Without breaking a sweat
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Editor’s note: Alongside South Korea, China is the world’s largest shipbuilder with the vast majority of that accounted by civilian ships. As such it is quite easy for China to ramp up naval shipbuilding, especially when there is a slump in the civilian demand as it the case right now. According to some analysis China’s naval buildup is still less than the spare capacity of the civilian yards.
While the U.S. Navy launches a handful of AEGIS destroyers each year, the single image below of a Shanghai shipyard shows nine newly constructed Chinese warships. China’s Navy, known as the PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy), is modernizing at an impressive rate. And on a vast scale. A key ingredient is the construction of a fleet of large destroyers, amphibious warships and aircraft carriers. The below photo, snapped from an airplane window on December 13, and shared on social media, captures the vast scale of this construction.
Nearest the camera, a line of four newly constructed destroyers catch the sunlight. Two are Type-052D air-defense destroyers, generally equivalent to the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke Class AEGIS destroyers. These displace 7,500 tons and can carry 64 large missiles including long range surface to air missiles (SAMs) and cruise missiles. The other two are larger Type-055 Class ships. These are also described as air-defense destroyers but are verging on cruisers in terms of size and fit. These are about twice the displacement and carry over 100 large missiles.
Behind them is the shipyard with its mass of construction halls and cranes. In the basin where the newest ships are docked after launch are another four destroyers. Again there are both Type-052D and Type-055 ships. Together with another Type-055 under construction on the left of the image, this brings the total number of large destroyers visible to 9. To put that into context, the Royal Navy’s entire destroyer fleet is just 6 ships. And this yard is just part of a much bigger construction program.
There are also some hovercraft which will be carried aboard the PLAN’s expanding fleet of amphibious warships. They will be used for transporting tanks and supplies from ship to shore. These are generally similar to the U.S. Navy’s Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC).
At the side of the basin, in a dry dock, is a massive Yuan Wang Class satellite and/or missile tracking ship. These are the sort of ships which look like an ocean liner but with a series of gigantic satellite dishes pointing skyward. When completed this could be used to support missile tests.
But the most impressive vessel is hidden in the background haze, barely discernible to the untrained eye. Beneath several massive gantry cranes in a purpose-built construction area is China’s next-generation aircraft carrier. China already has two carriers in service but this new carrier is expected to be significantly different. Known as the Type-003, it is believed to have electromagnetic catapults like the latest U.S. Navy Ford Class carrier. It is not expected to be launched for some time.
Other developments are not visible in the photo. It is the same shipyard where China’s mysterious sailless submarine has been constructed. Although that submarine is not clearly apparent in the photograph, it may be present in the basin.
This image paints an interesting picture of Chinese naval modernization. Yet the biggest takeaway is that this shipyard is not alone. There are many yards across China which are similarly impressive. The Chinese Navy of today, and the future, is changed beyond all recognition from the Chinese Navy of the past. The world naval balance is shifting.