We are loyal followers of baseball philosopher Yogi Berra, who reportedly proclaimed that “it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Like the great Yogi, we seldom venture prophecies. But we did hazard one in The Diplomat late in 2010, namely that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) would defy those Western experts who opined that Beijing had slowed or halted its naval buildup.
For evidence, such experts claimed that the PLAN had stopped building guided-missile destroyers, or DDGs. If so, Beijing had made a conscious choice to limit its navy’s offensive punch. Not so, said we. Having experimented with various DDG designs, the PLAN was simply settling on a model that incorporated the best of each test platform. And indeed, DDG serial production has recommenced in earnest, judging from pictures of the new Type 052D Luyang II-class DDG that have surfaced on the Internet.
Until recently it was fashionable for Western PLA-watchers to contend that Chinese shipyards had slowed or stopped construction of major surface warships like DDGs in favor of smaller, shorter-range, seemingly more defensive-minded vessels like guided-missile frigates and fast-attack boats. They cited the dearth of clear-cut proof of DDG-building since 2005 as evidence of this supposed trend. From this they inferred that Chinese naval development had taken a less menacing turn.
This was counterintuitive at best. And indeed, a series of photos on Chinese and Western military websites over the past few years dispels such sanguine prognoses. The images indicate that Chinese shipyards had already resumed DDG construction by 2010, when we essayed our prediction about Chinese shipbuilding.
The latest reports suggest that Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai launched its sixth Type 052C DDG and is laying down an average of two hulls per year. The new combatant under construction within a nearby hangar appears to be the Type 052D, the 052C’s successor. Indeed, a well-known China-watcher confirms that one of the new vessels was launched last week. By no means does this mean the ship is ready for sea. An enormous amount of work doubtless remains to be done on it alongside the pier, per shipyards’ usual practice. Still, putting the first of its kind in the water represents an important milestone toward sending a new ship class to sea
The PLAN may have found its premier surface combatant.