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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 67,500 ton Liaoning (ex-Varyag), an Admiral Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier, was only 70% completed and floating in Ukraine when she was purchased through a private tourist venture in Macau in 1998. She was stripped of any military equipment as well as her propulsion before she was put up for sale. She was later towed to Dalian, where she has undergone extensive refurbishment coordinated by Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company. On 10 August 2011, it was announced that the refurbishment of Liaoning was complete, and that the ship was undergoing sea trials. The Brazilian Navy is expected to provide training to PLAN officers in carrier operations in exchange for assistance on nuclear submarine technology and additional funding. The PLAN has reportedly constructed a concrete mock-up of an aircraft carrier flight deck on top of a government building near Wuhan, to use for training carrier pilots and carrier operations personnel. She was commissioned on September 25, 2012.
Beginning in 1985 with the acquisition of the ex-Australian carrier HMAS Melbourne, Chinese shipyards have gained some exposure to aircraft carrier design. This was followed by the acquisition of the ex-Soviet carriers Minsk in 1994, Kiev in 1996 and Varyag in 1998. A deal to purchase the ex-French carrier Clemenceau fell through in 1997. In July 2011, a senior researcher of the Academy of Military Sciences said China needed at least three aircraft carriers for its fleet. That month, another Chinese official announced that two aircraft carriers were being built at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai. These ships are believed to be 50,000 – 60,000 ton Type 089 class aircraft carriers based on the Varyag design, and are currently projected to be completed in 2015. Sukhoi Su-33s (navalized Flankers) are the aircraft most likely to be flown from these carriers, but China is also developing its own version of the Sukhoi 33, the Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark.
The recent construction of large amphibious transport docks (LPDs) indicates the shift toward blue water operations. The Yuzhou class LPD represents a major step forward in the Chinese plan for a blue water navy.
The Landing Ship, Tank (LSTs) and Landing Ship Medium (LSMs) constitute the core of PLAN amphibious capabilities. With more than 90 confirmed in service, the PLAN possesses amphibious assets capable of operating in littoral operations 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.
The PLAN indigenous destroyer classes (051, 052, 051B, 052B, 052C, 051C and 052D) listed below is in the historic sequence, that is, 051 is oldest and 052D is newest. At first glance, the alternating of 051 and 052 is confusing. In the PLAN nomenclature, however, 051 and 052 are not names of generations, but indicate the types of the ship's main engine. Destroyers with type prefix 051 use steam turbines and the ones with 052 use gas turbines. China had issues producing gas turbine indigenously for the destroyers and gas turbine had to be imported. Type 052 ships use LM2500. Since 1989, however, LM2500 cannot be imported anymore due to the arms embargo. The newer 052 ships (052B/C) use the Zorya-Mashproekt DA80/DN80 gas turbine design from the Ukraine; initial mechanical difficulties with the Ukrainian gas turbines resulted in the steam turbine versions (Type 051B and 051C) being developed in parallel. The later 052D ships use the domestic QC280 gas turbine equivalents of the DA80 gas turbines.
The PLAN destroyer fleet has progressed significantly since its humble beginnings in 1949. Impressive advances have been made just in the past 2 decades and modern Chinese destroyers are now generations ahead of their earlier counterparts. These destroyers are in no way built in such great numbers as the US Arleigh Burke class. 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, four new classes of indigenous destroyers have emerged:
The Type 052B (Luyang I) class features a stealthy design, modern layout, and adopted many Russian and indigenous weapons/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 (Luyang II) class, 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 VLS missiles, 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.
As of middle of 2012, it appears PLAN is mass producing 052C type destroyer, with at least 4 in construction and some soon to be inducted into service. At the same time, construction of two 052D hulls had been started at Jiangnan shipyard.
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 Jinan class. 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 the single ship Jiangdong class, which 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.
The PLAN's main focus until the 1980s was a sharp emphasis on coastal defense. This could be seen influenced from early engagements against the Republic of China naval forces, where 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.
Blue-water capabilities are now the most sought by the PLAN with increasing acquisition of destroyers, advanced submarines, frigates and auxiliary support assets. The torpedo attack boat has mostly disappeared from the PLAN fleet, and the force of missile, ASW and gun boats have reduced dramatically. Littoral warfare has not been completely pushed aside however. New classes of missile attack boats continue to be built to replace older types. Anti-submarine warfare is still seen as a high level mission of PLAN littoral craft. With more emphasis placed upon multi-role capabilities of sea borne rescue, patrol, transport and counter-piracy, littoral gunboat also remain important.
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 five (or some sources state nine) 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 littoral 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 and 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.
Naval auxiliaries are the major constraints 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 auxiliaries to combatants alone should be 40%, i.e. for every five tons of displacement of combatants, there should be two tons of displacement of the auxiliaries. Not only do the Chinese lack the necessary tonnage ratio needed, most of its naval auxiliary 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 practised 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 refuelling was the Taikang class, of which two remain in service (one was sold to Pakistan and another converted to civilian duties). The next fleet replenishment vessel was purchased from Russia in the 1990s, being the single Nancang. This ship is significantly superior to the Taikang in terms of refueling systems and the storage capacity. Two new hulls of the indigenous Qiandaohu 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 tugs, fleet replenishment ships, freighters, tankers, submarine tenders, research, survey ships, space event/monitoring platforms, ice breakers, repair and communications, electronic warfare and monitoring, transport and training ships.
There are several classes of submarine support ship, including the Dajiang and Hudong class. With such a large submarine fleet, it remains quite important for the PLAN to field a large number of coastal and ocean submarine support assets. The Hudong in particular is a rescue ship built during the 1960s, accommodating a rescue bell device. The larger Dajiangs can perform a wider range of support tasks, as well as carrying the Chinese designed DSRV for deep sea rescue operations. The PLAN is known to operate two dedicated training platforms. The first is the single Zheng He, a converted liner fitted with armaments to train PLAN cadets. The other training ship is the Shichang. It was designed with a double helicopter deck to operate as an aviation training ship. It has proven its usefulness as a multi-role platform though, capable of freighting operations due to the large amount of space on the helicopter deck. Sichang is very versatile, similar to the British Argus concept. It can perform aviation training, aviation operations, act as a freighter, hospital ship and military transport, and can carry small ships on its deck, in addition to regular cadet training operations.
Electronic tracking ships
Space Event Ships