Naval construction - Asia’s naval expansion.

As in many other areas of defence spending Asia is now becoming a major force in naval development with a number of high profile shipbuilding projects underway in and for the region. The modernisation of these fleets is leading to new capabilities both in terms of the industrial base and the armed forces and the pace of change is expected to increase as the economic influence of the region continues to grow.

22nd Jul 2011

 Naval construction.

Asia’s naval expansion.

Clare Apthorpe / London

As in many other areas of defence spending Asia is now becoming a major force in naval development with a number of high profile shipbuilding projects underway in and for the region. The modernisation of these fleets is leading to new capabilities both in terms of the industrial base and the armed forces and the pace of change is expected to increase as the economic influence of the region continues to grow.

In the next 20 years AMI International, a US based global naval market analysis and advisory company, expects some 769 new hulls to be procured in Asia and Australia. Those new ships cover the full range of naval capabilities and could be worth around $170 billion if all the expected vessels are purchased.

‘Having watched the navies of the region develop over the past quarter century, and looking ahead 20 years, we continue to see naval spending aimed more at building fleets that operate a wide variety of ships for a wide variety of missions. This is the “balanced portfolio” if you will, of fleets structured to meet national needs writ large, not just to respond to threat scenarios tied to China or any other notional adversary,’ Bob Nugent, AMI’s VP advisory services, told Defence Review Asia.

However, Beijing’s continued impressive naval build up is having some effect ‘Clearly China’s naval modernisation and growth are influencing naval procurements by other countries. I think this is particularly true for some countries and some types of ships. As an example, I share the view widely held among observers that Vietnam’s decision to acquire a number of new submarines from Russia is a response to China’s growing surface and submarine capabilities,’ he continues.

China’s aspirations

The Chinese naval build up in recent years has been impressive. There has been a marked move by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to move away from procuring new vessels internationally as the country’s shipbuilding capabilities have matured. The PLAN’s fleet now boasts a number of modern, domestically built capital ships including the Luyang II (Type 052C) and Luzhou (Type 051C) class destroyers, and the Jiangkai II class (Type 054A) guided missile frigates.

The 7,000 ton Luyang II is built by the Shangai-based Jiangnan Shipyard. The design is an incremental improvement on the previous Type 052B using the same hull design, but replacing some of the Russian technology on the vessel with indigenously developed sensors. In particular, the Luyang II features a Chinese-developed Type 348 four-array multifunction active phased array radar. The ships are armed with the latest HQ-9 long-range air defence missile system, and the YJ-62 (C-602) anti-ship missile both stored in a vertical launch system. Recent pictures have emerged of further Luyang IIs being built at Changxing Island shipyard, which analysts believed to have further upgrades and have been dubbed Type 052C+.

Similarly, the Luzhou class is an improvement on the older Luhai (Type 051B) destroyer. The Luzhou is a long-range air defence destroyer that is central to the PLAN’s ambition of becoming a true blue water capability.

In some respects this current generation of new ships is only a side show in comparison with the PLAN’s ambitions. Analysts estimate that Beijing intends to build some 127 new ships of all types in the next 20 years at an estimated cost of around $25.5 billion. This total includes a further eight destroyers and 22 new frigates as well as host of smaller vessels.

However, the centrepiece of these plans is the service’s ambitions to become a major naval power by fielding a first generation of aircraft carriers. The country has invested a lot of time and effort in to researching the capability and building up the necessary industrial base to build such sophisticated ships, including procuring a number of out of service aircraft carriers for study. This has resulted in the Type 089 project, which is expected to see China finish building to indigenous aircraft carriers by 2015. In addition, one of the vessels it procured, the former Ukrainian aircraft carrier Varyag, is believed to be undergoing a refit to bring it back to operational status and has been renamed Shi Lang.

Regional rivalry

China’s build up of the PLAN’s capabilities and Beijing’s ‘String of Pearls’ strategy, which is seeing the country build-up naval basing rights in a number of friendly countries in the region, has prompted a response from the country’s main economic rival in the region. India is also looking to bolster the capabilities of its navy, both as response to China, and also as part of New Delhi’s developing understanding of the country’s position as a global actor.

As in China recent activity has been directed at bolstering indigenous shipbuilding capabilities and the Indian Navy (IN) has ambitious plans to acquire some 88 new hulls in the next 20 years at an expected cost of $47.3 billion. Similarly, the IN has ambitions to become a Blue Water navy and much of its energies are being directed towards acquiring the necessary capital vessels.

India is currently constructing a new class of guided missile frigate, the Kolkata class, at the Mazagon dockyard in Mumbai. The 6,700 ton vessels are the largest naval ships to have been built at the shipyard and the first of class is expected to be inducted in to the navy next year.

To date three Kolkata class vessels have been launched and the IN expects to procure five in total. The ships are one of India’s first attempts at building vessels that feature enhanced stealth capabilities with reduced radar cross sections. The guided missile destroyers are also expected to be equipped with a land attack capability provided by the supersonic BrahMos II cruise missile.

Similarly Mazagon is also building the Shivalik class frigate. The first of class was commissioned in to the IN in 2010. As with the Kolkata class the Shivalik class displays a number of stealth features and will be the backbone of the IN’s frigate force alongside the Talwar class, which has been designed and built for India in Russia. The Shivalik classs is the first in Indian service to feature a Combined Diesel or Gas Turbine (CODOG) propulsion plant and advanced data networking. Again a land attack capability is being provided by the integration of the BrahMos missile.

The jewel in the crown for the IN, however, will be its two indigenously developed aircraft carriers. The new Vikrant class ships are being built for the IN by Cochin Shipyard in Kochi with work on the first of class starting in mid-2008.

This first foray in to aircraft design and build has been a major challenge for the IN. The first carrier was originally expected to enter service in 2012, but design and build delays mean that it is not now expected to enter service until at least 2015. The 40,000 tonne first in class vessel features a ski-jump for short take off with recovery being achieved by arrestor wire. The second carrier may be designed for conventional take off.

Self defence

As with the other major economic powers in the region Japan, despite its non-aggressive stance, is also modernising its naval forces. In the past the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) was largely dependant on US shipbuilding capabilities, but is also now pursuing the indigenous development of new classes of vessels. These include the recently launched Hyuga class helicopter destroyers, which are the largest vessels in the JMSDF fleet. The 13,950 ton vessels, built by IHI Marine United, are in effect small aircraft carriers although Japan is unlikely to deploy fixed-wing aircraft aboard the ships.

Japan is also in the process of building a new class of frigate, the Akizuki class, with the first ship expected to be commissioned in to the JMSDF next year. There are currently plans for four of the new frigates, which will have the primary roll of guarding the JMSDF’s Aegis equipped Kongo class destroyers.

The design of the Akizuki class is based on that of its predecessor the Takanami class. However, the ships, being built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, will feature more advanced networking capabilities and enhanced anti air warfare (AAW) systems. The latter includes the OYQ-11 advanced combat direction sub-system and the FCS-3A AAW weapon sub-system.

Another close ally of the US, the Republic of Korea (RoK) is also planning an expansion of its naval capabilities. The country has a strong shipbuilding tradition and indigenous expertise is provided by Hyundai Heavy Industries and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering.

Both companies are working on delivering a new class of small frigate to the RoK Navy (RoKN). The new 2,300 ton Inchon class is expected to replace the RoKN’s Pohang and Ulsan class vessels in the coastal defence role. The first in class was launched in April this year and in all Seoul expects to procure between 18 and 24 of the new frigates. AS with other new ships being built in the region the Inchon class will have more sophisticated sensors and networking, and a land attack capability will be provided with the Hyunmoo IIIC cruise missile.

The RokN also now has two of its three Sejongdaewang-Ham class guided missile destroyers in service with the last, Seoae Yu Seong-ryong, expected to enter service next year. Built by both Hyundai and Daewoo under the KDX III programme the new destroyers provide the RoKN with much enhanced capabilities. They utilise the US manufactured AN/SPY-1 multi-function radar and have a 48 cell vertical launch system integrated with missiles for use in the land attack and anti-submarine role.

As well as providing indigenous capability RoK’s shipbuilders are also pushing in to the local export market. Of particular note is a joint venture programme to build the 11,000 ton Makassar class Landing Platform Dock with Pal in Indonesia. The ships were built jointly by Korea’s Daesun Shipbuilding & Engineering and Indonesia’s PT PAL with the final ship in the four vessel fleet being launched last year.

Beyond these larger nations Singapore is also a focus of regional shipbuilding capabilities with Singapore Technologies Marine recently completing the build of the Formidable class for the republic of Singapore Navy. Indeed, Nugent believes there is an ‘overall trend toward local builders setting out, and succeeding, to get better at building bigger and/or more complex naval ships. This will challenge many European shipbuilders whose future depends on exports and who are targeting Asia Pacific as the best export market for their ships’.




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