China's next-generation Type 054B frigates - Everything we know so far

China's next-generation Type 054B frigates - Everything we know so far

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Hello everyone, let’s talk about the Type  054B, the future frigate of the Chinese Navy.   Recently, a lot of new insights has been  shared around the defence community,   based on pieces of information from semi-official  sources, and alleged insider knowledge. For many   European countries, the frigate is seen as a  frontline combatant. But for the Chinese Navy,   which has a large number of powerful frontline  destroyers, the frigate plays a support role in   a naval taskforce, especially as anti-submarine  escort and medium-range air defence. They can   operate individually, but should only do  so in medium to low intensity conflicts.  

This video is a comprehensive overview of all  the information available about the Type 054B.  The PLA Navy already possesses a vast frigate  fleet, most of which are the Type 054A.   Around 30 Type 054A frigates are already  in service, with many more hulls entering   service in the years to come. The Type 054A is  not old by any means, first commissioned in 2008,  

and the more recent ships have been  updated especially in their sonar suite.   But the Type 054A suffers from  certain obvious weaknesses,   which limit their usefulness as a general-purpose  frigate. For example, the HQ-16 anti-air missile   is becoming quite old, and the main radar the  Type 382, which is heavily inspired by the Russian   Fregat radar, needs an update, preferably  to an active electronically scanned array.   Most crucially in the realm of anti-submarine  warfare, the Type 054A is not quite fast enough   to keep up with the maximum speed of an aircraft  carrier, and it has to slow down a lot to use   its towed array sonar. We will focus on what’s  actually changed on the Type 054B from the 054A,   and show how each particular improvement  addresses a specific problem with its predecessor. 

So, here’s the latest timeframe for  the construction of the Type 054B.   According to alleged Chinese insiders, the Huangpu  Shipyard in Guangzhou purchased military-grade   steel in March this year, and steel-cutting for  the Type 054B took place in May. If this is true,   the building of individual modules for the  ship has already begun, but this will be   done indoors inside fabrication halls, and  away from the prying eyes of satellites.   We won’t actually be able to see the ship  being built until the modules are moved to   a drydock for final assembly. Allegedly, the  first ship may be launched at the end of 2023. 

Overall displacement is claimed to be slightly  above 5,000 tons, which is 1,000 tons more   than the Type 054A. This is entirely  consistent with the expectations   of the PLA watching community up to this point,  although some people had expected even bigger.   The increase in displacement is necessary  to accommodate a long list of new features,   and to allow further modernisation in the future. Let’s talk about the vertical launching   system – the VLS – of the Type 054B. The Chinese  Navy can either go with the H/AJK-16 VLS,   which is used on the Type 054A, or go with the  universal VLS standard on the modern Chinese Navy   destroyers, the Type 052D and 055. Which type  of VLS chosen will naturally be dictated by the  

desired missile armament for the Type 054B. If it  uses the old H/AJK-16 VLS, then it can only use   the HQ-16 medium range air defence missiles as its  primary air warfare weapon. The HQ-16 has several   drawbacks – it is only for medium range, either  50 km for the HQ-16A or 70 km for the HQ-16B;   it still relies on semi-active radar homing, which  is more susceptible to jamming than active radar   homing; lastly, the HQ-16 cannot be quad-packed,  because it is too big, and this limits the overall   firepower. Clearly, the Type 054B needs something  better, and therefore there is widespread   expectation that universal VLS will be used,  which can carry long-range anti-air missiles and a   newly-introduced quad-packed medium-range SAM. To  complicate matters further, there are two types of  

universal VLS in the Chinese Navy to choose from.  One system can accommodate missiles up to 7 metres   in length, and the other system up to 9 metres  in length. Note these are not the actual length   of the VLS, but only the missile length the  cells can accommodate. The overall length   of the VLS will be even greater, owing to the  need for an exhaust vent, among other things.   The truth is we don’t actually have any reliable  information on whether the 7-metre or the 9-metre   version will be chosen. I personally think it  is more likely to be the 7 metre one. The main  

advantage of the 9-metre version is to carry the  YJ-18 anti-ship missile, but the PLA Navy do not   consider its frigates as anti-ship platforms for  the most part, so the YJ-18 is not really needed.   To incorporate the 9-metre VLS, the Type 054B  will most likely need to have a raised bow deck,   which is expensive. So, in my view, the Type 054B  will use a 7-metre universal VLS with 32 cells.  In terms of the missile loadout, the Type 054B  will use a combination of the new quad-packed   medium-range SAM, and the HQ-9B  long-range SAM, for air warfare purposes.   The quad-packed SAM has already entered  service on the Type 055 destroyer,   so it will most likely be used on the Type  054B as well. It has a range of 50 km,   with a terminal velocity of Mach 5. It  is guided by active radar homing, which   is more reliable against jamming and spoofing  than the semi-active radar guidance of the HQ-16.  

The fact it can be quad-packed essentially  is a massive boost to the ship’s firepower,   and frees up more cells to carry other weapons. The Type 054B will also carry some HQ-9B   long-range SAM. Their main purpose is to target  enemy aircraft, especially their surveillance   and reconnaissance planes, and to deter or  disrupt them from carrying out their mission.   The HQ-9B will also deter combat aircrafts from  coming in too close to use more deadly weapons,   for example guided bombs. This aircraft deterrence  capability is very much missing on the Type 054A,  

whose medium range anti-air is suitable only for  missile interception, and not for shooting back   at the attackers. Of course, when the Type 054B  is operating as part of a larger taskforce,   this long-range anti-air is arguably not needed,  because destroyers will be there to do the job.   However, the Type 054B is also envisaged to  operate individually or lead small taskforces   in medium-to-low intensity combat, and for  these purposes the long-range air defence   will be necessary. A sensible VLS loadout would  be something like 64 quad-packed SAMs inside 16   cells, 8 HQ-9B long-range SAMs, and 8 more Yu-8  anti-submarine missiles. In terms of anti-ship  

missiles, the Type 054B will probably just use  the deck-mounted launchers for the YJ-12 cruise   missile, or even retain the YJ-83 subsonic cruise  missile. These are less powerful than the YJ-18,   but the Type 054B is focused on air warfare  and anti-submarine warfare. Therefore,   it would be convenient to use slanted deck-mounted  launchers for anti-ship missiles, like the YJ-12,   which would allow the room below the deck to  be used for other purposes, which obviously   cannot happen if the VLS-launched YJ-18 is used. Unrelated to the VLS, the Type 054B will use a 100   mm naval gun, a step-up in calibre from the 76  mm on the Type 054A. Compared to the 76 mm gun,  

the 100 mm should be a more powerful coastal  bombardment weapon, with a greater range that   can hit land targets while staying out of range of  the return fire from land-based guns. The 100 mm   will also be more destructive against enemy  warships at close range, should it come to that.   The trade-off is that the 100 mm will be  less effective at engaging air targets,   for example slow missiles, due to a  slower rate of fire compared to the 76 mm.  By the way, if you enjoyed our video  so far, please press the like button. 

The main search radar will be a twin-faced  AESA radar mounted on top of an integrated   mast. On the 29 October 2021, the Huangpu  Shipyard reportedly tendered for a conformal   radar mast with high transmittance for radio  waves – this is reminiscent of the conformal   radar mast on the Japanese Mogami class.  The actual AESA radar will likely be S-band,   which is tailored to long-range volume search.  Here is a photo of the weapon trial ship 892,   which is frequently used to test new technology  for PLA Navy frigates. According to credible   Chinese insiders, the twin-faced rotating radar  you see mounted on the trial ship will be the AESA   radar for the Type 054B. The integrated mast on  which the radar is mounted will help to strengthen  

the stealth capability of the ship compared to  the Type 054A’s conventional radar mast. It is   uncertain whether the AESA radar will be enclosed  inside a radome, which would further enhance   stealth capability, or if it will be exposed. So, why would we use a dual-sided rotating AESA?   Why not use the radar outfit on the  Chinese destroyers, where the AESA   arrays are fixed into the superstructure in  four individual faces? One reason is cost.   For the same number of modules inside an  array, two faces are much cheaper than four.  

So, to get the same quality of radar resolution,  four faces are literally twice as expensive   as two, to say nothing of the additional equipment  needed for powering and cooling purposes.   Secondly, with only two faces, the radar can  be quite light, which means it can be placed   much higher, for example at the very top of the  mast. Radars generally rely on line of sight,   so being placed higher means it can see further.  The twin-faced rotating AESA should have a longer   radar horizon than the four-faced radar in Chinese  destroyers, as the latter is mounted lower in the   superstructure. This means the Type 054B will  receive ample advanced warning of low-flying   anti-ship missiles. Of course, the trade-off  from having only two faces is that you don’t have   360-degree simultaneous coverage, like in the  case of four faces. But we know the twin-faced  

AESA is able to rotate really fast if required,  which would help to achieve a high refresh rate   and low latency, even if simultaneous coverage  is not strictly possible. On the other hand,   the rotation can also be slowed down to put  longer dwell time on a target, which is important   for example in the case of stealth aircrafts. Basically, the two-sided AESA radar is a suitable   balance between cost and capabilities for the  Type 054B, and in any case is a huge improvement   from the Type 382 radar of the Type 054A. The  new radar should also be able to guide the HQ-9B  

long-range missile within a maximum range of 200  to 300 km via a datalink, and bring the HQ-9B   to within close proximity of the target, where  its own active radar seeker can take over.   The use of an integrated mast will be  hugely beneficial to stealth capability.  The Type 054B may also have a secondary  AESA radar mounted on a second radar mast.  

If this happens, it will be in the X-band. The  second radar would be a replacement for the Type   364 low-altitude radar, which is a high frequency  radar suitable for tracking low-flying targets at   close range. This X-band AESA would essentially  perform the same function, but at a more capable   level. It remains uncertain whether it will  be installed – the main factor will be cost.  The final area of improvement for the Type 054B  will be in the propulsion system – the use of   integrated electric propulsion, which will be  hugely beneficial to anti-submarine capabilities.   The predecessor, the Type 054A, is  designed partly as anti-submarine escort.   However, the Type 054A at 27 knots is too slow to  keep up with an aircraft carrier at maximum speed,   which limits the safe sprinting speed of a  carrier-based taskforce. I need to emphasise  

that normally, there would be little need for a  carrier group to travel above 27 knots, but one   needs to retain the flexibility to get to places  quickly in an emergency while also protecting the   carrier from submarines. Perhaps more importantly,  the Type 054A has to slow down drastically when   it uses its passive sonar. I don’t have  the exact numbers, but when the Type 054A   listens using its towed array sonar, it travels  very slowly. This is because, at anything above   slow speed, its diesel engines produce loud  low-frequency noise, which is difficult   to cancel. This noise interferes with the ability  of the passive sonar to listen for submarines. 

The integrated electric propulsion,  widely expected on the Type 054B,   will fix these problems to a large extent. The  Type 054B should be able to go above 30 knots,   thus keeping up with the speed of an aircraft  carrier. This requires a 50 percent increase   in power output from the Type 054A. The general  rule of thumb is that the required power output   is equal to the desired speed to the power of  three. This means that for the Type 054B to   achieve 31 knots, it needs 30 megawatts of engine  power, a 50 percent increase from the 20 megawatts   of the 054A. To achieve this, the Type 054B should  be using gas turbine generators to power its  

integrated electric propulsion. Gas turbines  are more space-efficient compared to diesel   for the same amount of energy output, so they  are more energy-dense. For a surface combatant,   where space comes at a premium, gas turbines are  generally a good way to achieve high top speed.  

This would allow the Type 054B to achieve the  required power without a huge increase in tonnage.  Moreover, in an integrated electric propulsion,  there is basically complete freedom in how   you place the key components, like the power  generators. So, the relatively noisy components,   like the gas turbines for example, can be  positioned away from the stern or the bulbous bow,   which would reduce the noise level in these areas.  This means the ship’s motor can be much quieter,   and would not interfere with the sonars as  much compared to a conventional propulsion.  

This would allow the passive sonars, including the  towed array sonar, to be used at a higher speed   compared to the Type 054A, in turn permitting  the carrier group to travel at a faster speed   while also staying protected against submarines.  In short, an integrated electric propulsion is key   to the Type 054B’s anti-submarine capabilities. The final anti-submarine improvement should be a   slight lengthening of the helipad and possibly  the hangar, to accommodate a single Z-20   anti-submarine helicopter, which is the  PLA Navy’s newest medium-sized ASW helo,   and much more capable compared to the  Harbin Z-9C used by the Type 054A.   Compared to the Z-9C, the Z-20 should have a much  greater range, a more sustained flight endurance,   and a larger payload of sonobuoys and torpedoes.  It also has a much larger surface search radar,   giving the Type 054B improved engagement  capability beyond the horizon. So, to sum up,   the Type 054B will be a much more capable  anti-submarine escort than the Type 054A. 

In summary, the Type 054B will improve  from the existing Type 054A frigate   in practically all respects, especially  in terms of air warfare and anti-submarine   escort capabilities. These are the primary roles  I believe the PLA Navy intends its frigates   to fulfil, as well as keeping down the overall  expense, so these ships can be mass produced.   The main changes are as follows. The Type  054B should feature universal VLS, giving   it long range anti-air capability to disrupt  the missions of enemy aircrafts, in addition to   the interception of cruise missiles. In terms of  sensors, it will have a twin-faced rotating radar,   which will complete the long-overdue transition  to AESA radar technology for Chinese frigates.  

The radars and electronic support systems will be  mounted either on or within an integrated mast,   boosting stealth capabilities. Lastly, the Type  054B will be a very capable anti-submarine escort,   capable of keeping up with aircraft carriers,  and better placed to listen for submarines using   passive sonars, thanks its integrated electric  propulsion, as well as integrating China’s latest   Z-20 anti-submarine helo. Anyway, I ‘ve talked for  long enough, so I will stop now. Do you agree with   my view on what the Type 054B entails? Based on  what you’ve seen, is there anything missing from   this assessment? Let me know in the comments  below, and thanks for listening to my ramble.

2022-09-10 01:10

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