In what it called a major step in the “systematic upgrade of its equipment and defense,” the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) on February 25th received the first of an expected 20 Type 056 Jiangdao-class stealth corvettes, a new type of ship that experts say will play a major role in defending China’s territorial waters.
The Bengbu (hull 582) was delivered to the PLAN during a commissioning ceremony in Shanghai attended by China’s top brass, including PLAN commander Wu Shengli, who is also a member of the powerful Central Military Commission; Liu Yi, deputy commander of the PLAN, Li Andong; deputy director of the General Armaments Department; and Su Zhiqian, commander of the East China Sea Fleet.
The Type 056 program was first unveiled in 2010. Nine other Type 056 corvettes have been launched since the launch of the Bengbu lead ship in May 2012 and are now being outfitted with weapons and electronics systems. Although Chinese media reported that the new corvette would be put into service “in large quantities,” the PLAN appears to have plans to acquire a total of 20 for the time being.
The Type 056 comes armed with a pair of two-cell YJ-83 anti-ship missile launchers, an eight-cell FL-3000N (HQ-10) surface-to-air missile system, a PJ-26 76 mm main gun and two 30 mm close-in weapons systems (CIWS), and two (presumably Yu-7 torpedo) tubes. Its flight deck can accommodate a Z-9 helicopter.
The primary role of the new corvette, which the PLA Daily said “features good stealth performance and electromagnetic compatibility,” will include patrols in territorial waters, anti-submarine warfare, and escort, amid an ongoing shift away from “active-service base-defense systems featuring aging military strength, single function and low combat power,” to a “new-generation base-defense military strength.” The vessel is configured so that it can conduct missions independently or in coordination with other forces.
Cui Yiliang, editor of the China-based Modern Ships Magazine, said the Type 056 was best suited as a patrol vessel to deal with territorial disputes in the East and South China Sea, as well as over Taiwan. Other roles could include denial of offshore waters to U.S. submarines and surveillance vessels.
Lan Yu, another editor at the magazine, told the state-run Global Times that while the weapons systems on the Type 056 are “modest compared to larger warships,” it can nevertheless “outgun most rivals it might encounter in the South China Sea,” a situation that would likely be different in a confrontation between China and Japan over the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea or with the Taiwanese Navy in the Taiwan Strait.
Cui said the corvette’s somewhat limited defense systems mean it is unlikely to be part of a future carrier battle group.
Meanwhile, the Military Training Department of the PLA General Staff Headquarters announced on February 26th that the PLA would conduct as many as 40 military exercises in 2013 to increase combat readiness. Among the various exercises, Navy and Air Force units will conduct joint sea-control confrontation drills.