Surface Forces: The First Chinese Burke Enters Service

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March 26, 2014: In March China commissioned the first of twelve Type 052D destroyers. This was no surprise because in late 2013 this ship was seen on sea trials in the East China Sea. This new destroyer design appears very similar to the American Aegis equipped destroyers (especially the Burke Class). Five more 52Ds are under construction and one of them is ready for sea trials. China plans to build at least twelve. The development of the 52Ds was a deliberate, and apparently successful, effort to considerably close the quality gap between American and Chinese destroyers and do it quickly.

Three versions of the Type 052 destroyer have, in about a decade, advanced Chinese destroyer design considerably and China now has ships similar in capabilities to the 8,300 ton American Arleigh Burke class. The Burkes are currently the principal American destroyer. The Burke design is the culmination of over half a century of World War II and Cold War destroyer design experience. Even after the first Burke entered service in 1989 the design continued to evolve. The first Burkes were 8,300 ton ships, while the latest ones, laden with more gear and smaller crews, are 10,000 tons each. This is what heavy cruisers weighed in World War II. With a top speed of nearly 50 kilometers an hour, their main armament is 96 vertical launch tubes flush with the deck that contain various anti-aircraft, anti-ship, anti-missile, or cruise missiles. There is also a 127mm (5 inch) gun, two 20mm anti-missile autocannon, six torpedo tubes, and two helicopters. The Burkes are well thought out, sturdy, and they get the job done. They became so irreplaceable that 62 have entered U.S. service so far and at least 13 more are on the way. Thus this class of warships will last more than half a century. China liked the sound of that and is trying to match the Burkes in capabilities, if not in numbers.

Over the last decade two Type 052B and two Type 052C destroyers entered service. These four ships appear to have been part of an effort to develop something similar to the Burkes. The 52Ds are 7,500 ton ships armed with 64 American style (hot launch) VLS (Vertical Launch System) tubes for anti-aircraft (HQ-9), cruise, or anti-ship missiles. There is a single 130mm gun, six torpedo tubes (for submarines), and two 30mm autocannon for anti-missile defense. There is also a helicopter hanger and landing platform.

The older (2004) Type 052B Guangzhou Class Destroyers are 5,900 ton general purpose ships (with anti-ship/submarine/aircraft capabilities). Armament consists of 48 HQ-16 anti-aircraft missiles (range 30 kilometers) and 16 C-802 anti-ship missiles (range 120 kilometers). There is a single 100mm gun and 2 30mm autocannon, for anti-missile defense. There is also a helicopter.

Type 052C Lanzhou Class Destroyers are 6,500 ton ships that first appeared in 2005. These ships use cold launch VLS (Vertical Launch System) tubes. There are 48 HQ-9 anti-aircraft missiles. There are also eight C-602 anti-ship missiles, in two four-cell launchers. There is a single 100mm gun and two 30mm autocannon for anti-missile defense. There is also 1 helicopter. These ships are mainly for air defense and use a phased array radar similar to the American Aegis system.

If China keeps their 52Ds at sea a lot, as the Americans have done for over a century, their crews will become skilled and confident. That process takes time, since it requires a decade or more of sea time to develop expert chiefs (senior NCOs) and officers.  That much sea time is expensive and China has shown signs of being willing to pay the price. At the moment the 52Ds are not Burke clones, but they are close. Crew quality is not high yet either. But in a decade the Chinese have made tremendous progress.

 

 


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