It seems that every year, English-language focus on the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) increases in depth and scope. This has been reflected in some increasingly detailed and far-ranging predictions for the PLAN’s growth, most often in terms of the number of ships it may field in whatever particular year in the near future. This author is not immune, and has written similar pieces in the past.

专注于PLA海军的英语文章,无论是在深度还是广度方面,似乎每年都在增加。这种情况已经反映在对PLA海军增长情况的一些日益详细和广泛的预测当中,这些预测最常见的是在不就将来的某个年份中国可能部署的军舰数量。这位作者也未能免俗,而且过去也曾写过类似的文章。



From 20 modern destroyers to 39 (or 40)

现代化驱逐舰从20艘提高到39艘(或者40艘)





Returning to current destroyer construction – assuming the 25th 052D and eighth 055 are launched in the second half of this year, and assuming a generous three to four year period for fitting out and sea trials prior to commissioning, with a further one year period for crew work up and optimization – it is likely that the last of the destroyers as part of the current construction phase will be commissioned and combat capable within four to five years.

回到目前的驱逐舰建造——假设第25艘052D和第八艘055在今年下半年下水,并假设在试航前有充裕的三到四年时间进行舾装和海上试验,之后还有一年时间组建船员和优化——作为目前建设阶段的一部分,最后的那些驱逐舰很可能将在4到5年之内服役并具备作战能力。

That is to say, at present the PLAN fields 20 aegis-type destroyers in service; however in four to five years it is likely that the PLAN will field 39 aegis-type destroyers in service (or 40, depending on whether a 26th 052D is built or not).

也就是说,目前PLA海军部署了20艘现役宙斯盾型驱逐舰;然而,在4到5年内,PLA海军很可能将部署39艘宙斯盾型驱逐舰(或40艘,取决于第26艘052D是否投产)。

These additional warships amounts to a near doubling of the number of aegis-type hulls in service. However, the actual combat capability will be more than double the present day force given the more capable nature of 052Ds compared to 052Cs, both of which are in turn even more dwarfed by the much larger 13,000 ton 055s.

这些新增的战舰数量几乎是其现役宙斯盾型战舰的两倍。然而,考虑到052D的作战能力比052C更强,其实战能力将是现有军力的两倍多。而这两种战舰与13000吨级的055相比,更是相形见绌。

Of Destroyers and DESFLOTs

驱逐舰和驱逐舰舰队

Those 39 aegis-type destroyers will be accompanied by the 11 older non-aegis destroyers for a total of about 50 destroyers. It is unclear how this fleet of destroyers will be organized among the PLAN’s major surface combatant units.

这39艘宙斯盾型驱逐舰。加上11艘较老的非宙斯盾型驱逐舰,总数大约是50艘。目前还不清楚这支驱逐舰舰队将如何在PLA海军的主要水面战斗部队中组织起来。


With an expected 50-strong destroyer force on the horizon (of which 39 would be modern, aegis types), it is not known if each DESFLOT will see an increase of ship strength or if new DESFLOTs will be raised to absorb the new hulls. It is plausible that some of the older destroyer hulls may be retired within four to five years; however many of these same ship classes have either recently undergone significant midlife upgrades or are due to begin midlife upgrades, nor are they particularly old in terms of service age. Therefore, it is likely that many of these older destroyer classes will continue to be in service until 2030, albeit as second line destroyers. The question fundamentally becomes one of fleet organization.

预计未来将有50艘强大的驱逐舰(其中39艘将是现代宙斯盾型),目前还不知道每个驱逐舰舰队的舰艇力量是否会增加,或者是否会增加新的舰队来吸收新的舰体。一些较老的驱逐舰可能在四到五年内退役,这是合理的;然而,这些相同级别的许多船最近经历了重大的中期升级或即将开始中期升级,而且它们的服役时间也不是特别长。因此,这些老式驱逐舰尽管作为二线驱逐舰,但其中有很多很可能将继续服役到2030年。所以这个问题从根本上变成了如何进行舰队的组织。

What Comes Next?

下一步是什么?

Of course, the completion of the eight 055s and 25 052Ds doesn’t mean the Chinese navy’s destroyer procurement is “complete.” Even before the first picture of the 055 modules at Jiangnan shipyard emerged, it was an accepted consensus that a successor “055A” class destroyer would follow the baseline 055 destroyer. The question was always how many 055s would be built before the first 055A emerged, and it was long suggested that 055A could be expected by the mid-2020s after at least one batch of 055s.

当然,8艘055和25艘052D的完成,并不意味着中国海军的驱逐舰采购已经“完成”。甚至在江南造船厂的055模块的第一张图片出现之前,就有一个公认的共识,即后继的055A级驱逐舰,将紧随基本版055驱逐舰而来。问题一直是在第一艘055A出现之前,055会建造多少艘,很久以前就有人暗示说,在至少一批055出现之后,055A有望在2020年代中期问世。

Therefore, one current tentative theory is that the current first batch of eight 055s may be followed up by a smaller batch of 055s within a few years – which could then immediately lead into a construction of improved 055As in the mid 2020s. This would not be dissimilar to how a restarted production of the last four 052Cs immediately segued into large scale production of the 25 052Ds we see today.

因此,目前有个不确定的理论,即目前的第一批8艘055完成之后,紧随其后的几年内可能建造较小的一批055——之后的2020年代中期,可能立即开始建造改进型055A。这与我们今天看到的情况没什么不同:在重新开始生产4艘052C后,立即转为大规模生产25艘052D。

But as mentioned in previous articles on future PLAN procurement, the number of 055As that may be built and the composition of the future fleet are not clear. This is largely due to uncertainty over whether a successor to the 7,000 ton weight category destroyer – currently filled by the 052C/D – will emerge.

但正如在之前关于PLA海军采购计划的文章中提到的,我们尚不清楚可能建造的055A的数量和未来舰队的组成。这在很大程度上是由于不确定7000吨级驱逐舰的继任者是否会出现——目前由052C/D型驱逐舰填补。

Given the ongoing COVID pandemic, one might be tempted to consider whether the end of the current phase of destroyer construction is some sort of cost-cutting measure or related to the pandemic in any way. However, such a suggestion would be hard to entertain given the long lead time nature of naval ship construction. Instead, the imminent end destroyer construction would have been a procurement decision made many years ago.

考虑到正在持续的新冠大流行,人们可能会考虑,现阶段的驱逐舰建设的结束是否是某种削减成本的措施,或与大流行存在任何关联。然而,考虑到海军舰艇建造交货的长周期性,很难接受这样的暗示。相反,即将结束的驱逐舰建造将是多年前所做的采购决定。

Large Frigates or Medium Destroyers?

大型护卫舰还是中型驱逐舰?

Prior to the 13,000 ton 055, the 7,000 ton 052C and 052D served as the PLAN’s most capable surface combatant in terms of balancing displacement and combat potential, and featured significant advantages in terms of sensors and weapons systems compared to the smaller 4,000 ton 054A frigates. Therefore come 2025, the weight distribution of PLAN blue water capable surface combatants will be divided between the 13,000 ton category, the 7,000 ton category, and the 4,000 ton category.

在13000吨055之前,7000吨的052C和052D在平衡排水量和作战潜力方面,是PLA海军性能最强的水面战舰,并且在传感器和武器系统方面与较小的4000吨054A护卫舰相比具有显著优势。因此,到2025年,PLA海军的重量级蓝色水面战舰将分为13000吨、7000吨和4000吨。

However, the 055 is likely to be produced in significant numbers going forwards, and more importantly the 054B frigate is expected to feature greater displacement than the 054A as well. The 054B’s ambition will determine how much larger it is than 054A. Many contemporary frigate designs such as FREMM, the FFG(X) FREMM, or Type 26 family, are significantly larger in displacement compared to past medium frigate designs, offering a full displacement of at least 6,000 tons and some such as the Type 26 at 8,000 tons, rivaling or exceeding that of some current destroyers. The greater size of modern frigates is a reflection of seeking greater endurance, greater excess space for future proofing, more flexible propulsion arrangements, and more capable sensors and weapons systems as well.

然而,055很可能在未来大量生产,更重要的是,054B护卫舰的排水量预计比054A更大。054B的雄心将决定它比054A大多少。许多现代护卫舰设计方案,如FREMM、FFG FREMM (X),或26型,与过去的中型护卫舰设计相比,具有更大的排水量,它们的满排水量至少为6000吨,其中一些像26型甚至达到8000吨,与当前某些驱逐舰相当甚至超过。现代护卫舰的更大尺寸,反映了各国在寻求更大的续航能力,更大的未来验证空间,更加灵活的推进装置,以及性能更强的传感器和武器系统。

If the 054B follows this trend, it too may also see a significant displacement jump from the 054A, potentially 1,500 to 2,000 tons. On the other hand, a more conservative 054B may displace only a few hundred more tons. If 054B does see a large displacement jump to reach 5,500-6,000 tons, then it would begin to approach the weight of a 052D destroyer, which will bring into question what role the 7,000 ton category plays in the overall fleet balance.

如果054B遵循这一趋势,相比于054A,它的排水量可能实现显著的跳跃,可能达到1500到2000吨。另一方面,如果054B更加保守,其排水量可能只会增加几百吨。如果054B的排水量确实实现巨大的跳跃,达到5500-6000吨,那么它将开始接近052D驱逐舰的重量,这将带来一个问题,即7000吨级别战舰将在整个舰队平衡中发挥什么作用。

One option is that the 7,000 ton category may be succeeded by a larger and more future proof design of its own, potentially in the 8,000-9,000 ton weight category. Such a warship would likely have to be a new hull design as the current 052D design should be approaching the limits of what the hull can accommodate. This would result in a revised three tier fleet structure including the 13,000 ton category, a new 8,000-9,000 ton category, and a new 5,500-6,000 ton category for new generation blue water combatants.

一种选择是,7000吨级的后继者可能是一种更大且更能得到未来验证的版本,可能是8000-9000吨级。这样一艘战舰可能需要一种新的船体设计,因为目前的052D设计应该已经接近其船体能够容纳的极限。这将带来一种修正版的三级舰队结构,由1.3万吨级、新的8000-9000吨级和新的5500-6000吨级组成。

Alternatively, there is also an argument for standardizing to a two tier fleet only including the 13,000 ton category and 5,500-6,000 ton category. In the context of manpower and military spending, a two tier fleet could potentially offer benefits resulting from standardization of ship hulls and subsystems. However, the exact cost breakdown of procuring and operating a two tier fleet versus a three tier fleet will likely be dependent on internal strategic assessments of which capabilities and which costs are deemed more acceptable to naval procurement on the national level.

另外一种观点是标准化的两级舰队结构,只包括13000吨级和5500-6000吨级。在人力和军事开支的背景下,一个两级的舰队可能因为船体和子系统实现标准化,而产生潜在的效益。然而,采购和操作两级舰队与三级舰队的确切成本分解,将可能取决于内部战略评估,即在国家层面上认为海军采购更容易接受哪些能力和哪些成本。

Summary

总结

PLAN surface combatant procurement is at an interesting juncture where the labors of the last decade’s worth of destroyer production are about to bear fruit in the near future. With 39 aegis-type destroyers in service come 2024-25, only the U.S. Navy would field a larger and more capable fleet of surface combatants in that time period.

PLAN水面战斗装备的采购正处于一个有趣的节点,过去十年的驱逐舰生产将在不久的将来结出硕果。到2024-25年,将有39艘宙斯盾型驱逐舰服役,而在这一时间段,只有美国海军会部署更大、能力更强的水面舰艇舰队。

As the current production phase comes to a close, there will inevitably be speculation as to where PLAN force development may go. There may even be speculation as to whether PLAN destroyer production will cease for a long duration of many years or even decades. However, this author still remembers in the late 2000s where some commentators believed modern PLAN destroyers would not grow significantly beyond the lone pair of 052Cs.

随着当前生产阶段的结束,不可避免地会出现关于PLA海军部队发展可能走向何方的猜测。甚至可能会出现关于“PLA海军驱逐舰的生产是否会长期停止,即停止多年甚至几十年”的猜测。然而,笔者仍然记得,本世纪头十年末期,一些评论员认为,PLA海军的现代化驱逐舰不会大幅增长,当时仅有两艘孤零零的052C。

Key upcoming developments that can help guide predictions for the next phase of PLAN surface combatant procurement include:
The key characteristics – especially size – of the next generation frigate, dubbed 054B (but also sometimes called 057).
Ascertaining when production of 055 destroyers will restart as a guide for when the expected 055A successor will emerge.
Related to the two above factors – whether a “052E” medium destroyer successor to the 052D weight category will emerge.

有助于指导PLA海军下一阶段水面作战装备采购预测的未来主要进展包括:
新一代护卫舰054B(但有时也被称为057)的主要特征,尤其是尺寸。
055驱逐舰的生产何时会重新开始,将成为预期中的055A继任者出现时间的指南。
052D的后继者,052E中型驱逐舰是否会出现,则与以上两个因素相关联。