Soon a new class of Chinese frigates

On June 20, Chinese shipyards launched the 30rdType 054A class frigate intended for the PLA Navy, the first unit of which was launched in September 2006. This 3600-ton frigate is, like the previous ones, essentially ASW, thanks to a hull and towed sonar system (from the 11th unit) and an ASW helicopter. It also has a reinforced self-defense capacity, thanks to its 32 VLS equipped with HQ16 missiles comparable to the Aster15, and its 8 C802 anti-ship missiles, comparable to the MM40 exocets. If the Type054 is not the most modern frigate of the moment, it is no less well equipped, well armed, and reliable. It was also chosen by the Pakistani navy, which ordered 4 units.

If the Chinese order concerns 30 units, it is however possible that 2 additional units will be built before starting construction of the Type054B class, the new Chinese frigate intended to enter service from 2020. This new frigate will be heavier (4000 to 5000 tonnes depending on sources), and will have electric propulsion with a total power of 20 MW, powered by diesel engines, instead of the CODAD propulsion of the Type 054A. It is also likely that it will have not 32 but 48 VLS, and will carry more efficient surface-to-air missiles, such as the DK-10A (derived from the PL-12 air-to-air missile) or later versions of the Buk like the HHQ16 C/D. It will also have an eight-fold FL-3000N very short-range missile launcher, and YJ-85 cruise and anti-ship missiles, a largely improved supersonic version of the C802. 

If the Type054A were initially intended to replace the Type053 frigates, the Type054B are intended to support the rise in power of the Chinese navy. They will provide ASW protection for large PLAN units such as Type001 and Type 002 aircraft carriers, Type 75 LHDs, Type 071 LPDs and Type055 large destroyers. This strategy is reminiscent of that of the US Navy in the 80s/90s, with the ASM frigates OH Perry and Knox. 

It is also the 15th ship launched by the Chinese naval industry, which has exceeded 100.000 tonnes launched since the start of the year. This extraordinary productivity is the consequence of immense modernization and expansion projects in Chinese shipyards, allowing intensive production of combat ships at a pace reminiscent of the American pace of the 80s, in the midst of the race for armaments with the USSR.

The table below shows the planned production of the APLN endowment in 2020 and 2040 against the United States Navy.

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As we can see, the Chinese Navy is in the process of catching up with the US Navy, a catch-up which will take place over the period 2020-2040. If the APLN will remain behind in terms of assault ships and SSN, it will compensate with a very superior fleet of frigates and corvettes, and by a very high number of conventionally powered submarines. These are ships more suited to defensive or area control missions than to power projection, which perfectly corresponds to the known objectives of the PLA and the Chinese government internationally. 

Regardless, in 2040, the Chinese Navy will have ample means to contain and keep the US Navy at bay throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

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