China Builds Patrol Ships–Lots of Patrol Ships

Type 056  corvette, credit  樱井千一

Type 056 corvette, credit 樱井千一

WantChinaTimes reports, “To defend its exclusive economic zone in the disputed East and South China Seas, China’s maritime law enforcement agencies have about 400 patrol vessels according to Asia Military Review, a magazine based in Bangkok…tonnages of the 400 vessels range between 1,150 and 3,400. The agencies are also set to receive 36 additional vessels.”

I would take this wit a grain of salt, but I think the real news was, “Eighteen Type 056 corvettes were constructed last year for the People’s Liberation Army Navy.”

To build 18 warships of a single class, even if they are sized between 210s and 270s is a remarkable achievement. These are assigned to the Navy, but they are used as backup for the Chinese Coast Guard.

38 thoughts on “China Builds Patrol Ships–Lots of Patrol Ships

    • I agree 100% with that.

      I also think it is an example of why # of hulls and presence are important, especially in peacetime, or psuedo conflicts like the current travails in the South and East China Seas. In a total war, I don’t think the Type 56 Corvettes would be all that impressive, because they would be sunk by American planes and subs in massive numbers. But in the context of the South China Sea “War” we are currently seeing, presence is probably the most important thing.

      If the US fails to have enough presence, it is very destabilizing in my opinion, because it allows the status quo on the ground to be changed. For instance China occupying Philippines islands like the Shoals. And now, for the US to try to reverse the new de facto status quo, the US has to escalate. Which is dangerous because once escalation starts it could spiral out of control and a war between China and the US would be a catastrophe for the whole world.

      • Very good points, James. Of course this takes political will and geopolitical backbone.

  1. Yes submarines are ships killers but they don’t have as much freedom of action as ships. And everybody knows the threat of aircraft whether it is as a carrier of a stand off missile or of a freefall bomb. But I am a bit old fashioned and see the worth of a ship being able to sink others ships. That is why after all the seas are contested so that a power can operate its ships unhindered.

    Soldiers will talk about a position having depth, interlocking arcs of fire that give mutual support. For me this is where the missile comes in. The questions you have to ask are; How good is Chinese EW? Chinese PDMS up to snuff? How good is their DC? How well could their captains fight a ship? And how successfully are they managing decentralised leadership today? I would humbly suggest that for the time being they are lagging in all areas; they are getting there but we aren’t standing still. I would humbly suggest as nice as a supersonic missile would be in the West’s inventory that it would better perhaps to ripple fire something “cheaper” than fire one super missile. Missiles like BrahMos (what a thing! super) don’t do much than Harpoon; it is fire that kills a ship not HE. Better 3 missiles at $2million than one for $6million. After all surely we are only after mission kill not a sinking. Again this is where LCS fall downs; the US want a cheap frigate bomb truck that can fight from the ocean not a fast war canoe for paddling about in the littoral. To reach the littoral you have to win the ocean first.

      • The $32million on missiles may sound a lot but it is say twentieth the cost of a modern European escort? Half (at least) of the cost of an F35b? As I said we send warships to sea to sink other ships so I don’t see the cost as exorbitant.

        The other option especially against ships with GT are smart shells with infrared terminal seekers.

        Nor should we discount heavy AShM launched from ship’s helicopters………

        ………not everything has to be launched from a fast jet or an MPA.

        Lots of options. All building on known systems.

        (I note the Type 056 only has two engines. They will be in separate spaces but this is the flaw (?) that means these ships are meant to increase numbers in the short term.)

      • Agree with all X says too! It’s a shame it costs so much, because without that aspect, this seems an easy decision.

        That NSM is just so perfect for the mission. Looking at the Chinese shortcomings X listed, and then think of the NSM – IR homing (so no signature for ECM to pick up), stealth shaping (so difficult for PDS [missile or gun] to engage), size right for CG’s platforms while still packing a reasonable punch, sized and set to interface with helos and the F-35.

      • My guess is that both of the Type 056 engines are in one compartment (like the 210s and 270s). One serious hit is certainly likely to be a mission kill, but that degree of vulnerability is probably better than that of the Type 022 missile boat ( Most of the crew of the Type 056 is likely to survive, and they do at least have some AAW capability, unlike the 022s. They may actually be used as leaders for the over 80 Type 022. The Type 056 corvettes have small hangars that can support UAS that might be used for targeting.

      • $32M is less than a tenth of the cost of an OPC (and I think about a quarter the cost of an F-35).

        Incidentally, what does the $32M represent?

  2. The unit price of a Harpoon is $2million, so 16 times (the number of missiles in that photo) is $32 million. It was just an illustration.

    • I see where you were coming from. Most installations are only 8 missiles, but I think the trend will be toward more. NSM installations I have seen were in multiples of three. So probably six, twelve, or eighteen.

  3. Yes. I think NSM costs $1million per unit. JSM costs about $1.2million. I used Harpoon as an example as it is a US system in service and this is a US blog. That NSM is cheaper, if with a smaller warhead, is all grist to the mill. As I have said several times now the USN’s main problem is LCS. Despite what politicians tell us platforms do matter as much as “capabilities”.

    All very early 20th century, flotillas of destroyers firing salvos at the enemy…….

    • The more incoming missiles you can put up against the enemies countermeasures the better, even if it means smaller warheads. Once the first strikes it takes out a lot of the defenses and it gets easier to get additional hits. While a mission kill is good, sinking is so much better, because that unit will not be repaired and com at you again. Even so, it is not necessary to do it with a single hit.

      • Sinking is good. But how long will a future conflict last? A decent fire will put a unit out for the length of anything that is coming up. I see most kinetic exchanges happening because somebody blinks and once under way diplomats will be looking to halt the action as quickly as possible. Modern navies are like armies of the early modern period; too costly to use for too long, too costly and too complicated to rebuild quickly. How many Exocet did the Stark take? These light missiles aren’t going to cause too much stress to the structure. Of course then there is sinking from secondary effects; the Sheffield sank due to the free surface effect from water from the firefighting. But guns and missiles are mission killers. The idea behind ripple firing is too increase the chances of a hit not to increase the number of hits. One from three is better than none from one! 🙂

    • Land launched cruise missiles, mines, a terrorist attack while a ship is at port, suicide bombers on civilian ships, and submarines are a far more likely threat to the US Navy than surface ships. A country would find it very difficult to deploy a surface fleet in the face of US airpower in a major conflict.

      Everyone agrees that the LCS is currently underarmed. Literally everyone, including the Navy which is why further increments are planned and under development.

      But IMO, the biggest problem the Navy faces right now is how to fund enough capital ships to meet the growing need. We need at least 11 aircraft carriers to meet current deployment schedules, we need more BMD destroyers, we have to find a way to fund the Ohio Class replacement, and we have to keep building 2 Virginias a years. For me, the ASuW capabilities of the LCS are quite a ways down the list of concerns.

    • I think there are 2 most-likely scenarios:

      1) Saber-rattling confrontation, as China is doing with Vietnam, Philippines, Japan, etc. I’m not sure there is a great likelihood for this as territorial cross-claims between US and China are “none” as far as I know. Perhaps if the US were in a joint operation with an ally, but with current political leadership this is unlikely. We’re “avoiders” rather than “confronters” for now. If this scenario played out, the Mk.110 is good enough, because the range will be short, and volume of fire will be paramount. (Think the video of Japan CG vs. No. Korean trawler, but on a slightly bigger scale.)

      2) If a shooting war actually breaks out and there is a confrontation. In this scenario, I see CG and LCS/SSC as peripheral units. BUT that is precisely where there value lies. If they have a stealthy, non-emitting, long-ish ranged missile (NSM), these “smaller ships” could create chaos in the enemy by launching from the flanks or rear (programmed flight route or launch of NSM from helos organic to the ships) of the enemy formation… The ships would retreat from the area immediately after launch, leaving the enemy with little to shoot back at. In this scenario, just a couple triplets of NSM per ship is sufficient. Three or four ships with 2 helos could salvo 20-26 NSMs. (This all presumes US air & space dominance over the zone of operations which is likely with anti-satellite capabilities and F-22 & F-35 [CVN] presense. — The WWII lesson still holds: with air dominance, less capable ships become more powerful/effective.)

      • Some times there is no substitute for numbers, you need to be in lots of places at the same time. That is one way the CG can help the USN.

        The current disputes inside the first island chain are potentially very dangerous because the US has treaty obligations with both Japan and the Philippines. If their forces are attacked by China, the US is obligated to come to their aid.

        I don’t think we can be sure future conflicts will be swiftly resolved. Our experience would suggest otherwise. Plus the threat of nuclear escalation works against efforts to achieve a decisive conventional resolution. If we ever have a war with China, I think the US will attempt to strangle China by blockade while running supplies and aid to our allies against Chinese anti-access opposition. Early on, there will be an anti-satellite campaign. Submarines will be important to both sides. Occasionally there will be attempts to destroy elements of the opponent’s strength including raids on air and naval bases and attacks on sensor systems. The US will be strong outside the first island chain. China will be strong close to home. There will be a slow process of erosion of strength. It could go on for a very long time. Patience and determination will count for a lot.

  4. That is my take as well Bill. I think your examples are realistic scenarios. The real world isn’t fantasy fleet where you need the most and best ships to line up and fight.

    NSM would make a lot of sense for LCS. The speed of the LCS would multiply its effectiveness too. The ability to move 100 NM’s in two or three hours, put shipboard and remote sensors to effect, and to have a strike capability like NSM would provide would be a very effective asset.
    I know it comes at a high cost in terms of tradeoffs, but I don’t share the opinion of some others that the high speed of the LCS is useless.

    It is useless (or nearly so) for escort duties, and it prevents the LCS as currently designed from being very good at that role.

  5. Chuck wrote:
    Some times there is no substitute for numbers, you need to be in lots of places at the same time. That is one way the CG can help the USN.

    Not only can the CG help, but they will absolutely have to be part of the solution. Not only in the South China Sea but in a number of other possible theaters like the Persian Gulf or Med. And it isn’t just the ships or equipment, it’s the people. The Navy does not have the law enforcement training that the CG does, nor the expertise and experience. In addition there are political issues, and there are cases where a country would be willing to host the CG but not the Navy.

    In a way, this is one of my hangups with the Cutter X idea. Because I think the OPC’s will eventually be used in war (how war is defined is nebulous, but that is the whole point) and the ships need to be as capable as possible for future contingencies.

    In no way am I disputing your point about the necessities of numbers, I couldn’t agree more. Increased funding for the CG would give the most bang for the buck is my point. 500 million a year more for acquisition in the Navy is not going to have the impact that it would for the USCG. I think in most likely scenarios it would be a better way to spend another half a billion a year.

  6. China is pursuing a strategy not unlike Hitler in the Sudetenland: walk in, say “hey this is ours”, and keep it. Okay, an oversimplification. But placing a fleet of “Coast Guard” vessels around the disputed islands is a diplomatic justification for war. As coast guards are considered by the world’s nations as SAR/LE/Defensive assets not offensive assets like navies, then any action taken by Vietnam, Philipines, etc. has them on the international media screaming their purely Law Enforcement and rescue vessels were visciously attacked. And naturally their coast guard vessels will come to the rescue of one of their own, and a half-dozen Chinese patrol boats take down a the 40 year old former USCG Hamilton cutter now the BRP Gregoria de Pillar…which the Chinese will conviently ignore is a coast guard vessel itself…and now you have one less Philipine vessel, and international opinon split and China now justifies sending in the PLAN since other nations don’t repect their CG…and they will arm their CG more heavily as well. But first they have to blanket the sea with enough Chinese CG vessels to ensure there will be such a conflict.

  7. Pingback: China Coast Guard Cutter Built on Frigate Hull | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  8. The Chinese have commissioned their 34th Type 056 corvette.
    This is the second indication I have seen that China may soon stop building this class. Here we have an indication of atleast 46 ships. This may be the ultimate size of the class. Originally I had heard they expected to build 60. It may be they have decided the design is too small for all the things they want it to do.

  9. China Commissions Type 056 corvette number 39. commissioned eight in 2017.
    “There are currently at least twelve more Type 056A and Type 056 corvettes at various stages of construction in Chinese naval shipyards. Latest rumors from China indicate that the PLAN could eventually operate as much as sixty Type 056 corvettes.”

  10. Pingback: “The Chinese Navy Is Building An Incredible Number Of Warships” –Forbes | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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