PARIS, (BM) – “China is building the equivalent of the French Navy in four years,” Admiral Christophe Prazuck, then Chief of Staff of the French Navy, declared in spring 2018. And indeed, between 2015 and 2018, the tonnage of the naval component of the People’s Liberation Army [PLA] had increased by 350,000 tons.
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As a result, it now has 333 ships, 37 more than its American counterpart. But this effort is not only quantitative; it is also qualitative, as evidenced by the ceremony organized at the Sanya naval base [Hainan province] on April 23 in the presence of President Xi Jinping.
Indeed, that day, the Chinese navy commissioned three new vessels, representing between them nearly 60,000 tons. At 35,000 to 40,000 tonnes, the largest in Type 075 amphibious assault ship [or helicopter carrier], dubbed “Hainan”. Launched in September 2019, the victim of a fire in April 2020, it began its sea trials last summer.
Amphibious assault ship for helicopters and drones
Details regarding this amphibious assault ship are patchy. It is assumed to be capable of carrying around 30 WZ-19 attack and maneuver helicopters [such as the Z-8 and Z-20]. It is also possible to use drones of the ARC500C type from the manufacturer Aviation Industry Corporation [AVIC]. Capable of flying at a speed of 170 km / h and with an autonomy of 5 hours, these devices are designed to perform, depending on their payload, surveillance, electronic warfare, transport, or strike missions.
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The “Hainan” will soon be joined by two other ships of the same type. One began sea trials in December 2020, while Beijing launched the other last January. In total, eight are to be built.
China’s technological advancements in naval design
The second vessel admitted to the PLA is a Type 055 cruiser. The first in the series, the CNS Nanchang, was engaged for the first time in the carrier strike group of the aircraft carrier CNS Liaoning earlier this month. Named “Dalian”, she is the third such vessel [and the second to be commissioned this year].
As a reminder, a type 055 cruiser displays a displacement of 13,000 tons. It equips with 112,112 vertical launch tubes [48 at the front and 64 at the rear] capable of firing YJ-18A anti-ship missiles, CJ-10 cruise missiles, and firing anti-aircraft missiles. HHQ-9 and HHQ-16. It also equips with a short-range anti-aircraft system using 24 HHQ-10 missiles, in addition to a 130 mm H / PJ-38 turret and a CIWS 7-tube automatic cannon [Close-In Weapon System] type 1130.
This vessel is also well equipped with electronic equipment, with AESA [with active antenna] multi-function type 346B radar, an AESA X-Band firing radar, jammers, passive radars, type 726-4 decoy launcher, and two sonars [one, large, bow, the other, low frequency, towed]. And to exploit its underwater detection capabilities, it has CY-5 anti-submarine rockets and six 324mm torpedo tubes.
According to US military intelligence, such a cruiser illustrates “China’s technological advancements in naval design,” which have begun to approach, and in some cases even exceed, the level of modern navies. “And consider that this ship is one of the” most advanced and influential in the world. It estimates that China will build eight units in total.
The Chinese credible nuclear deterrent
Finally, the PLA admitted to active service the Changzheng 18, its sixth nuclear missile launcher [SSBN] Type 094 [or Type 09-IV, Jin class]. Data concerning this vessel have not officially been published. It assumes that its displacement is 11,000 tons underwater [for a length of 135 m] and can carry up to 12 sea-ground-ballistic-strategic JL-2. A priori, eight units must be allocated in total.
“The Changzheng 18 is probably an upgraded version of Type 09IV nuclear submarine. […] It gives China an even more credible nuclear deterrent,” commented Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert, quoted by the daily Global Times.
Anyway, even if this ceremony marking the simultaneous commissioning of three ships serves Chinese propaganda [it is a message “against the American, Japanese and Taiwanese secessionists”, admitted the Global Times, editor’s note], the fact remains that it illustrates Beijing’s naval ambitions.
“China’s naval strategy includes an increasingly visible military dimension, intended in particular to control the deep-sea crossing points essential for underwater navigation […] Gradually acquiring mastery of ‘sea power’ is essential to the exercise of power. China has understood this perfectly and is dedicated to it “, noted Thomas Gomart [IFRI], in his book L’Affolement du monde: 10 geopolitical issues”.
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