China’s Warship Construction. More Surface Warships Launched in 2019 than the USN has Commissioned in Five Years

Chinese warships launched in 2019.

Earlier I noted that the Chinese seemed to be building an incredible number of warships. Found this chart of surface warships launched in 2019. I have been unable to find the original source, the style appears to be from, but in any case, it appears to be correct.

16 Type 056 corvettes, 8 Type 052D destroyers, two type 055 destroyer/cruisers, a Type 071 LPD, and a Type 075 LHD. 28 surface warships total. It is possible some of the Type 056s are intended for export or for the China Coast Guard.

By way of comparison, over the last five years, 2015 through 2019, as nearly as I can tell, the US Navy commissioned 15 Littoral Combat Ships, five Burke class destroyers, two Zumwalt class destroyers, two LPDs, no big deck amphibs (LHD or LHA),  and one aircraft carrier. That is 25 surface warships total. The conclusion is a bit startling.

The Chinese launched more surface warships in 2019, than the US Navy commissioned in the last five years. 

The 19th and 20th Type 052D destroyers are launched in Dalian on May 10 (Image: 香港 文匯 網)

The LCS program is coming to an end, but there are still 16 to be commissioned. Generally the program has funded four per year, The FFG(X) program is expected to replace the LCS program in the Navy budget with one FFG funded in the first year followed by two frigates in each year to a total of 20. Combined with the LCS this should give the Navy 55 “small surface combatants.” The Chinese have about 50 frigates but this number is likely to decline as older ships are decommissioned, as their current frigate program, the Type 054A, is nearing completion.

The USN’s Zumwalt class destroyer program will end with three ships when the Lyndon B. Johnson is commissioned in the near future.

The Burke class DDG program was expected to continue building twelve ships over the next five years, but there has been a recent report that DOD would like to cut five ships to make room in the budget for development of more unmanned systems. Also suggested is that Ticonderoga class cruisers be retired early and that the first four LCS be decommissioned.

It is comforting to assume that Chinese systems and their training are inferior. We had similar assumptions about the Japanese before WWII. It is extremely dangerous to assume your own superiority. Plus while the US Forces spread all over the world, the Chinese are concentrated in their own theater of interest.

75 thoughts on “China’s Warship Construction. More Surface Warships Launched in 2019 than the USN has Commissioned in Five Years

  1. And if you want to add insult to injury, there’s this revelation by the Secretary of the Navy…

    ( https : // www . defensenews . com / naval/2019/12/27/proposal-for-sweeping-cuts-to-us-nav-shipbuilding-force-structure-could-herald-a-new-strategy-experts-say/ )

  2. Your, um, our main problem is the PLAN won’t give care to ‘collateral damage’ if the situation in the South China Sea goes kinetic. Couple that with massive fires, even if the weapons are older tech, and the situation will get serious real quick.

  3. But then again, is there an unforeseen political aspect to this set of circumstances that has yet to be seen, or even been ferreted out through the press. Seems to me that were (i.e. We The People) are being directed (covertly) to a point of no return. Since 2017, were on our Second Secretary of Defense, Fourth Secretary of the Navy and Fifth Secretary of Homeland Security, and there’s still 2020 to go through…

  4. There is a fleet of fast small surface combatants sitting mostly idle or laid up on the gulf coast. Until someone gets serious about amending the constitution to make Congress effective again I doubt procuring outside the box has a chance.

  5. There’s also a perfectly good Missile Patrol Boat of approximately 800-tons constructed by “VT Halter” (i.e. “Ambassador III”). Unfortunately it’s an Export Only Naval Vessel, that the US Senate won’t let either the USCG or the US Navy operate…

    • Secundias, I am curious as to why Congress decided the Ambassadors should not be operated by US forces? There has to be a back story there.

      • @ Malph.

        Why don’t you ask them! Maybe you’ll be better in finding an answer than I have. Which is none…

    • The engine in the Ambassador III has been discontinued by MTU. I could see using it as a base for a new model with less speed and more range/seaworthiness, but I’d rather have less gun and more truck bed for sensors, drones, or missiles than that is likely to provide.

      • @ Andy.

        MTU Diesels is owned by Roll-Royce, and MTU-USA is now called “Tognum America”. And compatible with Detroit Diesels, which is also owned by Rolls-Royce…

      • The bigger question than the engines is what would we use FACs for?

        I can see a use case in the Persian Gulf but in general their lack of endurance and sea keeping would limit their value to the USN.

      • The Cyclones are operating primarily out of the Persian Gulf which is where there is an obvious use case.

      • @ Malph.

        Park an “ESB” in the Gulf, and use it as a Mobile Refueling and Supply Ship. The ESB can maintain a sustained 15kts. for up to 9,500nmi using four MAN Diesels. The ESB can also be employed as a 21st century version of the Vietnam-era HA(L) with other Patrol Boats hand Helicopter Support…

      • A Swiftships 75m Missile Corvette is another option that seems better than the Ambassador III. Swiftships 75m is extremely similar to the LCS for a smaller size and presumably less weight and can also accommodate a sonar and torpedo tubes.

        One can perhaps add a Stryker MSHORAD turret or MML that launches Iron Dome, AIM-9X (20+ mile range), or Hit-to-Kill Tamir for rudimentary AAW defense better than RAM II (5 mile range).

        The fact is, the USN can increase their ship count without breaking the bank by buying missile corvettes to at least patrol in the Drug War and offer CONUS defense or Freedom of Navigation for USCG vessels. Currently, the USCG cutters require a Burke destroyer escort for any transit in contested waters.

    • The Israeli Sa’ar 6 missile corvette seems to be the best of the missile corvettes, outperforming the Ambassador III in weapons, speed, capabilities, and features.

      Sa’ar has 76mm gun, 16 OTH SSMs, 32 VLS SAMs, 25mm guns, and torpedo tubes. Other missile corvettes lack AAW, ASW, and SuW weapons—Chuck found this corvette.

      • @ Krashnovians.

        There are any number of Classes that the US Navy can choose from abroad, but it’s the US Senate that has the final say as to what the US Navy is allowed to choose from and tested before a purchase can be made…

      • The Saar 6 does not exist yet. Even with that, it is expected to be quite a bit larger than the Ambassadors. The Ambassadors are really FACs.

      • The Sa’ar 6 is based on a German corvette design. It is about 2000 tons. It has an ASW capability as well as local air defense in addition to anti-surface.

        The Ambassador III is much smaller at about 600 tons, has a relatively short range, 2,000 miles at 15 knots, a little less than the Webber Class FRC. It is essentially designed exclusively for anti-surface warfare with no ASW and only a self defense AAW capability

        They are very different types of craft, but both fall under the corvette umbrella.

        What I have observed is that there are really two distinct types of corvettes.

        One type are over-sized missile boats usually with a more robust self defense AAW capability than we would have seen on missile boats. They are usually less than 1000 tons. They usually also have a speed of at least 30 knots and relatively short range.

        The second type are also frequently referred to as light frigates. They usually have an ASW capability in addition to ASuW and a self-defense or local area air defense capability. These usually have a speed of less than 30 knots, but have longer range and greater endurance.

      • I would take the light frigate option as the USN and USCG should have a ship that has AAW and ASW without needing to call a Burke destroyer. One can say that the LCS and FFGX are those ships, but they’re not as well-rounded and capable as a Sa’ar 6 with VLS, 76mm, and torpedo tubes. The Sa’ar 6 is, in fact, a more potent weapons upgrade from the FFGX and LCS for a smaller size.

      • The Sa’ar 6 shows how much is possible even on a relatively small ship now. Same hull could be used for Cutter X with option of upgrades in wartime. Using something similar as a dual service ship we could have true mass production in multiple smaller shipyards.

        It would be a way to quickly flesh out the fleet and have escorts for the fleet train and high priority cargoes.

      • Perhaps a more important question would be…why aren’t Asian nations that fear Russia and China not buying these small but potent missile corvettes or even requesting them for their own National Security Defense through Foreign Military Sales? Instead, China is rapidly building and the Asian Nations aren’t buying or building much to counter.

        Many of these ships are COTS ready to buy.

      • @Locam. Singapore and Vietnam have some pretty good corvettes. Philippines is buying some new ships, but they lack some significant systems.

        Problem is that none of these countries can fight China alone. Some of them are
        “bending the knee” to Chinese already. China already has serious economic leverage on many of these countries. The US provides something of an alternative, but US determination and reliability is questioned.

  6. The Chinese Navy may not be as well-trained or robust as the USN, but they sure outweigh most of their Asian Navy counterparts except perhaps South Korea and Japan. The PLAN is a formidable threat to its neighbors.

    The issue here is that the USN is slow or incapable of adapting to the growing threats. 57mm Bofors seems to be “the norm” compared to 76mm or 5-inch and torpedo tubes are “out.” USN and USCG still seems stuck in the mindset of Post-Cold War peaceful ship designs—they are not aggressively weaponized enough for Distributed Lethality and Maritime Operations.

    USN could build the JMSDF Atago or Kongo-class AEGIS destroyers which are longer and wider than the Burkes, not to mention taller for more space.

    We don’t have missile corvettes and the Juliet Marine GHOST ship is stuck in legal limbo. Zumwalt has no 155mm rounds, even dumb, so its guns are useless. EMALS and weapons elevators on the Ford carriers need work and we canceled the F-14D just when the Tomcat was at the height of its version. Sometimes I wonder if I am reading Fake News or a smokescreen.

    In the end, the PLAN just needs new ships to launch more VLS missiles; it doesn’t need the best and brightest crews or ships; it just needs more VLS cells. Perhaps the Arsenal Ship is needed, but then again we have the Block V SSN subs with 40 Tomahawks each but we can’t build them fast enough.

    There is one image that shows the rising might of the PLAN…

    • The USN seems to have a serious case of FACphobia. For presence missions, a FAC group of 2 ASUW and 2 ASW FACs with a tender would suffice. But the Navy seems to want at least a heavy frigate, and preferably a Burke.

      • FACs tend not to have the endurance or survivability the Navy looks for. ASW assets usually have helicopters nowadays which typically means a bigger ship than an FAC.

      • @ Brett Baker.

        US Navy Shipbuilding Plans Update for the foreseeable future. And it’s pretty bleak…

        ( https : // www . defensenews . com / naval/2019/12/27/proposal-for-sweeping-cuts-to-us-navy-shipbuilding-force-structure-could-herald-a-new-strategy-experts-say/ )

      • The problem with the current future idea of unmanned ships as reported in DefenseNews is that none of the unmanned ship designs are large enough to be a Burke or a Cruiser, meaning that these USVs will carry fewer armament than manned ships, and thus might lead to the “Mosquito Fleet.”

        The Mosquito Fleet was a concept in the wooden sailing ship days where all these small boats with one to four cannons would swarm up against a large wooden warship. Good in theory but in reality the concept didn’t work as the Mosquito Fleet couldn’t amass enough firepower to destroy a capital Man of War ship. If the USN has money to spare, then fine, go with unmanned, BUT unmanned ships WILL NOT replace manned Destroyers and Cruisers because USVs are smaller.

  7. Pingback: For the Warship Geeks in the Group–China’s Type 055 | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

    • Competition for the FFG(X) Frigate replacement started in 2014! In 2014, there were Nine different designs submitted for evaluation. By 2018, the Nine was reduced to just Four. Final phase design pick won’t be before 2021, no matter how much wishful thinking anyone tried to apply to the decision making process. Even IF a New Design is chosen now, the first keel laying won’t be before 2022. Useless or not the LCS is a stop gap until then…

      • Technically, all those years would have given the US Navy and the contenders time to add modifications requesting 48 VLS cells instead of 32 and a 76mm or a 5″ instead of a 57mm Bofors into the design and to add surface torpedo tube. I would have. The FFG(X) seems “firepower anemic” coming out of the dry dock already even before the kneel is laid. I would have revised the original FFG(X) proposal to up-arm them.

      • Keep in mind, in 2014 when the Competition started nobody was thinking about Swarming of US Navy Ships. The Mk.45 Mod.4 rate of fire is ~20rpm! Far to slow to be effective as an Anti-Swarming Gun. The Oto Melara, while fast, couldn’t traverse fast enough (i.e.180) to cover both sides of the ship at the same time. That left the only logical chose, the 57 Bofors…

      • The LCSs could be made better with VLS Mission Modules which the Lockheed prototype model clearly shows. Adding eight NSMs works. The ASW and MCM Modules seems kind of a joke…tedious, slow, and nothing special. Sure, the LCS is the launch platform, but couldn’t something else be as well like an Amphib?

        Respectfully, the U.S. Navy has to throw out the stealth design now to up-arm the LCSs and/or make them more useful. The need for slanted superstructures stealth at the cost of huge “Radar friendly” NSM launchers is the trade-off to forgo stealth for more firepower.

    • I find that, despite all the Think Tankers, GAO Reports, SMEs, advisers and experts, that the current and future U.S. Navy warship designs leave a lot of be desired, respectively, in terms of firepower and capabilities.

      If the issue is swarming fast boat attacks, having twin or triple 57mm Bofors and more than one RIM-116 RAM (like on the San Antonio LPDs) makes logical sense. But, no, we don’t have this on any of our ships. Israeli and small missile corvettes mount RIM-116 RAM and Phalanx CIWS on the same small boat (Ambassador III) whereas our warships have one or the other and usually not both CIWS.

      • No Draft or Compulsory Service in the United States! And the US outlawed the use of the Press Gang in 1802!! The US Navy can barely man the ship’s it already has. Let alone a Navy it doesn’t have or wishes it has by 2035…

    • Yes, it does seem ominous that the Chinese are up to something and have lofty naval goals….they can produce and with a quantity and a decent-enough quality to be a concern.

  8. “Deciphering China’s ‘World-class’ Naval Ambitions”
    “How do we square Admiral Shen’s emphasis on speed with the formal timeline for achieving world-class status? Officially, the PLAN has been charged with becoming a world-class navy by midcentury. That hardly reflects the urgency demanded by China’s civilian leaders. Assuming both goals are sincere, the only way to reconcile them is to conclude that Beijing intends two or three more decades of rapid naval modernization to achieve the global influence and sea control capabilities it thinks it needs.”

  9. The US may have launched six destroyers while China has launched 21.

    “China shipbuilders launched a total of 10 destroyers in 2019, with the 24th Type 052D and the 6th Type 055 launched by Dalian shipyard on 26 December, setting a new record.

    For the record, the first Type 055 was launched on 28 June 2017. In just over three years (38 months exactly), China managed to launch eight of those large destroyers (180 meters in length with a total displacement of 13,000 tons). What’s more: China launched 13 Type 052D destroyers (157 meters in length with a displacement of 7,500 tons) in the same time frame (August 2017 to August 2020).”

      • Actually what I meant to say was that the Chinese finish their construction relatively quickly, but I left out a “not” and flipped the meaning. Thanks for catching that. I was trying to point out that the reason there were so many ships in the yard was not because they were slow in construction. On the contrary, they typically take less time to completion than a US yard would.

      • Depends on what you mean by “Systems”! Chinese rather copy someone else’s designs and manufacture them, then manufacture their own designs. Also the Chinese units in measure is the “Shizhi”, which is somewhat less then compatible with Universal Metrics. A copy of a copy, but rather a poorer copy of the original stolen design…

  10. some forget what a frigate is supposed to be. an escort, sub chaser. not a fleet aa weapon if it has some anti air weapons fine but not it’s job. the frigate has a mission, like uscg cutters used to have. kill subs uscg can not spell asw these days.


    • Yes, the idea that FFs have to be able to escort carriers is wrong. It is just something we do in peacetime. But in addition to escorting convoys they will likely escort Amphibious Assault Shipping.

      Air threat are virtually always present now, but so are AAW missile systems. No one builds a destroyer or frigate without some form of guided missile system now. Time they dropped the “G” on the end of DDG and FFG, because its a given.

      If the Coast Guard does get back in the ASW business, its likely we would be escorting ships along routes with the lowest air threat, e.g. from the West Coast to Hawaii. Then perhaps from Hawaii to Guam with more AAW capable ship(s) as part of the escort.

  11. @ Secindus

    I mean the weapons, comms, sensors, and all the other stuff that isn’t hull, propulsion, or hotel.

    The complicated and expensive stuff! 🙂

  12. @ Secindus

    By systems I mean weapons, sensors, and comms etc. Everything that is not hull, propulsion, or hotel.

    The expensive and complicated stuff! 🙂

  13. Pingback: Rebuttal to ““U.S. Coast Guard’s VADM Linda Fagan (Pacific Command) answers why the Large Coast Guard Cutters Do Not Up-Arm” | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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