Just to report on some news before we get to the main purpose of this post. There are some news from this week:
- EMAL catapult project has been confirmed by Qinghua alumni website
- LCAC in JN has apparently been launched
- Chinese WIG aircraft had its first lift-off/flight
- Latest Chinese conventional/nuclear subs are using all-electrical propulsion
- A prototype for a major project in CAC has recently passed through AVIC-1 examination committee. Not sure what this project is at this point.
And now, the article I’ve really been responding to is PKF’s analysis to IN vs PLAN. This article appeared on the June version of Kanwa and then all over the Chinese military bbs. Now, it has even been spread to English webs with its appearance on UPI and Part 2. Now, I personally think PLAN is better in hardware than IN. But, my focus here is to look at the arguments of PKF rather than to do a comparison of PLAN/IN. With that in my mind, let’s look at PKF’s focus.
First, he states that China is far ahead of India in submarine. I don’t think anyone can debate this part. Of course, he manages to understate the number of nuclear subs and conventional subs China has. We’ve seen at least 3 094s, 3 Yuans, 1 new 039B, 12 to 16 Songs and more than 2 093s (does he really think China will have the same number of SSNs as SSBNs?). Rather than consider the current force on both sides, he compares what China has right now to what India will have. And this is a theme that will be used in the rest of the article.
The second part is his comparison of frigates on both side. First, he totally ignores the excessive number of Jiangwei’s that China has, but mentioned the 3 4500 tonne Type 16A frigate serving for IN. Of course, Type 16A are actually 3850 tonne in full load. And it doesn’t seem to contain any sensor/weapons that are actually more recent than the recent Jiangwei. So, I would’ve ignored both. Just focusing on the relatively advanced frigates, China has 6 054/A, whereas India currently has the 3 Talwars. PKF believes that the construction is at a parity, with India slightly ahead in technology. I suppose that he is factoring in the 3 Project 17 class frigates, but there really is no telling that these ships will be completed before the next batch of 054As. Yes, we know that Project 17s are launched, but we’ve also seen 4 054As getting commissioned in less than 2 years of seeing the first pictures coming out. With the next batch of 054As already under construction in 2 shipyards, it’s hard to see these ships actually coming out later than the Project 17s (considering how much delay Indian ships normally suffer). And it’s also quite perplexing where this technological disadvantage for 054A comes from. We’ve argued for quite long that 054A’s sensors/SAMs are upgrades over what is on Sov class. So, considering that Sov class’s air defense suite is basically the same as the ones on Talwar and Project 17. PKF’s belief must have originated from the Club missiles on these ships. We could spend all day arguing over and the sensors/missiles on these ships, but I think it’s generally agreeable that they are in the same class. The upgraded Talwars on order are not going to change that scenario. So for the forseeable future, IN will have a maximum of 9 frigates in this class, but PLAN will have far more than that given the current rate of construction for 054 class.
And finally, he concluded his arguments by talking about Indian superiority in 6000+ ton warships. He starts by saying that China has a lead right now with the 052B/C, 051B/C and Sovs vs 3 Project 15s. However, he continued by saying that IN will have an absolute lead in quantity and quality in the future, because it is building 3 Project 15As and will take in 2 aircraft carriers next decade. I think it’s pretty obvious by now that China is preparing a carrier group at Sanya. So, to say do the comparison without factor that in is not realistic. Also, he mentioned that the only major ship that China is building recently is 054A. He seemed to have forgotten the recently launched Type 071 LPD. At the same time, he is ignoring all the signs that China will be building its next wave of destroyers (successors to 052C) in JN very soon. The relocation of JiangNan shipyard did not really slow down PLAN naval expansion. It simply shifted the focus from destroyers to frigates, FACs and submarines. With the world’s largest shipyard coming into line, I think the shift will come back to large warship in the coming 3 years. Of course, IN advantage in carrier operation cannot be underestimated. However, it is not the only determining factor when judging large warship strength.
A lot of PKF’s arguments are made against the unknowns of PLAN’s future expansion plan. However, we’ve seen that PLAN has managed a very comprehensive modernization/expansion plan. They have put the effort into improving all the areas that PLAN observers thought they needed improvement in. They built almost every type of warship that we’ve expected them to add. So, I don’t think anyone should believe that their progress would just stop now. And I think he summed up the situation and negated his own point at the end by saying the following,
“In terms of shipbuilding technology and production craftwork, however, especially in such production processes as cutting, welding and spray-painting, the military vessels produced by China — particularly those vessels built at the two shipyards in Shanghai — are far superior to the Indian navy ships.”
Although PKF did not want to admit to this, but you can same the same thing when compared to Russian built ships. That’s why in the end, China has more concerns on the Eastern side with South Korea and Japan. These are the two countries that have well established shipbuilding industry and the economy to compete against a PLAN naval build up. China has the advantage of being able to simply outbuild most countries in the world due to its existing shipbuilding capacity and the high quality to cost ratio of the shipyards. It doesn’t have this advantage against South Korea and Japan. All 3 countries are very competitive in the shipbuilding market because of this. Having said this, China is technologically behind South Korea in civilian shipbuilding, but that’s not necessarily the case with military shipbuilding. For example, South Korea would not be better than China in submarine or aircraft carrier construction, because China has been investing/developing in these areas for much longer. In addition, I do think that China has the advantage in sensors/weapons, because it uses all indigenous products -> better cost to performance ratio than South Korea and Japan. And when compared to India, these advantages are even more pronounced.
PLAN’s military hardware probably surpassed IN only in 2006, but it’s hard to see IN reversing the trend and actually catching up. IN talks about building 1 scorpion a year from 2012 to 2017, but China is already building 3 yuan a year right now. The only thing that IN has over PLAN is its carrier operation. And certainly, this is one area that PLAN needs a lot of experience with in the next 20 years. We can certainly say the same thing about the other ships that it has been getting.