A US Congressional Research Report claimed earlier this year that China’s PLA Navy is the largest in the world by fleet size. The Chinese Navy is now speculated to expand its fleet amid tensions in the Taiwan Strait.
A recent image making the rounds on the Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo shows five large ships under construction at a dry dock at the state-owned Dalian Shipyard in Liaoning province. The picture was posted by a user called @lyman2003 on August 21.
After the image went viral, the vessels were identified as the Type 052 and the Type 052DL destroyers, which appeared to be in various stages of construction. While China has not officially announced construction plans for these destroyers, the image gave way to speculation that China wants to start mass-producing them.
The ships resemble 052DL Destroyers, the “stretched” version of the Type 052D vessels used by the Chinese Navy since they have expanded helicopter decks at the back.
5 nouveaux destroyers Type 052D sur cale sèche au chantier naval Dalian, l'expansion continue. pic.twitter.com/J256C4Hi6X
— East Pendulum (@HenriKenhmann) August 21, 2022
The five Destroyers under construction at Dalian and one more that is being constructed at Jiangnan Changxing Shipyard in Shanghai will eventually join the 25 vessels of this class that are in service with the PLA Navy.
Of the 25, 13 are Type 052D, and 12 are Type 052DL, according to two Chinese military observers.
The revelation concerning secretive construction in Liaoning comes when China remains marred in tensions with Taiwan and the United States over its resolve to unite the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name) with the Chinese mainland.
Earlier this month, the Type 052D destroyer Nanjing was captured on camera engaging the Taiwanese destroyer Tso Ying just east of the island during the chaotic PLA drills.
While there is no confirmation of mass production yet, the Chinese Navy has commissioned more warships than any other country in recent years. Its shipbuilding capacity has been recognized even by its biggest adversary, the United States. The Type-52 Destroyer is a competitor of the US Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
However, while the US Navy operates about 70 ships of this class, the Chinese PLA Navy has just 25, with about six more soon joining the fleet. It still lags behind the United States Navy, a reason why it could be anticipated that China is ready to expand.
The Type 052 Destroyer
The Type 052 Destroyer is based on the Type 052C DDG, its predecessor, and most likely uses the same hull as the previous variant. The Type 052D incorporates several designs, sensors, and weapon fit enhancements.
The Type 052D is equipped with its own integrated electronic weapons system, has a 7,500-ton displacement, a top speed of 30 nautical miles per hour, and AESA radar. It possesses a 64-cell vertical launching system for surface-to-air, surface-to-surface, and anti-submarine missiles.
Type 052D is intended for the high seas. The ships have 64 vertical launch system (VLS) cells for HHQ-9 surface-to-air missiles, Yu-8 rocket-propelled ASW torpedo, and YJ-18 tactical cruise missiles.
In contrast, the Type 052DL is 200 tons heavier and four to five meters longer, so it can carry the new Harbin Z-20 helicopter on its deck. Its length is 162 meters, the beam is 17.2 meters, the draught is 6.2 meters, and the displacement at full load is 7,700 tons, with the capacity to accommodate 280 crew members on board, according to Naval News.
The construction of additional vessels could be a harbinger of an expansion, especially of China’s military might, as the country has expressed its intent to steadily advance the reunification process amid the frequent visit of US officials to Taiwan.
A report released last week by a Washington-based think said that China may have the financial capacity to construct up to five aircraft carriers and ten nuclear ballistic missile submarines by 2030.
In addition, a recent report in state media Global Times said that China will finish its military modernization and expansion by 2035, “including the development of a blue-water navy, to match the country’s international status and better defend its interests.” A Blue-water navy operates globally and traverses deep oceans.
A Chinese Blue-water navy would also challenge Washington’s interests in the Pacific, where Beijing is steadily making inroads. By 2031, according to a new projection from a US think group, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will rule the Indo-Pacific region and onwards to the Pacific with a variety of deadly warships and submarines.