According to sources like the Alibaba Group-owned South China Morning Post, Chinese ship makers managed to launch three new warships on Christmas Eve 2021. Destined for Thailand, Pakistan, and their own fleets, these ships are some of the country's most advanced vessels.
Almost a mockery of the Christmas hymn "I Saw Three Ships", this launch if reports are to be believed, is an impressive display of Chinese industrial capabilities.
The ships in question, one 071E landing platform dock (LPD) and two Type 054 frigates, were launched at the Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding yard near Shanghai. The former was on order by the Thai Navy in September of 2019 and its launch marks the first export of this vessel.
It is able to deploy helicopters and is expected to be used for patrol missions, logistics tasks, and disaster relief operations.
This is interesting as Thailand is technically a U.S. ally. Despite this, weapons platforms from China have been ordered by Thailand in recent years, with the LPD becoming its first of that vessel class.
The exported frigate is one of four orders by Pakistan over various phases from 2017 and 2018. The Pakistan Navy variant is, allegedly fitted with an SR2410C radar, a 3D multifunction electronically scanned array radar, and the country commissioned the first of the vessels in early November.
As for the domestic frigate it, like its sister ships, forms the backbone of the Chinese Navy who currently has around 30 or so in active service.
China's seriously ramping up its shipbuilding capabilities
Launching three vessels in a single day, if true, is a very impressive feat but one that shouldn't come as much of a surprise. China has around 20 shipyards for commercial and naval construction mostly built as part of China's modernization drive that started back in 2015.
This attracted millions of dollars of investment in construction, research, and development over the years. Part of this investment was a massive increase in shipbuilding activities for the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
According to the Pentagon’s “2020 China Military Power Report”, China has the biggest navy in the world with an overall battle force of about 350 surface ships and submarines, including over 130 major surface combatants.
The US Navy’s battle force is just over 290 ships. However, the U.S. fleet comprises far more powerful and technologically advanced vessels including a dozen or so nuclear-powered supercarriers. China, to date, has two conventionally-powered carriers.
A third carrier is planned by China but this won't be put to sea until 2025 at least.
The Chinese fleet is only set to grow this year with at least 8 destroyers and 6 corvettes on order, according to Chinese media. But, while China may have the hardware, it is significantly impoverished when it comes to skilled mariners to man them.
Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator, said China needed more expertise and highly skilled personnel to safeguard the country’s expanding interests at home and abroad.
“A big challenge for the Chinese navy in fulfilling these responsibilities is a lack of naval talent,” Song said.
“The Chinese navy has to train more personnel who are capable of long-distance deepwater missions. It takes highly skilled service personnel to make the most of the warships and advanced weapons” he added.
Manpower aside, this news shows that the significant investment in modernization is paying off for China. It shows that more and more nations are looking to China to help bolster their own fleets.
Whether or not this will continue in the future is yet to be seen, but Chinese shipyards are certainly looking to be quite busy for the next few years at least.