Home' Defence Technology Review : DTR MAY 2015 Contents 41
DEFENCE TECHNOLOGY REVIEW | ISSUE 09 | MAY 2015
The Rise of the PLA Navy
The US Navy’s Office of Naval
Intelligence turns the spotlight on
the rapid build-up of China’s naval
DURING THE PAST 15 years, China’s ambitious naval
modernization has produced a more technologically advanced
and flexible force. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)
currently possesses more than 300 surface combatants,
submarines, amphibious ships, and missile-armed patrol craft.
Although the overall order-of-battle has remained relatively
constant in recent years, the PLAN is rapidly retiring legacy
combatants in favour of larger, multi-mission ships equipped
with advanced anti-ship, anti-air and anti-submarine weapons
Since 2000, the PLAN has been on track to dramatically
increase its combat capability by 2020 through rapid acquisition
and improved operational proficiency. During 2014 alone,
more than 60 naval ships and craft were laid down, launched or
commissioned, with a similar number expected through the end
of 2015. Major qualitative improvements are occurring within
naval aviation and the submarine force, which are increasingly
capable of striking targets hundreds of miles from the Chinese
mainland. Although the PLAN faces capability gaps in some key
areas, it is emerging as a well-equipped and competent force.
From the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, China often built small
numbers of a large variety of ships, changing classes rapidly as
advancements were made. In the period between 1995 and 2005
alone, China constructed or purchased major surface combatants
and submarines in at least 15 different classes. Using imported
technology, reverse engineering, and indigenous development,
China rapidly narrowed the technology and capability gap with
modern navies during the 1990s and 2000s. As the PLAN closed
the technological gap, procurement became more indigenous and
more efficient. The last delivery of a major naval platform from a
foreign country was the Russian Sovremennyy II-class air defence
destroyers in 2006.
China is implementing much longer production runs of its
domestically produced surface combatants and conventional
submarines, suggesting greater satisfaction with recent designs.
The Jiangkai-class (Type 054A) frigate series, Luyang-class (Type
052B/C/D) destroyer series, and the upcoming new cruiser (Type
055) class are considered to be modern and capable designs that
are comparable in many respects to the most modern Western
Likewise, the PLAN Air Force (PLANAF) continues improving
its capabilities. It is better equipped to project air power from
shore and has begun the difficult journey towards carrier aviation.
Two months after the carrier Liaoning was commissioned in
2012, J-15 aircraft successfully conducted their first-ever carrier-
based take-off and landings.
With a greater percentage of the force consisting of large,
multi-mission combatants capable of blue water operations, the
PLAN will have an increasing capability to undertake missions
in far seas, and is assuming its place among the most powerful
navies in Asia. Additionally, the introduction of long-range
anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM), non-PLAN weapons such as
the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), and the requisite
command, control, communications, computers, intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) architecture to provide
targeting data will allow China to expand its combat capability
further into the Philippine and South China Seas.
DURING 2014 ALONE,
MORE THAN 60 NAVAL
SHIPS AND CRAFT WERE
LAID DOWN, LAUNCHED
WITH A SIMILAR NUMBER
EXPECTED THROUGH THE
END OF 2015.
The aircraft carrier Liaoning. The Office of Naval Intelligence
reports that the PLAN has made remarkable progress in
developing a carrier-based aviation capability.
In the initial stages of China’s modernisation drive, the PLAN
successfully concentrated resources on improving its anti-surface
warfare (ASuW) capabilities, both in surface and submarine
development. Subsequent efforts to improve anti-air warfare
(AAW) capabilities were evident with the surface force, along
with modest improvements in anti-submarine warfare (ASW)
capability. Every major PLAN surface combatant currently under
construction is capable of embarking a helicopter, an addition
that supports over-the-horizon targeting (OTH-T), ASW and
search and rescue.
Meanwhile, the submarine force remains largely concentrated
on ASuW, with the Jin-class SSBN poised to strengthen China’s
nuclear deterrent once the vessel begins strategic patrols in
the near future. Naval aviation is widening its mission set by
incorporating more diverse aircraft and capabilities, including
airborne early warning (AEW), carrier aviation and unmanned
aerial vehicles. As a whole, although some older platforms remain
in the inventory, the PLAN is clearly shifting to a force employing
assets that are able to execute a wide variety of missions both near
and far from home.
PLAN SURFACE FORCE
As of this publishing [April 2015], the PLAN consists of
approximately 26 destroyers (21 of which are considered modern),
52 frigates (35 modern), 20 new corvettes, 85 modern missile-
armed patrol craft, 56 amphibious ships, 42 mine warfare ships
(30 modern), more than 50 major auxiliary ships and more than
400 minor auxiliary ships and service/support craft.
In recent years, shipboard air defence is arguably the most
notable area of improvement on PLAN surface ships. China has
retired several legacy destroyers and frigates that had at most a
point air defence capability, with a range of just several miles.
A PLAN J-15 Flying Shark taking off from
the aircraft carrier Liaoning.
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