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China Appears to Be Readying 2 Advanced Warships for Launch, Adding Muscle to Aircraft Carrier Group

China is expected to launch two multi-role frigates, adding muscle to its new generation of aircraft carrier strike groups, according to photos circulated by military enthusiasts online.

Several photos shared by a mainland-based Weibo user who tracks news about the Chinese navy showed the hull of a Type 054B frigate – a bigger and faster version of the Type 054A now in service – as it was prepared to be rolled out from the dry dock of a shipyard. Over half of the hull was visible, suggesting the ship would soon be launched into a nearby pool.

Banners hanging on the sides of the dry dock indicated the photos were taken at the Huangpu-Wenchong Shipyard, a subsidiary of China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) in Guangzhou, and one of the Chinese navy’s key contractors.

“The shape of the bulkhead board and the island control tower suggest that the vessel is a mini version of the Type 055 destroyer,” said Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at Taiwan’s Naval Academy in Kaohsiung, referring to the Renhai-class stealth-guided missile destroyer with a displacement of more than 12,000 tonnes.

“It’s an entirely new frigate – not just faster and bigger than the Type 054A, but it has also adopted some new advanced technologies from the Type 055 cruiser.”

The Type 055 is the world’s second-most powerful destroyer after the US Navy’s DDG-1000, or Zumwalt class. Armed with an integrated mast and powerful radar systems, it has been dubbed the “bodyguard” of Chinese aircraft carriers.

China plans to launch two Type 054B frigates by the end of this year. Aside from the one under construction in Guangzhou, another is being built at Hudong–Zhonghua Shipbuilding in Shanghai, another CSSC subsidiary.

With an estimated displacement of about 6,000 tonnes, the hull of the Type 054B is about 147 metres (482 feet) long and 18 metres wide, according to information posted by former US submariner Tom Shugart on his Twitter account. Shugart’s estimate, which is based on satellite images of the Shanghai shipyard, puts the new vessel at more than 10 metres longer than the Type 051A.

Photos taken at the Shanghai shipyard last month showed that fitting out work had not yet started, indicating the pace of the vessel’s construction was not as fast as the one in Guangzhou.

In Guangzhou, a 4,000-tonne Type 054A frigate built for the Chinese coastguard sat next to the Type 054B at the dry dock.

“With bigger displacement than the Type 054A, the Type 054B will be equipped with more powerful weapons,” Lu said. “I expect it would be equipped with an advanced on-board rotating phased-array radar system and high-power microwave, or even ship-borne drones, as well as other new technologies used by the Type 055 cruiser.”

The construction of the Type 054B first came to light in April last year when the Guangzhou shipyard published a public tender for military hull-grade steel. The tender notice said work on a Type 054B ship with a displacement of more than 5,000 tonnes would start in May 2022, with its launch expected by the end of this year.

The Type 054B will be able to carry two Z-20 anti-submarine helicopters and it will partner with the Type 055 and Type 052D destroyers for anti-submarine operations, according to Zhou Chenming, a researcher at the Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank in Beijing.

“The original Type 054 and Type 054A are older and too slow to catch up with other accompanying warships in the new carrier strike group,” Zhou said.

“The two Type 054Bs are expected to be launched by the end of this year,” he said. “If the sea trials go smoothly, then the PLA Navy may order more.”

The PLA plans to build at least four aircraft carrier strike groups by 2030 and become the world’s second-biggest modern blue-water navy after the US. The Type 054B frigate, Type 052D destroyer and the powerful Type 055 cruiser are the key escort vessels for its aircraft carriers.

Source : SCMP