatically. However new classes of missile attack boats continue to be built to replace older types.
The PLAN's main focus until the 1980s was a sharp emphasis on coastal defense and littoral warfare. This was influenced from early engagements where the Communist forces found the value of small maneuverable craft against larger, better armed but slower Nationalist ships. Early littoral craft in the PLAN's inventory included riverine craft and gun boats converted from various ships. This was later added to in the 1950s by Soviet-designed gun and torpedo attack craft. Such gun craft included the Kronstadt class heavily armed gun boats which served the PLAN until the 1980s. Soviet missile attack craft were later added to the fleet, including the Komar and Osa type fast attack missile craft. Although most littoral designs bore Soviet influence, there were quite a few indigenous designs or copies of Soviet-type craft. Hundreds of vessels were deployed by the fleet, serving as the backbone of the PLAN until a higher emphasis was placed upon bluewater naval operations. Despite availability of frigates and destroyers, the brunt of PLAN involvement in small-scale conflicts have been borne by the littoral forces. For instance, the various naval engagements between Chinese and Vietnamese naval forces were carried out by PLAN littoral craft.
Missile boats compose of the Houjian, Houxin and Houbei classes. The 478-ton Houxin design is based on the Hainan-class hull, but with a redesigned superstructure, new systems, two automatic twin-37 mm guns and four YJ8 series anti-ship missiles. Around 28 are in service, built since the 1990s. A much more sophisticated and stealthy design is the 520-ton Houjian class. Main armament of the Houjian design is the twin 37 mm mount, two 30 mm twin turrets, and six YJ8 series anti-ship missiles. The Houjian is far more capable, larger and more flexible than the Houxin, being based primarily in Hong Kong. The total number produced is not certain, but six craft are in service.
The latest generation missile attack craft is the 220X (Houbei) design. Seen since 2005, its most distinctive feature is its trimaran hull that can achieve maximum wave piercing performance at high speeds. The stealthy design has two missile-houses, that can possibly be fitted with various ordnance. Eight missiles of the YJ83 anti-ship missiles are believed to be carried, as well as a single AK630 CIWS for self-defense. Four hulls emerged by 2005, with another eight to twelve others being constructed as of 2006.
PLAN patrol vessels have been a traditional part of PLAN coastal defense strategies, and this category is further divided into two subcategories: gunboats and submarine chasers. One of the main missions of littoral gunboats are to search and destroy submarines, although the lack of ASW torpedoes and modern sonars hinder this role. Other roles include engaging enemy shipping, bombarding enemy shore targets, minelaying, transport, escort and patrol. Currently, there are three prominent classes in the frontline service. The Shanghai I/II class built since the 1960s in large numbers have been the main type of coastal attack vessel of the PLAN. It is considerably well armed for a vessel its size, equipped with two 37 mm manual AA guns and two 25 mm AAA. The Hainan class has proven itself to be a reliable design in many roles. Its main armament is two twin 57 mm guns, and two 25 mm AAA. The Hainan is also armed with anti-submarine multi-barrelled rockets and depth charges. There is provision for the fitment of four YJ8 series anti-ship missiles as well. The third class is a second generation improvement of the Hainan design, the Haiqing class. This has improved superstructure and automatic 37 mm AA guns. Unlike Western Navies, the PLAN has no dedicated patrol craft. Most patrol craft are operated by maritime paramilitary forces. There are at least four newly built dedicated harbour patrol craft operated by the PLAN (classified as PBI by the west), but mostly, numerous gunboats are deployed for harbour security and harbor patrol missions. Patrol roles of course can be carried out by the current gun attack and missile boats, as the PLAN focuses less upon coastal defense and more on multi-purpose ships.
The Chinese coastal and littoral waters are ideal for minefields and when the naval doctrine emphasized on coastal defense, this proved to be an advantage for the Chinese defenders. However, when the naval doctrine is shifted from coastal defense to venturing into blue water operations, the People's Liberation Army Navy suddenly found itself in serious deficit of mine countermeasure vessels, This situation is unlikely to change in the near future despite the Chinese effort to catch up.
Despite the extensive use of mines as a strategically important defensive and offensive weapon, the PLAN operates only a small number of mine warfare ships. These boats comprised mine-laying and mine-sweeping types. The PLAN operates a single Wolei class mine-layer. This ship was commissioned in 1988 and displaces 2400 tons full load. It can carry and lay up to 300 mines. There is little need of a dedicated mine-laying type however, as most PLA surface and submarine combatants can lay minefields. Minesweepers have served the PLAN since its founding. The most common type was the Type 010 minesweeper based on the Soviet T-43 Ocean minesweepers, imported and subsequently produced with modifications in reasonable numbers. 40 or so remain in active or reserve service. The T-43 is an aging but reliable design. One ship took part in one of the Sino-Vietnamese sea battles over the Spratley Islands. The T-43 is due to be replaced by a new class of ocean minesweeper. Currently two new classes of minesweeper have emerged since 2004. Coastal minesweeping is primarily conducted by the Wosao class. The number of these craft are unknown, but around a dozen is a safe estimation. This class first entered service in the late 1980s, and is still in low rate production. Coastal sweeping can also be conducted by around 20 modified Shanghai class named as Fushun class, and 46 Futi class minesweeping drones similar to the German design.
Fleet replenishment is the major constraint for the Chinese ambition of having a blue water navy. In order to have full blue water operation capability at any given time on its own (without the support of foreign ports), the tonnage ratio of replenishment ships to combatants alone should be 40%, i.e. for every five tonnes of displacement of combatants, there should be two tonnes of displacement of the replenishment ships. Not only do the Chinese lack the necessary tonnage ratio needed, most of its naval replenishment force currently consists of aging ships that are near the end of their life.
Fleet replenishment has been an expanding element in PLAN auxiliaries. The PLAN view the need of replenishment ships as vital for blue water fleet operations. Since the 1970s, underway replenishment has been widely practiced by destroyer and frigate combatants. In many overseas visits, a tanker has traditionally accompanied the visiting ship. The first replenishment ships built for the dedicated task of fleet refueling were the Fuqing-class replenishment ship, of which two remain in service. The next fleet replenishment vessel was purchased from Russia in the 1990s, being the single Nancang (Fusu-class). This ship is significantly superior to the Fuqing-class in terms of refueling systems and the storage capacity. Two new hulls of the indigenous Fuchi-class were commissioned into service by 2005. With five ships (and possibly a sixth vessel), the PLAN's ability to operate further away from home has been significantly enhanced. The demands of modern day warfare has meant that logistic support ships in the navy are becoming vital.
The PLAN operates a very large number and variety of auxiliary vessels that are capable of supporting fleet and military operations both in a coastal and ocean theatres of war. PLAN auxiliary vessels are present in all three fleets, stationed in many naval bases and have increasingly exercised frequently alongside combatants. PLAN auxiliaries include tugboats, freighters, tankers, submarine tenders, research, survey ships, missile and satellite monitoring platforms, ice breakers, repair and communications, electronic warfare and monitoring, transport and training ships. The following is a list if auxiliaries thought to be in service with the PLAN. However no list can be entirely accurate and may contain significant inaccuracies.
Electronic monitoring ships
Training and experimental ships
Missile and satellite monitoring ships