File photo of Type 052C, predecessor to the 052D Luyang III-class destroyer

Now that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has commissioned its first aircraft carrier and may be looking to assemble one or more carrier groups over time, what about the rest of the fleet? China SignPost co-authors Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson report on what’s to come in the Wall Street Journal with the new 6,000-ton Type 052D Luyang III-class destroyer:

  • The Type 052D represents an evolution of the existing Type 052C Luyang II-class destroyer [which has] 8 hulls in service.
  • If China fielded 10-15 advanced destroyers like the Type 052D, it would become the second-largest surface combat force in the Asia-Pacific region after the U.S. Navy.
  • As a mass-produced vessel class, the Type 052D may now be joining China’s 60+ Houbei-class (Type 022) missile catamarans, 16-19 Jiangkai II-class (Type 054A) air defense frigates, 13 Song-class (Type 039) and 8-9 Yuan-class (Type 041) conventional submarines, and 3 Yuzhao-class (Type 071) amphibious assault ships.

The authors note that the 052D differs significantly from its predecessor the Type 052C in several important ways.

It has a completely different type of vertical launch system (“VLS”), with missile canisters instead of what look like revolvers; a different gun system; and what appear to be bigger phased-array radar faces. The VLS system is potentially the biggest development. The 052D’s likely complement of 64 VLS tubes with a more advanced surface-to-air missile (“SAM”) will offer strong area air defense capability, which can enhance the combat effectiveness of other PLAN surface ships and submarines by protecting them from enemy strike and anti-submarine warfare aircraft.

This new destroyer could be a central element of Beijing’s new blue-water navy, reported the BBC. Prof. James Holmes, a China-watcher at the US Naval War College, said:

“China appears to have settled on a design for a top-of-the-line guided-missile destroyer after a lengthy period of ‘fleet experimentation’ – a gestation period, if you will.”

“The PLA Navy has made a habit of building a couple of copies of each design, taking them to sea, identifying their faults and strengths, and incorporating the lessons learned into future designs,” he says.

“Evidently Beijing is satisfied it has learned enough to go into mass production, if indeed,” as he believes, “10 hulls are under construction.”

Holmes says the new Chinese vessel’s closest US counterpart is probably the US Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, its first Aegis ships.

Holmes stressed that although the 052D might be an inferior vessel to its US counterparts, it will not be operating alone.

“Let’s keep in mind that China operates its fleet almost entirely within range of shore-based anti-ship missiles, fighter aircraft, and ships like patrol craft and submarines,” he said. “These provide protective cover for the surface fleet and, Beijing believes (and I agree), that this is the great equalizer.”

Read the Collins/Erickson report in full here.

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Ray Kwong is senior advisor to the USC US-China Institute, a charter member of the Asian International Business Advisory Group, a Forbes contributing writer and columnist for the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He is currently facilitating talks between China and U.S. interests on such matters as clean energy economics, nanotechnology and commercial aerospace. While it sounds way cooler than it really is, he is also a member of the Bloomberg BusinessWeek Market Advisory Board and the McKinsey Quarterly Executive Panel. You can follow him on Twitter @raykwong. Eyeball Ray's posts from Forbes ChinaTalk.
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