Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Janes Discusses Chinese Streetfighter

If you have a Janes subscription, this article is worth a read in full. I recently met Nan Li, the author, and was able to sit in on a short presentation of his analysis of the Type 022. I also had a chance a few weeks ago to discuss the Type 022 with Captain Wayne Hughes while at the Naval Postgraduate School, and he (like me) sees a lot of Streetfighter in the Type 022 development.

The entire article is worth the read, but this is the part I want to focus on.

All these factors demonstrate that the development and deployment of the Type 022 is a significant step in China's desire to dominate its near seas. While its older FACs have been successful in some engagements, these all came against poorly equipped adversaries, and they suffered from a range of deficiencies that rendered them insufficient to face better prepared competitors. The Type 022 offers the PLAN a small and stealthy vessel that can launch long-range ASCMs, with a radius of operation that extends across the Taiwan Strait.

Moreover, the Type 022 is a numerous addition to the PLAN's arsenal. Its relatively low cost of approximately USD14.3 million per unit but decent performance means the vessel is the only platform that has been mass produced in the PLAN's post-2000 naval modernization drive. Current Jane's estimates suggest China will build 81 Type 022s to equip three 27-boat flotillas, one for each fleet, but this number could rise.

The deployment of the Type 022 is therefore clearly intended to divert and occupy the attention and resources of potential opponents, rendering any counter-strategy more time-consuming and costly.

Nevertheless, the Type 022 also demonstrates the PLAN's limitations. The vessel itself suffers from various vulnerabilities, with its combat effectiveness limited by its small size, which significantly constrains its sea-worthiness and sustainability. Its stealthy design is also hampered by the use of aluminum rather than composite materials for hull construction, and clutters such as decoy/chaff launchers, rails and a searchlight on the bridge. Finally, the dependence of the long-range ASCMs on off-board sensors for targeting information also means their effectiveness may be reduced by jamming and other disruptions of the information chain.

While the Type 022 is therefore a major component of China's attempts to dominate its neighboring seas as a stepping stone to developing a full, blue-water navy, it remains far from being sufficient to compete with more advanced navies in the region.
Have you looked at a Type 022, and really thought about it as a threat? The first thing someone would notice if they were looking to destroy it is that the vulnerability of the Type 022 is aircraft, not other ships and very likely not submarines. In fact, it should be noted that it is very unlikely any modern Navy would even attempt to use a torpedo against this ship, because if you think about it, a torpedo may not be effective against this type of target.

I am a big believer in endurance, which is why I can't think of a single reason in the world the US Navy would ever invest in a system like this. With that said, evaluating PLAN strategy in the context of what we know about PLAN Naval tactics, the Type 022 makes a lot of sense. The short range almost guarentees the Type 022 will be under the cover of land based air support, and the stealthy features will insure the best (and most likely way) it will be detected is visual or audio, not electronic.

The Type 022 also represents a fantastic bargain for a defensive, regional access denial weapon - particularly in the South China Seas - for the PLA Navy. Lets do a little math, shall we? Three squadrons of 27 Type 022s and $14.3 million each comes in around $1.1 billion for 81 vessels, each of which carries a payload of 8 ASCMs for a total potential salvo delivery of 648 ASCMs. Under the cover of air support, that is a fairly fantastic offensive capability that will not be penetrated by surface vessels.

I think Nan Li has the Type 022 in the right context. The Type 022 is a weapon system at sea very limited by its lack of endurance, but in numbers acts as a force multiplier within a task force or as a coastal defense weapon system out to 400nm. The platform limitations work favorable with the conditions of the platform, forcing the Type 022 to operate close to land (thus land based air cover) but also allows it to use land based ISR for locating enemy targets. As images of the Type 022 often make clear, the PLA Navy looks at the Type 022 as a 'wolf pack' of streetfighters, able to bring saturation of missile salvo fires onto enemy targets in numbers intended to overwhelm defensive systems.

Given the vast distances and area of sea in the South China Sea, the Type 022 operating from forward logistics bases in those island chains, particularly under air cover, would be very difficult to identify. On radar, they would simply look like any of the tens of thousands of fishing vessels of Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, or China; and visual identification is going to require significantly more unmanned vehicles than what is currently being discussed on surface and sub-surface vessels.

When you consider the tactical challenges the Type 022 adds to the maritime battlespace in maritime zones where China can establish logistics ports, it is very easy to see why Nan Li suggests the Type 022 renders counter-strategies "time-consuming and costly."

One final point. I have used the term 'logistics port' several times in this post. I believe the first Navy worldwide that figures out how to perform "logistic port" functions to small vessels at sea is going to significantly influence the maritime battlefield in the future. While it is currently not within the PLA Navy capability, a Type 022 evolution able to support endurance up to 1000nm and be supplied by professional logistics services at sea even great distances from mainland China could be the pairing with a PLA aircraft carrier that significantly changes the maritime battlefield.

The fatal weakness of the Type 022 is exploited when aircraft attacking the Type 022 can fight at greater range, a capability the F/A-18 is not exactly well known for.

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