China’s new warships for the South China Sea

Happy Monday, everyone. The United States Navy sent its first Littoral Combat Ship, the USS Freedom, on a 10-month deployment to Singapore last Friday, a famous example of the pivot to Asia, or whatever you want to call it. The Freedom will eventually be joined by up to three of its sister ships. Once there, ...

Chinese Internet, China Defense Blog
Chinese Internet, China Defense Blog
Chinese Internet, China Defense Blog

Happy Monday, everyone. The United States Navy sent its first Littoral Combat Ship, the USS Freedom, on a 10-month deployment to Singapore last Friday, a famous example of the pivot to Asia, or whatever you want to call it. The Freedom will eventually be joined by up to three of its sister ships. Once there, they will patrol the strait of Malacca for pirates and possibly give U.S. allies in the region a little bit of backup during disputes over territory in the resource-rich South China Sea.

The Freedom-class and Independence-class Littoral Combat Ships have been much criticized for lacking enough armor, firepower, and even crew to survive a high-end naval fight. Their backers counter that they aren't designed to fight destroyers; they're designed to sweep coastal waters for mines, insert SEALs into hostile territory, train foreign navies, and hunt for pirates, smugglers, and submarines. Still, the ships have had numerous delays in getting ready for even these missions. (Click here to read about the challenges facing LCS.)

Meanwhile, China just commissioned its very first Type 056 class "stealth" frigate (shown above) to patrol the South China Sea, East China Sea, and Sea of Japan. The Type 056s are smaller than the Freedom-class LCS, pack older weapons and sensors, and don't have the ability to launch unmanned boats and submersibles designed to hunt mines, submarines, and even other ships -- a capability the LCS will eventually have.  Still, they've got four YJ-83 supersonic anti-ship-missile launchers -- something the LCS does not.

Happy Monday, everyone. The United States Navy sent its first Littoral Combat Ship, the USS Freedom, on a 10-month deployment to Singapore last Friday, a famous example of the pivot to Asia, or whatever you want to call it. The Freedom will eventually be joined by up to three of its sister ships. Once there, they will patrol the strait of Malacca for pirates and possibly give U.S. allies in the region a little bit of backup during disputes over territory in the resource-rich South China Sea.

The Freedom-class and Independence-class Littoral Combat Ships have been much criticized for lacking enough armor, firepower, and even crew to survive a high-end naval fight. Their backers counter that they aren’t designed to fight destroyers; they’re designed to sweep coastal waters for mines, insert SEALs into hostile territory, train foreign navies, and hunt for pirates, smugglers, and submarines. Still, the ships have had numerous delays in getting ready for even these missions. (Click here to read about the challenges facing LCS.)

Meanwhile, China just commissioned its very first Type 056 class "stealth" frigate (shown above) to patrol the South China Sea, East China Sea, and Sea of Japan. The Type 056s are smaller than the Freedom-class LCS, pack older weapons and sensors, and don’t have the ability to launch unmanned boats and submersibles designed to hunt mines, submarines, and even other ships — a capability the LCS will eventually have.  Still, they’ve got four YJ-83 supersonic anti-ship-missile launchers — something the LCS does not.

The 313-foot ships can cruise at up to 28 knots and have a crew of about 60. In addition to the anti-ship missiles, they carry a Soviet-designed AK-176 76-mm main gun, two 30-mm guns, and eight TY-90 anti-aircraft missiles mounted astern that are designed as a last-ditch protection against aircraft. (If this layout sounds kind of familiar, it’s because the LCSs mount a 57-mm main gun, have a couple of 30-mm Bushmaster cannons, and carry 21 Rolling Airframe Missiles astern for anti-aircraft duties.) The Type-056s can also accommodate Z-9 choppers (a license-built version of the Eurocopter Dauphin that’s flown by the U.S. Coast Guard) on its relatively small flight deck.

As for the claims that the Type-056 are stealth? Sure, the boats have some angled surfaces that may help reduce their radar signatures a bit, but just look at those masts — they’re pretty non-stealthy.

The ships will be used for "improving the base-defense combat power as well as enhancing the PLA Navy’s capability of safeguarding China’s national security and territorial integrity, and defending China’s maritime sovereignty and maritime rights and interests," reads the PLA Daily’s website. "The new-type frigate will be mainly responsible for implementing missions such as patrolling, guarding and escorting as well as anti-submarine operations and operations against sea targets independently or in coordination with other forces."

John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing Military.com’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.

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