The 056 class corvette is a modern, small displacement surface combatant that has served in the Chinese Navy since February 2013. The 056 class corvette is currently in the process of replacing the navy’s large fleet of obsolete, early Cold War era 037 subchasers and their larger (but equally obsolete) 053 class frigates.
The 056 class was developed and produced well after the Chinese Navy had already developed modern frigate and destroyer classes (054A class frigate and 052C/D class destroyers, respectively). This may suggest the Chinese Navy was more interested in attaining a competitive air defence capability and higher end surface combatants, prior to investing in shorter range, lower capability corvettes which could be built in larger numbers.
At time of early June 2016, 27 056 class corvettes are in active service with the Chinese Navy. Some ships in the class feature an additional variable depth sonar and has a modified deckhouse, and has been given the designation “056A”. The speed at which 056s are being built and commissioned by the Chinese shipbuilding industry is very impressive, and averages slightly under eight new commissioned ships per year. More 056s remain under various stages of construction, fitting out, and sea trials, and predictions for the final ship count of the Chinese Navy alone (ignoring production of 056s for export markets) may reach up to 60 or more. Given the rapid rate of construction being conducted at multiple shipyards simultaneously, it is plausible that about 60 056s could be commissioned by 2020.
Dimensions and Layout
The 056 class is a 90 meter long corvette (or light frigate, in Chinese nomenclature) with a full displacement of about 1,500 tons. Diesel propulsion gives the 056 class a top speed of 28 knots, respectable for a ship of this size. The ship also features a helipad for a Dauphin or S-70 sized helicopter, however there is no hangar to permanently accommodate a helicopter.
The main armament of the 056 class corvette lies in its four YJ-83J anti ship cruise missiles. The J variant appears to be the latest YJ-83 model, and features an effective range exceeding 200km. The ship’s main gun is the PJ-26 76mm dual purpose gun, which is a modernized Chinese produced version of the venerable Russian AK-176. A pair of remote/manual controlled 30mm autocannons sit amidships on the port and starboard sides, providing anti surface point defence. 056 features a minor air defence capability in an 8 cell HQ-10 launcher on the aft of the ship. The HQ-10 is a missile based CIWS system similar to the RIM-116, both in the configuration of its launcher (where HQ-10 comes in 8 cell, 15 cell, and 24 cell variants), as well as featuring similar guidance (active radar frequency homing combined with imaging infrared seeker). For anti submarine warfare, two triple 324mm torpedo launchers are also present amidships behind enclosed doors.
The main active sensor aboard 056 is the SR-64 air and surface search radar. A fire control radar for the main gun and an electro-optic sensor turret are also mounted aboard the ship, in front of the base of its mast. 056 is also expected to feature modern datalinking capability, and the ship’s weapons and sensors are likely integrated into a modern combat management system, and the ship’s operation is conducted via a small but modern combat information centre. The air and surface sensor suite of 056 is typical fora ship of its size. It is in the anti submarine warfare sensor suite where 056 truly distinguishes itself. All variants of 056 come with a bow sonar, while later variants also feature a towed array sonar. The latest “056A” variant also features a variable depth sonar in addition to the aforementioned bow and towed array sonar, thus providing a relatively small ship of 1,500 tons with a very capable undersea sensor suite.
Role in Chinese Navy:
The main role of the 056 class corvette is likely to replace the older 037s and 053s in the patrol of homewaters and waters close to China’s periphery. The sheer number of 056s and its modern but low capability weapons and sensor suite makes it suitable for general low intensity naval warfare. 056s will assist the Chinese Navy in establishing a more consistent naval presence in the East China Sea and South China Sea, and will act as a low-key naval presence for territorial disputes where sending frigates and destroyers may be seen as unnecessarily escalatory. But the most significant role 056s may play, and especially the VDS equipped 056A variant, is to function within an integrated Chinese ASW doctrine. 056s may operate alongside ASW helicopters, ASW maritime patrol aircraft, and be assisted by China’s fixed sonar sensor network, where 056s can act as a mobile ASW sensor and weapons platform in the littorals, homewaters, and waters generally close to China’s shore.
The 056 class corvette is almost certainly not meant to engage large surface combatants such as opposing frigates and destroyers, nor is it expected to survive encounters against opposing airpower or missile strikes beyond anything more than a token, old generation AShM. 056 also lacks the range to operate far from China’s coast, and while it may be tempted to draw parallels between the 056 with the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, both classes are designed for somewhat different tasks. 056 is probably best compared to the 9113 Sigma class corvette, where both feature significant similarities in dimensions, armament, sensor fit, as well as sharing some superficial appearance as well.
Overall, the 056 class is a modern, small sized, low endurance, green water patrol and ASW ship. While it is modestly armed, it is also cheap and easily built by a number of smaller shipyards. The large number of 056s to perform shorter range missions also frees up larger ships such as frigates and destroyers for blue water missions. The 056’s undersea sensor suite could also significantly bolster Chinese undersea warfighting near China’s homewaters.