Red Letter Day

PLAN commissions three vessels, including an SSBN, in one day

Prasun K. Sengupta

For the Peoples’ Liberation Army’s Navy (PLAN), April 23 became a red-letter day. President Xi Jinping, also General Secretary of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee and Chairman of the Central Military Commission presided over the commissioning ceremony of the sixth Type 09-IV ballistic missile-carrying SSBN Changzheng (Long March) 18 (hull number 421), the third Type 055 guided-missile destroyer (DDG) Dalian (hull number 105), and the first Type 075 helicopter carrier (LHD) Hainan (hull number 31) at Sanya in Hainan Island.

President Xi Jinping at the commissioning ceremony at Sanya, Hainan, on April 23

April 23, incidentally, was also the PLAN’s 72nd anniversary. This was the first time in the PLAN’s history that three vessels had been commissioned on the same day. The last time Xi attended the commissioning ceremony of a PLAN warship was in December 2019, when the Shandong (hull number 17)—the navy’s second aircraft carrier and the first such vessel wholly designed and built in China—was commissioned at the Longpo naval base in Sanya, which along with the adjacent Yulin naval base now houses the bulk of the PLAN’s South Sea Fleet.

The 30,000-tonne Hainan LHD was launched in September 2019 at the state-owned Hudong Zhonghua Shipyard in Shanghai and began her sea trials in August 2020. The second such LHD was launched in April 2020 and commenced her sea trials in December 2020. The third LHD was launched in January this year–representing an impressive rate of one LHD being launched every six months. Design work on the Type 075 LHD began in 2011. Propulsion is provided by four 12,000 kW 16PC2-6B diesel engines, while the top-deck and below-deck space can accommodate 18 Z-18F and Z-18K heavylift helicopters. For self-defence, the LHD has four close-in weapon systems (CIWS), comprising two HQ-10 and two H/PJ-11 suites. The PLAN intends to service-induct a total of eight such LHDs.

The Dalian DDG, commissioned into the South Sea Fleet, was the third warship of its class (the first to be built by the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Co) and the second one commissioned this year (the second Type 055 DDG—Lhasa 102–was commissioned last March into the 1st Destroyer Detachment of the PLAN’s North Sea Fleet). Each Type 055 DDG has a length of 180 metres, beamwidth of 20 metres and a draught of 6.6 metres, while its full-load displacement is 13,000 tonnes. The official PLAN designation is ‘10,000-tonne class DDG’. The lead vessel of this class, the Nanchang 101, was launched on 28 June 2017 at the Jiangnan Changxing Shipyard in Shanghai and was commissioned on 12 January 2020 into the North Sea Fleet, while the second one was launched in April 2018 at the same shipyard.

Two more Type 055 DDGs were launched in 2018, two more in 2019 and additional two in 2020, bringing the total of hulls launched to date to eight. The Type 055 DDG’s weapon suite includes a 130mm H/PJ-38 main gun, 112 vertical launch system (VLS) silos, one H/PJ-11 CIWS with a fire rate of 10,000 rounds/minute, HQ-10 short-range surface-to-air missiles (SAM), countermeasures launchers, and twin triple torpedo tube launchers.

The VLS silos are split into two areas: 64 cells forward and 48 cells aft, just in front of the DDG’s double-bay hangar. The VLS cells are compatible with both hot and cold launch missiles as they make use of the Concentric Cannister Launcher (CCL) concept. The first few Type 055 DDGs will house HQ-9B long-range (200km) SAMs, YJ-18A supersonic 220km-range anti-ship cruise missiles (clone of the Novator-developed 3M-54E Klub-N missile), a new type of medium-range anti-aircraft missile and land-attack cruise missile variants of the YJ-18. Also carried on-board are Yu-8A anti-submarine missiles. The propulsion system of the DDG comprises four QC-280 marine industrial gas-turbines, each providing 28 mWT (38,000hp).

Clockwise from top: The three commissioned naval vessels at Sanya; ESM sensor; HQ-10 CIWS of Type 055 DDG; and YJ-18A supersonic anti-ship cruise missile

The second-generation Type 094-IV nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN)–Changzheng (Long March) 18—was launched in May 2018 and is the sixth of its class to enter service since 2007 and all of them have been built by the Huludao-based Bohai Shipyard in the northern province of Liaoning. Each such SSBN has a length of 135 metres, beamwidth of 12.5 metres, displaces about 11,000 tonnes when submerged, and comes armed with 12 JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), each with an estimated range of 7,400km.

The Yulin naval base, built along Hainan’s Yalong Bay, is spread over an area of 25 sqkm and its construction had commenced 21 years ago. It presently comprises a man-made harbour well-protected by breakwaters, a semi-submerged, 16-metre-wide tunnel entrance bored into the southeastern mountain, an underground command-and-control centre, plus underground standalone munitions storage depots, degaussing and weapons-loading/ transportation facilities, administrative buildings, man-made geological fortifications, two piers each a kilometre long that can house up to 16 principal surface combatants, and five weapons storage buildings housing long-range surface to air missiles (SAM) batteries and anti-ship cruise missiles. At the adjacent Longpo naval base, the PLAN has constructed piers capable of housing two aircraft carriers, plus a related dry-dock for undertaking periodic refits of such vessels.






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