Last Year in the Global Warship Market: Different Approaches from Major Players

20 Eylül 2019
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You can read the analysis published in the August 2019 Issue of MSI Turkish Defence Review here:

CHAPTER VI

Sinan TOPUZ / sinantopuz1990@gmail.com

 

In this latest offering of our series of articles detailing the procurement efforts of various countries over the last year, we will be taking a look at China, the United States and Russia. All three of these countries are engaged in an ongoing global power struggle, and the number and types of platforms we will cover in this article will hence be quite different to what has been seen in other countries. As usual, our focus will be on the art and technology of warfare, rather than the politics. Although the subject of these three countries’ naval powers would potentially require a book in its own right to give it the necessary coverage, we have deemed that it would be more appropriate to maintain our focus on submarines and on the surface ships of the corvette class and above when looking into these countries’ vessels and modernisation endeavours.

Before opening the discussion of the activities of these countries, we need to emphasise once again that the number of ships alone is not a metric of power. Dozens of parameters need to be taken into account in this regard, from firepower to self-defence capabilities, from the use of strategy and tactics to logistics, and most importantly, the use of manpower, all of which affect combat power. One of the reasons military academies exist is to calculate such parameters, and to teach their use in the best possible manner. We, on the other hand, are primarily interested in the industrial aspects of this subject, and in this offering of our series, we have again focused on the platform procurements that have taken place over the course of the previous year.

 

LUYANG III-class (Type 052D) destroyer HUNHOT (161)

LUYANG III-class (Type 052D) destroyer HUNHOT (161)

 

CHINA

China’s primary objective revolves around maintaining control of the South China Sea and keeping all possible rivals out of this region. Foremost among the defence concepts that it relies on to achieve this is the one known as Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD). That said, China is signalling that it will not maintain its current defence strategy in the region for much longer.

China’s surface power comprises more than 300 vessels, and the country is rapidly replacing its older vessels with new ones. Classifying China’s warships as Destroyers, Guided Missile Frigates and Corvettes provides the following overall picture of its naval force: China’s very first destroyers are its RENHAI-Class (Type 055) ships. The first of this class of ship was launched in 2017, and acted as the lead ship in the April 23 Chinese Navy Day parade. With a price tag of about $870 million and 112 vertical launch tubes for guided munitions, the ship’s tonnage is closer to that of a US Ticonderoga-class cruiser than a US Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. Some have even described the Type 055 as the most powerful ship in the world after the United States’ 15,000-ton Zumwalt. The Type 055’s dimensions have been compared with the Korean Republic’s Sejong the Great-class vessel (11,000 tons, 128 Vertical Launchers) weighing 10,000 tons and equipped with 128 vertical launchers, and Japan’s Atago/Maya-class vessel (10,250 ton) (Table 1). It is known that China is currently constructing four or five of these ships.

 

YUEYANG JINGKAI II-class (Type 054A) frigate (575)

YUEYANG JINGKAI II-class (Type 054A) frigate (575)

 

Last year also saw the commissioning of three 7,500-ton destroyers designated as LUYANG III-class (Type 052D), and news broke in May 2019 of the launch of the 19th and 20th of these vessels, with earlier news on August 2018 reporting the launch of the 14th vessel. Basic maths suggests that one of these destroyers is being launched every month and a half. The first ship in this class was launched in 2012, and entered into service two years later. The ship has 64 (32 + 32) vertical launchers, and is equipped with YJ-18 ASCM and HQ-9 SAM systems.

China is also constructing JINGKAI II-class (Type 054A) frigates, more than 30 of which are currently in service, with the construction of several more underway. There is mention that the construction of this series will continue with the Type 054Bs, which will feature a more advanced weapon loadout. The dimensions of the 4,000-ton, 134-meter vessels are almost identical to those of the Gabya-class frigates of the Turkish Naval Forces. Equipped with 32 vertical launch tubes and such equipment as towed array sonars that are often found in equivalent frigates, the vessels continue to figure at the front lines of the Chinese Navy during activities such as overseas exercises, port visits and civil evacuation missions. It can be expected that the Type 052D and Type 055 will also take part in future overseas operations.

Another type of vessel on China’s agenda is the 1,500-ton JIANGDAO-class corvette (Type 056). By the end of 2018, more than 40 ships of this type had entered into service, while at least 10 to 14 more remain under construction. [1] According to another source, the number of Type 056 vessels whose construction has been completed has reached 60. [2] A variant of this 90-meter vessel, designated the C13, was first launched in 2013, has been sold to Nigeria and Bangladesh. There is also news in the press that Kazakhstan and Venezuela have held meetings regarding the purchase of the vessel’s export model, designated the P18.

In the meantime, after constructing its first aircraft carrier, based on the hull of an unfinished former Soviet aircraft carrier that the country purchased from a Ukrainian shipyard, China is now putting its second carrier through naval trials, while images have been leaked to the press showing the construction of a third carrier at a shipyard. Certain publications claim that China’s primary objective is to increase its number of aircraft carrier groups to four by 2030, three of which will be maintained in a state of constant readiness.

The Zumwalt-class destroyers will be used primarily for surface warfare.

The Zumwalt-class destroyers will be used primarily for surface warfare.

 

UNITED STATES

Keeping track of the United States’ modernisation efforts is much easier than those of Russia and China. Since the US’ defence budget is approved by Congress on a platform basis, it is possible to access information on what is being done and what is planned.

The United States has devised its warship construction plans based on the target of increasing the number of ships in the naval inventory to 326 by 2023, and to 355 by 2050. To adhere to this plan, the annual budget allocated by the United States will be gradually increased from $19 billion to $23 billion. The budget office of the US Congress, on the other hand, described figures of the US Navy as being optimistic, announcing that the actual figures required stand closer to approximately $28 billion per year. The United States’ current plan is to continually maintain its number of aircraft carriers at 11 by constructing a new carrier every four years, and to build an average of two-and-a-half guided ammunition destroyers, two frigates or littoral combat ships, and two nuclear-powered attack or ballistic missile submarines every year.

It has been announced that the third and final vessel in the DDG-1000 (Zumwalt-class) programme, which has provided many lessons on how a project should not be conducted, had reached 85 percent completion by the end of April. Associated with an average cost of $7.8 billion per vessel, the project almost rivals aircraft carrier projects in terms of costs and expenditures. Initially planned to include 32 ships, the number of ships in the project was first reduced to seven, and later again to three. The ammunition used by the two 155 mm guns aboard these vessels, known as the Long-Range Land Attack Projectiles (LRLAP), were initially planned to have a range of 83 nautical miles and to cost around $50,000 apiece. However, as the number of units to be purchased was revised downwards, the cost of a single ammunition skyrocketed to $800,000, which is roughly equivalent to the price of a low-cost guided ammunition. In the end, it was decided that these vessels should serve as surface combat ships rather than as the land attack ships they were initially envisaged to become, and that they should become part of the unmanned vehicle command.

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In the DDG-class, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, also known as Aegis destroyers, bear much of the burden of the US Navy’s duties. The construction of 82 vessels has been launched since 1985, and the US Navy has proposed the construction of three more ships in 2020. Comprising various models (Flight I, Flight II, Flight III), 67 of these vessels have been delivered to the Navy to date, while 10 are under construction and 12 are in the contract negotiations phase. The SPY-6 (V) radar, known also as the Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR), will be used on the latest model Flight III vessels, and is reported to provide far more effective air defence than the previous radars.

As part of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program, the US Navy has taken delivery of 35 ships, the last three of which were supplied in 2019. With the start of the FFG(X) programme in 2020, the US Navy plans to meet its requirement for low-tonnage ships through the procurement of vessels that are larger than the 3,000-tonne LCSs, but smaller than the Arleigh Burke-class, and with a cost in the region of $900 million per vessel. According to the project design, the cost of the first vessel will reach $1.81 billion. The per-ship cost of the Arleigh Burke-class is around $1.8 billion. Current plans involve the construction of 20 ships under the FFG (X) programme, and it is expected that, together with the LCSs, the number of low-tonnage warships will reach 55. Construction of the first ship will start in 2020, and in the ensuing years new ships will be built at a rate of two per year. For the design of the vessels, R&D payments of 15 million dollars have been made to five companies. It is also said that the tender does not exclude the other companies. The initial candidate companies and their project proposals are as follows:

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyers constitute the backbone of the US Navy.

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyers constitute the backbone of the US Navy.

 

Austal USA is taking part in the tender with a variant of its patented Independence-class design, featuring enhanced weapons systems. The 3,000-ton ship will feature 16 Mk41 vertical launchers. Fincantieri and Marine Group Shipyard are participating in the tender with their patented FREMM design of 6,700 tons. The vessels have a vertical launcher with 16 cells, and also include an area for launching surface-to-surface missiles from the deck. The FREMM design is currently in use by France, Italy, Morocco and Egypt. Meanwhile, although there appears to be 16 VLS launcher cells on the ships, there is controversy on whether the actual number of launchers is 32 or 48. For this reason, it can be said that 16 represents a low figure for these ships. General Dynamics and the Bath Iron Works Shipyard are in the tender process with the design of Navantia’s 6,000-ton F100 frigate. Equipped with the Aegis Combat System, the frigates have entered into service in Spain. The principal design of Norway’s Fridtjof Nansen-classes and of the Australian Hobart-class air defence frigates is based on the F100. Huntington Ingalls’s proposal remains shrouded in mystery, as per the company’s own choice.

Lockheed Martin joined the race with a modified version of the Freedom-class vessels. There are comments that the model they proposed bears many similarities to the 4,000-ton model offered previously to Saudi Arabia. Although viewed as one of the favourites in the tender, Lockheed Martin announced its withdrawal from the race on May 23. The company’s statement included a noteworthy sentence that is not often encountered in the business world: “The Freedom design had difficulties meeting all of the requirements.” [3] The company further noted that it will be focusing on the COMBATSS 21 combat management system. In November 2018, news outlets reported that Lockheed Martin received $22.72 million from the Saudis for its Multi-Mission Surface Combattant (MMSC) project both for R&D purposes and for the design vessels that are different from the models employed in the US. Similar to the other companies that made it onto the shortlist in the FFG(X) project, Lockheed Martin had also received around $15 million from the US Navy to develop the LCS design.

When it comes to submarines, it is worth noting that all US submarines are nuclear-powered.  These submarines currently include the Ohio, Los Angeles, Sea Wolf and Virginia classes.

The United States seeks to replace its Ohio-class submarines with Columbia-class vessels, of which illustration is seen here.

The United States seeks to replace its Ohio-class submarines with Columbia-class vessels, of which illustration is seen here.

 

The lifespan of the 14 Ohio-class submarines, which are capable of firing Trident nuclear ballistic missiles, is reported to be 42 years. Once they enter their 20th year of service, these submarines undergo a two-year fuel refuelling overhaul, with 12 submarines kept in operational at any time while the other two undergo their refuelling overhaul. In addition, four submarines are kept mission-ready at sea. These vessels are scheduled for decommissioning between 2027 and 2040, when they will be replaced by Columbia-class vessels.

The US Navy has ordered four Orca unmanned undersea vehicles with a price tag of $43 million.

The US Navy has ordered four Orca unmanned undersea vehicles with a price tag of $43 million.

 

Los Angeles-class attack submarines are being replaced by Virginia-class vessels at a rate of two to three submarines per year. Of the 7,800-ton Virginia-class submarines equipped with 12 vertical launchers, 17 are still on duty, and this number figure is expected to increase to 66 over time. The first batch of submarines being constructed will be able to carry 12 Tomahawk missiles, while the final group (Block V) will carry 40 Tomahawk missiles. Open sources mention that Block VI, which is described as the group of the future, may be used for the control of unmanned sea vehicles and special force operations. The US Navy has also ordered four extra large unmanned undersea vehicles designated as Orca at a total price tag of $43 million, for use in combination with the Block VI vessels.

The US Navy has also demanded the inclusion of an important cost item into its budget that is normally approved by the Congress, and which can be later amended through annual proposals. In April, the US Navy requested the allocation of $2.7 billion over the next five years for procurement and research activities related to unmanned vehicles. The budget includes the procurement of 10 large unmanned vehicles and the associated research activities. There are also plans to acquire 232 unmanned vehicles over the course of the five years. This, of course, will require them to indicate possible resources for such a budget item, which will possibly be ensured through savings and cost reductions on larger ships.

Grigorovich-class frigate ADMIRAL MAKAROV (799)

Grigorovich-class frigate ADMIRAL MAKAROV (799)

 

RUSSIA

There are a limited number of reliable resources for news of Russia’s modernisation efforts, making it difficult to keep track of developments, although it is possible to discern a general picture. The Admiral Sergei Gorshkov-class frigates (Project 22350) are viewed as the first part of Russia’s policy of extending into the open seas once again. The 2,200-ton corvettes are equipped with 12 vertical launchers, and current plans involve the construction of 24 of these vessels. According to certain sources, six have already been constructed, while construction and fitting works are underway on the seventh. The first of these vessels was commissioned in 2008, and the sixth in December 2018. On the other hand, the website Naval Recognition reported in April that the keels of the fourth and fifth platforms have been laid, that the second ship is undergoing naval tests, and that the third and fourth ships are to be delivered to the Russian Navy in 2021 and 2022. Although certain developments may not have made it into the news, the overall picture suggests a relative lethargy in Russia’s efforts when compared to China and the United States.

Karakurt-class corvette MYTISCHCHI (567)

Karakurt-class corvette MYTISCHCHI (567)

 

The keel of another Karakurt-class corvette (Project 22800) was laid on February 26. The first of these vessels entered the Russian Naval inventory in December 2018, although it has not been announced how many of these corvettes have begun construction. The Karakurt guided missile corvette project includes 18 ships with a length of 67 meters and a displacement of 800 tons, equipped with eight vertical launchers. The ships were used a number of times between 2015 and 2017 to mount attacks in Syria, and can be equipped with Kalibr guided missiles. Open sources claim that the ship’s export model may feature an Italian Oto Melara gun instead of the Russian AK-176.

Russia also plans to construct 13 Steregushchiy-class corvettes (Project 20380), of which the first was laid down in 2001. In December 2018, it was reported in the news that the seventh ship had undergone firing tests, and that this class of corvettes was expected to become the backbone of the Russian Navy. According to another source, as of April, construction works for six of the ships had been completed, while four were still under construction.

Another notable surface ship project of the Russian Navy is the Admiral Grigorovich frigates (Project 11356), of which three have already been constructed.

As our valuable readers may also appreciate, the diversity of ships differs substantially between countries in terms of cost-savings, sustainability and planning. It is worth noting that this diversity also brings with it various maintenance challenges.

Steregushchiy-class corvette STOYKIY (545)

Steregushchiy-class corvette STOYKIY (545)

 

The story of the Admiral Kuznetsov carrier is too long to be covered within the scope of this article. However, since we are writing a general assessment on the Russian Navy, it is worth mentioning the Kuznetsov in a separate paragraph to illustrate the general situation. The Syrian crisis brought to the agenda the option of making active use of Russia’s only aircraft carrier. In March 2016, it was announced that the aircraft carrier would be deployed off the Syrian coast during the summer. In June 2016, the Russian Minister of Defence dismissed the senior commanders of the Baltic Fleet, to which the ship was affiliated. In July 2016, it was announced that the Kuznetsov would be assigned to Syria in November 2016, four months later than initially planned. Looking at this succession of announcements, we concluded that the dismissal of senior commanders in the Baltic Fleet was due to the failure to prepare the Kuznetsov for its mission on time. The ship began its mission in Syria in November 2016, which is not the best time for sea-air operations. Both during its deployment and its return, a tugboat constantly accompanied by carrier, while continuous plume of black smoke emerged from the funnel of the vessel, which led commentators to write that the vessel was experiencing problems with its engines. According to NATO sources, a total of 154 sorties were made from the ship between November 2016 and January 2017. The ship completed its four-month mission and returned for maintenance. However, an accident in October 2018 caused one of the cranes in the dry dock to collapse over the ship, and sank the only dry dock capable of performing repairs. The newspaper Izvetsia reported in April that while Russian officials have stated from time-to-time that the ship will be ready in 2021, the Russian Ministry of Defence has not yet made a firm announcement.

On the submarine front, the following developments have taken place in Russia: The Belgrod submarine launched by Russia in April became the world’s largest submarine at 300 meters in length and 30,000 tons displacement. The vessel, which is neither a ballistic missile nor attack submarine, is referred to as a Special Mission Submarine (Project 09852) and will carry out functions as a nuclear torpedo launcher and host to unmanned underwater vehicles (Poseidon). The vessel is a modernized version of the Oscar II submarine, and is expected to be commissioned in 2020. Russia also plans to add 30 Poseidon unmanned underwater vehicles – which can be used as nuclear weapons – to its inventory by the end of 2020.

Submarines occupy an important place in Russia’s modernisation efforts over the course of the last year. Russia currently has three Borei II-class submarines (Project 955A) in its inventory, and expects to take delivery of the fourth of these ships by the end of 2019. Open sources also note that one of Russia’s Yasen M (Project 885) submarines is now operational, and that five others are in various stages of construction. It is alleged that 18 years passed between the launch of construction and the receipt of the first vessel.

 

References

  1. Janes’s Defense Weekly, May 1, 2019, Chinese navy puts newest platforms on display, Vol 56, Issue 18
  2. Minni Chan, China’s navy is being forced to rethink its spending plans as cost of trade war rises, May 26, 2019, South China Post
  3. Sam La Grone, Lockheed Martin Won’t Submit Freedom LCS Design for FFG (X) Contest, May 28, 2019, USNI, https://news.usni.org/2019/05/28/lockheed-martin-wont-submit- freedom-lcs-design-for-ffgx-contest, Access Date: Mayıs 31, 2019
  4. Sinan Topuz, Is the Kuznetsov real reason that take Mr. Putin’s fury on officers? July 7, 2016, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/kuznetsov-real-reason-take-mr-putins-furry-officers-sinan -knob/

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