PLAN warships conducted live fire exercises at an undisclosed location in the South China Sea during the last week of October. Photos were subsequently published and shared on the PLA’s main news organ. These showed at least three “guided missile destroyers” firing their onboard guns. It’s unknown if the same vessels launched any of their missiles or conducted other drills.
These actions prove China’s navy continues to strengthen its grip on its maritime claims despite the recent ASEAN conference for regional defense ministers. China participated in the same event and even scheduled joint drills with six Southeast Asian countries for this week. These were held on October 31 and are the clearest proof yet of warming ties between Beijing and its ASEAN neighbors. Chinese and Vietnamese warships then conducted a joint patrol on November 1, the same day PLAAF bombers flew practice sorties against Guam.
The exact date and location of the naval exercises weren’t revealed except for mentioning they took place in “late October” and involved ships from the “South China Sea Fleet.” Although these activities are far from alarming it needs to be pointed out that military exercises within China’s nine dash line are now common. Whether it’s US warships on freedom of navigation patrols or local navies flexing their capabilities, the South China Sea and its adjacent waters are teeming with hardware, making it the world’s most dangerous maritime flashpoint.
It’s possible, however, that the PLAN’s destroyers were sailing near the Paracel Islands, which are firmly under China’s control. The PLAN have also performed drills in its vicinity on a regular basis. One of the warships in the exercise was identified as the “guided missile destroyer Wuhan (Hull 169).” It turns out this marks a rare outing for the vessel, a Type 052B Destroyer, that entered service a little over a decade ago.
Only two Type 052B’s were commissioned by the PLAN since the much improved Type 052Cs and 052Ds followed immediately. The PLAN currently have 31 destroyers and are close to commissioning a new class of cruisers and aircraft carriers, including an upcoming CATOBAR type carrier.
This is an H/PJ close in weapon system installed on the Type-052B. The CIWS’ of Chinese warships used to be tandem 37mm anti-aircraft guns on domed turrets. The H/PJ’s are a new class of 30mm gatling guns equipped with radar and fire control suites (a thermal imaging camera plus rangefinder) for intercepting missiles and other airborne threats at ranges within four kilometers. The CIWs on the Type-052B looks like the seven-barrel variant.
One of the destroyers tested its main gun as well. Pictured is a H/PJ-87 100mm naval gun. Spent shells are immediately discharged after each firing. The PLAN have actually been upgrading their shipborne artillery with an improved 130mm artillery piece called the H/PJ-38 copied from a Russian design but it appears the Type-052B still uses the older model. Take note of the anti-submarine rocket launcher near the bow.
The Type-052B’s other armaments include two SAM launchers and YJ-38 anti-ship cruise missiles that can reach targets up to 200 km away. The Type-052B carries two cells of four YJ-38’s each. The PLAN’s current assemblage of destroyer’s would still be hard pressed in a confrontation against the US’ Arleigh Burkes or even Japan’s own impressive DDGs. But they don’t have any serious competition from Southeast Asia–yet.