The 052C class guided missile destroyer (DDG) is a modern, multirole surface combatant in the medium to heavy weight class. It is a blue water capable vessel, intended to perform ASW, ASuW, but is especially oriented to the AAW role. The 052C class was the Chinese Navy’s first surface combatant capable of true long range area air defence, provided by the 052C’s powerful active phased array radar (APAR), and vertical launch system (VLS) based long range surface to air missile (SAM).
The 052C was developed from a common hull design that was first produced in the form of the 052 class DDG and then the subsequent 052B class DDG. However, the 052 class was equipped with obsolete sensors and weapons, and lacked the air defence capabilities the navy required, and only two ships were built. The 052B class used the same 052 derived hull, but was equipped with more capable Russian radars and the naval Shtil SAM system, which was an improvement upon the HQ-7 aboard the 052, but still decidedly inferior compared to modern aegis type air defence warships being deployed by the navies of the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, and various European nations. Similar to 052, only two 052Bs were built.
052C fielded a fixed, four face radar arrangement similar to that of the US Navy’s Ticonderoga class cruiser and Arleigh Burke class destroyer, and was the Chinese Navy’s first warship to feature a fixed face active phased array radar configuration, and also the first to be equipped with a VLS.
Only two 052Cs were built initially by Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai, and both were launched in 2003 and commissioned in 2005. However, the initial two vessels was followed by a seven year delay where no additional ships were produced. Part of this reason is likely due to Jiangnan’s relocation to a new greenfield shipyard location at Changxing island, but another explanation is likely due to the advanced nature of the ship itself, which required the Navy to fully master the learning curve of a modern aegis type surface combatant before committing to more ships that they could sufficiently and competently crew. In 2010, production of 052Cs restarted at Jiangnan’s new Changxing shipyard, resulting in a limited run of another four ships, which included some internal differences to the initial pair such as replacing the Ukrainian imported DN80 gas turbines with Chinese produced versions called QC280.
Production of the 052C class ended at six ships, with the last ship launched in 2012 and commissioned in early 2015. All six ships are currently in active service. Since then, production of 052C has been superseded by the newer and greatly improved 052D class DDG.
Dimensions and Layout
The 052C class is 155 meters long, with a beam of 17 meters; to place this in context a Burke class DDG is 155 meters long, and a Ticonderoga class CG has a 16.8 meter beam, thus 052C can be visualized to be as long as a Burke but as wide as a Ticonderoga.
The 052C’s full displacement has been variously describe as “over 6,000 tons” from official Chinese state media and Chinese Navy publications, however given the ship’s dimensions, it is likely that such a description is deliberately underreporting the ship’s full displacement, and its full displacement is likely to be closer to 7,000 tons.
052C fields a combined diesel or gas propulsion arrangement, and is equipped with two diesel engines for more efficient, lower speed cruising and two gas turbines (Ukrainian DN80 in the first two hulls, and domestically produced QC280s in the latter four hulls) for higher speed transit. 052C is expected to be capable of achieving speeds in excess of 30 knots.
052C features a helipad and a single helicopter hangar, for a medium sized helicopter either of the Dauphin or Ka-28 class. Similar to the 054A, it is possible that 052C may eventually be capable of accommodating a navalized Z-20, if its folded dimensions are similar to that of an SH-60/MH-60 helciopter.
052C is equipped with eight slant launched, long range YJ-62 anti ship cruise missiles as its primary offensive armament. While the range of YJ-62 is commonly cited to be 280 kilometers, this is actually the range of the C-602 export variant, and the range of the domestic variant has been variously rumoured to exceed 400 kilometers. Of course, to achieve such ranges would require an effective offboard targeting solution, however, given the size of the YJ-62, an effective powered range in excess of 400 kilometers is not unreasonable.
052C’s main gun is a 100mm gun designated PJ-87, and is derived from the French 100mm naval gun. 052C is equipped with two PJ-12 CIWS (also known as Type 730), which are seven barrel 30mm gatling guns with integrated radar and electro-optic fire control systems for defence against close in air and naval threats. One PJ-12 is mounted on the bow, upon a raised platform anterior to the ship’s main superstructure, and the aft PJ-12 is mounted atop the helicopter hangar. The ship is also armed with standard ASW weapons in two triple 324mm torpedo launchers enclosed within the hull, as well as four eighteen tube decoy launchers for chaff, flares, and rockets.
But the crowning jewel of 052C’s weapons suite is the HHQ-9 long range SAM. 48 HHQ-9s equip the 052C in cold launch, circular geometry VLS modules on the ship’s bow and aft.
Little solid information is known regarding HHQ-9’s performance, however based on limited official information regarding the land based HQ-9 long range SAM and the export variant FD-2000 long range SAM, HHQ-9 likely has an effective slant range in excess of 120 kilometers, though there are also rumours that it may approach 200 kilometers. HHQ-9 is thought to be capable of targeting both high flying aircraft and cruise missiles, as well as low altitude sea skimming missiles.
HHQ-9 likely utilizes active radar homing (ARH) guidance as opposed to older semi active radar homing (SARH), which allows it to potentially engage more targets simultaneously compared to ships which field SARH missiles with mechanically oriented terminal illuminators.
HHQ-9 thus provides the Chinese Navy with a true long range AAW capability for the first time.
[The content heavy nature of the HHQ-9 SAM as a subject means a separate post will fully address the caveats, details and logic behind these conclusions.]
The Type 346 radar is a multifunctional active phased array radar, featuring four fixed arrays which together provide three hundred and sixty degree coverage around the ship without need for a refresh rate as on older mechanically scanned array radars.
Despite a superficial similarity to the US Navy’s SPY-1 phased array radar aboard its Aegis destroyers and cruisers, the Type 346 uses more modern active phased array radar technology, whereas the SPY-1 is a passive phased array radar. However, both Type 346 and SPY-1 operate in the S band.
Performance of the Type 346 radar is not known, but persistent and credible rumours have suggested its effective range against aerial targets may exceed 450 kilometers, which would not be unreasonable given the radar’s operating band, the technology it uses, as well as comparisons to other similar radars. For instance, the Royal Navy’s SAMPSON radar is also an S band APAR, but fields a smaller array face compared to Type 346 and is said to have an effective range in excess of 400 kilomters.
Apart from general surveillance roles of both air and surface targets, Type 346 likely also acts as a fire control radar for the HHQ-9, by providing midcourse guidance data for HHQ-9 during an engagement, before the onboard active radar seeker activates for the terminal phase of engagement.
052C is also equipped with a Type 517 variant 2D UHF band radar, for long range volume search and as a sensor against stealthy targets (though it is almost certainly incapable of providing a firing solution, if it is even capable of effectively tracking a stealthy target at all). A Type 364 surface search radar is mounted atop the main mast, and a Mineral ME derived OTH surface attack radar, further round up 052C’s radar suite.
052C class is equipped with a bow sonar of unknown type, as well as a towed array sonar and a towed torpedo decoy, however it lacks the variable depth sonar of newer 054A FFGs and 052D DDGs. The ship also features various electro-optic sensors, passive ESM sensors, and active ECM antennae as well, although the designation of these are not known.
As a primary AAW ship, the 052C class is also thought to field advanced datalinking and cooperative engagement capabilities, which would allow for improved coordination of sensors and weapons between friendly ships during naval engagements.
052C features a sizable Combat Information Centre (CIC) that is equipped with a minimum of about twenty consoles, as well as a central main display (aboard the initial two 052Cs), or two main displays (aboard the subsequent four 052Cs). At least one of the last four 052Cs also features a “flotilla command room,” which appears to be a smaller sized CIC for a flag officer and their staff, and could be considered to be the equivalent of a flag bridge, which provides additional task force command capabilities. It is likely that all of the last four production 052Cs is equipped with such a facility, but it is unknown if the initial pair also includes it.
Role in Chinese Navy:
The primary role of the 052C class DDG is to provide long range, area AAW for a naval task force, carrier strike group, surface action group, or any other naval surface group. Given the previous backwardness of Chinese naval AAW capabilities, the introduction of 052C into the Chinese Navy’s order of battle cannot be emphasized enough, as it finally provides a true long range air defence capability against aircraft and anti ship missiles.
052C’s extensive surveillance and datalinking capabilities may also allow it to function as a command ship or a flagship for flag officers or other senior naval officers.
The destroyer can also conduct other missions, such as anti surface warfare through its eight impressive YJ-62 AShMs, or ASW by virtue of its sonar suite, onboard helicopter and torpedoes, but air defence would likely remain its primary mission. 052C’s VLS are also incapable of carrying missiles apart from HHQ-9, therefore its air defence mission is in some ways a compulsory one.
The closest international peer to 052C is probably the European APAR and ARH SAM equipped destroyers and frigates, namely the Type 45 class of the Royal Navy and the Forbin and Horizon classes of the French and Italian Navies, respectively. This is primarily due to the number of VLS each carries, the relatively limited weapons choice of their VLS, the fact that they employ active radar homing SAMs, and the similar types of radar they are equipped with.
Introduction of the 052C class DDG finally helped to modernize and rectify the Chinese Navy’s long standing deficits in AAW. The initial lone pair of 052C DDGs meant they were highly valuable, and could have been considered “capital ship” surface combatants within the Chinese Navy’s order of battle. However the subsequent production of four additional 052Cs and mass production of the 052D class DDG, means that in coming years the capabilities offered by 052C will be considered common and more widely distributed among the Chinese Navy, thus enhancing the Chinese Navy’s overall air defence capabilities.
052C could thus be viewed as a stepping stone towards the development and procurement of the more capable, more multirole 052D, and the 052C and 052D together would make up the bulk of the Chinese Navy’s air defence, aegis type destroyers.
In coming years, it is likely that the “capital ship” status of early 052Cs would be taken up by the 055 class large destroyers as small numbers of 055s enter service around 2020, by which time many 052C/D destroyers would likely make up a significant fraction of the navy’s order of battle.