First of all, if it can excellently accomplish inshore combat tasks, it will be able to provide reliable coastal foundation and support for open-sea and even ocean-going combat tasks.
Second, as a weapon for inshore defense and naval base defense, the 056 light guided missile frigates will replace the large number of old 053 frigate series, 037 submarine chaser series and guided missile boats. The large-scale delivery and application of 056 frigate indicate the comprehensive upgrade of China’s inshore defense power.
What’s special about this frigate that is reputed as the new-generation “maritime cavalry”? What advanced technologies does it adopt? What’s its position in the international arena? Sun Ming, main supervisor of the 056 frigate and chief representative of a military representative office of the Equipment Department of the PLAN, explained to us the highlights of the new 056 frigate.
The China-made new frigate presents three conspicuous characteristics in general.
First, it’s of small tonnage and with intense devices.
The 056 frigate is relatively light in the frigate family, but it is equipped with all the “five regular systems” of destroyers and frigates, with complete combat configurations in particular. Some devices are appropriately simplified on the premise of meeting basic functions. For instance, standard cabinet is used for the display and control console in the combat commanding room to save space.
“Besides, you have seen the shape of this configuration on TV and in photos. The flying deck has the function for helicopter takeoff and landing but without the helicopter hangar, and the saved room is mainly used to deploy missile weapon system. Once a helicopter is needed, the frigate can call the shore base,” said Sun Ming.
Second, it has few seamen and features high automation level.
Many devices, such as satellite radio navigation equipment, have been integrated through design optimization. “Several people used to be on duty in the engine room, but now no one is needed there,” Sun Ming told the reporter.
Third, it’s produced by multiple plants in large quantities.
“According to the plan, this naval vessel is likely to be produced in large quantities among China’s combat ships. It will be built by multiple highly professional shipyards in China simultaneously, which is the first time for a China-made frigate,” Sun Ming added.
Deep-V shape highlights stealth performance
Generally speaking, the 056 frigate draws on some mature devices and technologies of the last-generation destroyer and frigate, “but it has its own innovations,” said Sun Ming.
For instance, it is designed in a deep-V shape, which is usually adopted by vessels under 1,000 tons and is applied to a domestic combat ship for the first time. Such a shape boasts high speed and excellent seaworthiness and ensures safe voyage under Level-8 sea conditions.
Compared with other new destroyers and frigates of the PLAN, this frigate doesn’t adopt many new stealth technologies for the main consideration that it is mostly used for inshore tasks, but certain measures have been taken for its stealth performance.
For instance, it draws on and applies the mature radar wave stealth technology of destroyers and frigates, and the hull and deck superstructure use inclined outer plates for stealth purpose.
Main combat weapon for the defense of Chinese naval base
What’s the position of the 056 frigate in China’s naval equipment?
According to Sun Ming, China has an 18,000km-long coastline to guard. As a large number of serving surface vessels for base defense will be decommissioned, the PLAN is in urgent need for new-type base defense forces to orderly replace and retrofit the frigates, submarine chasers and guided missile boats that are serving base defense now but will be decommissioned soon.
The mass production of new-type frigate will shorten the production cycle and accelerate delivery and commissioning. “We used to say that it took ten years to build a frigate, but now it may take only one year to build ten frigates since multiple plants are working at the same time.”
The new-type frigate is able to engage in low-intensity conflicts and carry out patrol, escort and fishing protection tasks in key waters. It makes the military force structure more reasonable, shows greater flexibility in carrying out combat tasks, and will soon become the main combat equipment for base defense.
Moreover, the large-scale commissioning of the new-type frigate is expected to exert considerable effects on the PLAN’s combat thinking, methods of operation, training, management and application, talent cultivation and battlefield construction.
Best overall performance in similar frigates of surrounding countries but without protruding single items
Many readers are concerned about how such type of China-made guided missile frigate is compared with similar frigates overseas.
“It’s meaningless to compare it with foreign frigates simply in terms of function and performance.” According to Sun Ming, weaponry is aimed for battles, and it is the cooperation between people and weapon that decides the result of a battle. No matter how good the equipment is, one cannot win a battle without good tactics. On the other hand, the proper use of various tactics can make up for the weaknesses in backward equipment. The PLA Navy has rich experience in this regard.
“From a technical perspective, the Chinese 056 guided missile frigate emphasizes overall balance and isn’t necessarily superior to similar frigates of surrounding countries in any single combat performance or indicator. However, it does feature an advanced technical standard, at least the most advanced among similar frigates of surrounding countries that we know of,” said Sun Ming.
“In my opinion, if the number of frigates built is taken as a criterion to gauge its position, the 056 frigate will become an important part of Chinese frigates, and will be under the spotlight in the international shipbuilding industry for a period to come.”
Sun Ming introduced that the following factors shall also be considered to determine whether a combat ship is important.
The first is the need to replace and upgrade the base defense force, which was mentioned earlier.
The second is China’s special maritime environment. The long coastline needs to be patrolled, the disputes over several islands need to be solved, and the maritime transportation routes need to be protected. Guided missile frigate is the most economic choice if those issues need to be solved by force.
The third factor is that from the point of military force structure, developing large-tonnage warship is an inevitable trend. The PLA Navy has to build large warships if it is to go to the high sea, but large warship will be a waste of resources if it’s only used for “yard-protecing”.
The PLA Navy also needs vessels that are suitable for carrying out fishing protection, patrol and guarding tasks at the “house gate”, so that it can free the large combat ships from the trivial everyday maritime services and consequently ensure the combat capacity of main high-sea-going taskforces.
The fourth factor is the economic ability. With complete functions, the 056 guided missile frigate is capable of air defense, anti-submarine warfare, assault, and garrisoning. Such high cost effectiveness better caters to the rapidly increasing equipment manufacturing of the PLA Navy.
What’s the 056 guide missile frigate’s advantage in coping with islands disputes?
First of all, the PLA Navy’s inshore combat tasks mainly consist of daily patrol, guarding, fishing protection, and other low-intensity and low-risk tasks. It provides the basic maritime force support for the civilian and law enforcement forces of oceanic administration and fishing affair bureau in coping with the provocations by military vessels of enemy states.
Designed not solely for islands disputes but for more extensive purposes such as maritime target assaulting, air defense and anti-submarine, the 056 guide missile frigate is a light maritime striking weapon platform with the highest performance-price ratio and the widest applications. It can be manufactured by a number of coastal and inland shipyards on a large scale and in large quantities and supplied to the PLA Navy incessantly.
Second, light surface vessels have to be used in the early stage of islands disputes. The flexible body and comprehensive combat capability of the 056 guided missile frigate decide that it is of best use on islands and the surrounding waters, where it can deal with all kinds of maritime crisis flexibly and make the mobilization and deployment of large vessels more effective.
Light guide missile frigate can serve as steady support for PLA Navy’s high-sea-going maneuver combat and help free the inshore fast attack forces from everyday coast defense tasks, so as to establish a new-type inshore defensive combat system.