Friday, November 30, 2007

Displacement of Type 054A Frigate Possibly underestimated

Now there are totally 4 Type 054A "Jiangkai II" Frigates having being manufactured in China Shanghai Hudong and Guangzhou Huangpu Shipyards. And 2 vessels have been in sea trial to be delivered to PLA Navy.

Outside usually estimates that Type 054 and 054A are in 3500-ton-level. But unconfirmed resource in PLA Navy indicated that displacement of Type 054/054A is underestimated: Type 054 to be 4300 tons in full-load displacement and Type 054A to 4500 tons.

According to PLA Navy’s previous standards, the displacement of frigate is usually below 2000 tons. PLA Navy's Type 053H2 and Type 053H3 both under 2500 tons. Even Type 052 "Luhu" Destroyer, China's most advanced warship in early 1990s, also did not exceed 5000 tons in full load displacement.

But advanced large displacement frigates developed in Western Europe drew the attentions of PLA Navy. Under the background of "Economic Centralization", PLA surely has great interests on multifunctional but cheaper frigates, which are capable to replace aging destroyers.

Obviously, Type 054 was developed for convoy duties and operating in low intensity marine conflict with "Point Defense Ability". A great larger Type 054 Frigate compare to Type 053 family can have longer endurance ability and operate under cover from land-based PLA Navy Aviation wings.

But the boom of China economy and Embassy bombed by US lead Chinese government to eye on more powerful national defense, especially greater sea power for protecting energy lifeline. The distinguished upgrade from Type 054’s "Point Defense Ability" to 054A’s "Area Defense Ability" just reflects PLA navy's demand in "Blue water" combat, in which the Aircraft Carrier Group is the main role.

The power system maybe is a critical argument to overthrow the rumor of heavier Type 054A. Due to poor engine manufacturing, Type 054’s CODAG propulsion system in all probability can not drive this 4500-ton hull in 20 Kts to cruise with aircraft carriers. However the situation in China is different.

The Varyag being reconstructed in Dalian Shipyard is eyed as a training platform and limitedly deployed in “yellow water”. For the great damages of Varyag power system when it sold in 1998, PLA can not fully recover it and operate as its designed maximum speed. So 4500-ton Type 054A propelled by CODAG is still acceptable in PLA’s first experimental carrier battle group, which has one Varyag carrier and 4-6 054A frigates.

On the contrary, 1-2 conventional or nuclear carriers built by China shipbuilders will become the real center of PLA Navy’s deep-sea battles groups. And 4-6 PLA DDGs (like Type 052B, Type 051C or Type 052C) equipped with more powerful propulsion system will be the main protective surface combatants for carrier group.