THE RISING SEA DRAGON IN ASIA - 2012 UPDATE
By Jeff Head - Last Update: June 15, 2012
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2011 has seen significant increases in major combatant shipbuilding by the PLAN across the board. From the PLA Navy's first carrier being launched and sent to sea for trials, to continued testing and production of J-15 fighters for that carrier's airwing, to the increased tempo of serial production of the PLAN's Type 071 LPD, the Yuzhao Class (with a second and third unit launched and a fourth being built), to increased serial production of the PLAN's premier stealthy, area-wide anti-air/multipurpose destroyer, the Lanzhou Type 52C Class DDG with VLS and PARS which now has seen a 3rd, 4th, and 5th unit launched and a 6th, 7th and an 8th unit under construction, to continued rapid production of the modern Type 054A FFG Guided missiles Frigate, which now numbers 16 units either launched or about to be launched, to a brand new class of Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV), the Type 056 Class which appears to be a PLAN litoral combatant which is already building in two shipyards and may expand to as many as four shipyards for very rapid production (30 or more units), to production of a new, improved Yuan Class SSK conventional submarine, the Qing Class, which has Air-independent Propulsion (AIP) capabilities.
While increased production picked up in all of the above areas, units of the Type 093 SSN, Nuclear attack Submarine, the Shang Class, with improved reactors, sensors, and weapons suite continue trials and introduction into the fleet at a slower rate, along with the same for the Type 094 Jin Class ballistic missile submarines.
In addition, the PLAN sent its 10th task force to the Arabian Sea to conduct anti-piracy operations, usually sending a guided missile destroyer, a guided missile frigate, and a UNREP logistics vessel to perform these duties, which is giving many, many Chinese sailors and commanders in the PLAN blue water experience. The PLAN has sustained these operations now for going on three years without pause.
As in past years, other, ongoing exercises of the many new units the PLAN has introduced into its fleets continues to improve their performance and ability to operate cohesively with their new technology, particularly as surface action groups and task forces. They do this by conducting exercises and manuevers regularly, and have the money to sustain these operations. This will continue at an increased tempo once their new carrier finishes trials, is commissioned and is introduced into the fleet.
All of these developments represent significant, rapid progress by the PLAN in establishing itself as a consistent blue water presence. Indeed it is already sending significant SAGs, including the new LPDs, to areas in the Arabian Sea (as mentioned) the Indian Ocean, off the coasts of Africa and South America, and throughout the Western Pacific to makes the PLAN presence known, show the flag, and protect Chinese interests.
Other Western Pacific nations are monitoring these developments carefully, and in the case of Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, and the Republic of China on Taiwan, are themselves increasing their own ship production and operational tempos as they can, and to modernize and enlarge their own navies. The US has now indicated plans to shift more vessels and other assets to the Western Pacific in response.
FINAL OUTFITTING AND LAUNCH OF CHINA'S FIRST AIRCRAFT CARRIER OCCURRED IN 2011
MORE J-15 FIGHTERS PRODUCED & TESTED FOR THE CARRIER. INITIAL AT-SEA FLIGHTS EXPECTED IN 2012.
PRODUCTION OF THE YUZHAO CLASS LPD, INCREASED. COMMISSIONED THE 2ND, LAUNCHING A 3RD, & BUILDING A 4TH.
SERIAL PRODUCTION OF THE LANZHOU CLASS DDG. COMMISSIONING THE 3RD, LAUNCHING A 4TH & 5TH, BUILDING 6TH, 7TH & 8TH.
RAPID SERIAL PRODUCTION OF THE JIANGKAI II CLASS FFG CONINUES. LAUNCHING A 15TH & BUILDING MORE
A NEW OFFSHORE VESSEL, THE TYPE 056 OPV, UNVEILED. BUILT FOR LITORALS & PRODUCED AT 2 OR MORE SHIPYARDS
IMPROVED VESRION OF THE YUAN CLASS SSK SUBMARINE APPEARED, THE QING CLASS AIP DIESEL/ELECTRIC SUB
Finally, it cannot be over emphasized that over the least 15 years, the PLAN has grown their major combatant fleet by over 142%. In that same period, the US Navy shrunk its fleet by over 13%, which is actually up over the 17% shrinkage measured through 2009. Although the qualitative and technical advantage of the US equipment still holds a strong advantage, it has significantly declined from the overwhelming, 20+ year advantage it held just 10 years ago. Estimates now put the lead at no more than 3-5 years in a number of areas. The PLAN is spending a lot of money, with very few costly regulations that burden the US system, to improve its equipment and modernize it. Outside of a significant change in the economic and political direction in the United States, all of these trends are expected to continue over the next several years.
This will continue to allow the PLAN to rapidly close the gap between itself and the US Navy, particualrly focusing on the Western Pacific, which is where the PLAN is concentrated. This is worthy of serious planning and development consideration by the US Navy and other western nation's regarding their future R&D and acquisition schedules.
Copyright © 2005-2012 by Jeff Head
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