By Morgan Clemens, Gabe Collins, and Kristen Gunness
Executive Summary and Key Points
This report discusses the evolution of the Type 054/054A frigates (FFGs) by examining their roles and missions, research, development, and acquisition, and design process to include foreign assistance that Chinese shipbuilders received on various systems, components, and weapons. We also discuss procurement practices and provide a cost model for the ship, as well as examine implications for future development.
—China has commissioned 19 Type 054A Jiangkai-II class frigates to-date, and is working on at least four additional vessels. China’s total production of Type 054, 054A, and 054B/other follow on frigates could ultimately exceed 30 vessels.
–The lack of reporting to date in Chinese or foreign sources regarding engine failures or other major mechanical problems suggests that the Type 054A has recorded decent operational reliability in the six and a half years (and counting) that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has maintained its Gulf of Aden anti-piracy mission.
–While the Type 054A represents an exponential improvement in the quality and capability of the PLAN’s frigate force, it nonetheless remains a distinctly limited design, certainly in terms of its size and armament but most especially in terms of its electronics outfit. The Chinese appear to recognize this fact and view the 054A as an intermediary design intended to play a specific, limited role in fleet defense.
–Notwithstanding its physical shortcomings, the Type 054A has performed well handling lower intensity long-range mission In this regard, it has arguably surpassed the capabilities of the French Lafayette-class frigate that influenced its original design.
Development, Design, and Implications for Future Chinese Frigate Models
Since their introduction in early 2005 and 2008, respectively, the Type 054/054A line of Chinese frigates has undergone significant development and redesign commensurate with their expanding role as the PLA Navy’s (PLAN) highest-end multi-function warship.
This analysis uses the Type 054-series frigate as a lens to examine the rapid and deep evolution in Chinese military shipbuilding capability over the past decade. The 054 series is a good case study subject because it is a major surface combatant, has been series produced for several years, and has actually seen sustained (and ongoing) operational deployments. This study focuses in depth on seven core aspects of the Type 054-series, as follows:
- Introduction to the Type 054-series
- An assessment of the vessels’ evolving roles and missions
- Chinese domestic analysts’ assessment of the Type 054A frigate
- How the ship fits into a possible fleet air defense role as China’s deck aviation program develops
- Research, development, and acquisition (RDA), including analysis of ship systems as available sources permit, as well as authors’ assessment of likely ship cost
- Export potential
- Conclusion and potential future directions for the Type 054-series program
While the PLAN only produced two of the earlier Type 054 Jiangkai-I class frigates, it has commissioned 19 Type 054A Jiangkai-II class frigates to-date, and is working on at least four additional vessels (Exhibit 1). We believe that when the series is complete, China’s total production of Type 054, 054A, and 054B/other follow on frigates could exceed 30 vessels. On this basis, the Type 054/054A/054B series could begin to approach the prolific production of the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, where 62 vessels spread over three “flights” or evolutions have been delivered to the fleet since 1991.
Exhibit 1: Number of Type 054A vessels commissioned, by year
Source: IHS Jane’s
These Type 054As have proven to be versatile ships that participate in a range of PLAN missions, including patrolling China’s littoral areas as well as forming the backbone of escort and patrol missions to the South China Sea. Several Type 054As have been part of the anti-piracy task forces sent to the Gulf of Aden. One Type 054A ship, the Xuzhou, famously travelled to Libya to conduct the PLAN’s first non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO). Type 054A vessels also helped evacuate Chinese and other foreign nationals from Yemen in the spring of 2015 as the security situation deteriorated there. It is generally expected by both Chinese and Western analysts that the Type 054As will constitute part of a PLAN carrier strike group if and when one is formed. Overall, Chinese and foreign assessments of the ships are largely positive and no significant mechanical problems have been reported, particularly with the Type 054As that have deployed on the lengthy Gulf of Aden mission.
The development and design of the newest Type 054A ships reflect this expansion of roles and missions and potentially indicates the weightier role the PLAN would like the ship to undertake in future combat situations. The Type 054A is fitted with much more capable anti-air and anti-ship missiles than its predecessor, in addition to a “mini-Aegis” radar system and improved stealth capability that make it much more effective in medium-intensity combat situations.
However, Chinese assessments indicate that while the Type 054A represents an exponential improvement in the quality and capability of the PLAN’s frigate force, it nonetheless remains a limited design in terms of its size, armament, and electronics outfit and is viewed as an intermediary design intended to play a specific, limited role in fleet defense. This is not surprising, as China’s warship builders took a risk averse, incremental design and buildout approach in creating the Type 054 series vessels. A Type 054B or other successor vessel will likely improve upon the 054A in several key areas. We expect these to include an upgraded command system, improved (or perhaps otherwise different) air and missile defense systems, and a larger hull design. The Type 54/054A lineage once again illustrates China’s hitherto limited capacity for true technical innovation in the maritime realm, with the Type’s hull form, engines, and major systems largely derived from foreign sources. It remains to be seen how “indigenous” follow on vessels are in practice.
Roles and Missions for the Type 054/54A
As mentioned above, the PLAN has used Type 054/054A frigates for a diverse range of missions. Before discussing specific missions that these ships have participated in or will likely participate in the future, it is instructive to keep in mind the major categories of missions that the PLAN’s surface combatants play a part in. These include:
- Defending China’s Regional Maritime Realm: This entails defending China’s maritime claims, maritime territory, and shoreline against attack. This mission thus encompasses defending a variety of disputed claims to sovereignty over islands and other land features in the South China and East China seas, as well as defending China’s claims to its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), some of which is hotly contested by its maritime neighbors. China currently has maritime boundary disputes with all its maritime neighbors, to include Japan, North and South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei. Events continue to illustrate the possibility of escalating territorial and maritime tensions in the region, to include China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea, actions against Vietnamese outposts in the Paracels and Spratlys; the USNS Impeccable incident and others like it; and the standoff at Scarborough Shoal with the Philippines.
- Protecting China’s Regional Maritime Economic Interests: Stability of the maritime region has become a key imperative for the Chinese leadership as PRC economic growth increasingly depends on seaborne trade, exploitation of offshore oil and natural gas reserves, and access to fishing stocks and other natural resources. For the PLAN, this mission set primarily includes ensuring access to key regional Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs), and extending China’s strategic and operational depth.
- Non-combatant evacuation operations (NEOs): The PLA Navy conducted its first NEO in Libya in February 2011. The Libya NEO was primarily managed by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the majority of the 35,000 Chinese nationals were evacuated by sea on chartered merchant vessels, chartered and military aircraft (PLAAF IL-76 transports), and buses. However, the PLA directly participated by sending four military transport aircraft and the navy frigate Xuzhou, which had been part of the 7th Task Force in the Gulf of Aden, to the Mediterranean Sea to escort and provide over watch for the chartered shipping. In all, the PLA directly provided or assisted in the evacuation of nearly 3,000 Chinese citizens. The deployment of Xuzhou set a major precedent because it marked the first time China has sent military assets to a distant part of the world to protect its citizens there, and represents Beijing’s growing capability to conduct long-range operations that it was incapable of performing only a decade ago. With PLAN support—including from the Type 054A frigates Linyi and Weifang—China conducted another NEO operation to remove PRC and other foreign nationals from Yemen in March and April of 2015 as civil conflict intensified.
- Anti-Piracy/Protection of Key SLOCs: The Chinese consider piracy to be an increasing threat to their shipping. A number of important Chinese SLOCs run through areas affected by piracy, including routes in the South China Seas and the Malacca Straits, West Africa, and more recently the Gulf of Aden. As a result, the PLAN sent its first task force to the Gulf of Aden at the end of 2008 to counter piracy as part of a multinational task force. Since then the PLAN has sent 20 task forces to the Gulf of Aden, and the mission continues today.
- Power Projection/Global Presence: A final category that will likely be realized in the future as China builds its aircraft carrier program is the ability to project power as well as participate in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) around the globe.
The Type 054/054A has operational experience for most of these categories, and will undoubtedly play a significant escort role in a carrier group in the future.
Evolution of The Type 054/054A’s Missions
The Type 054’s early days and its more limited role
Analysis from the 2004-05 timeframe indicate that the earlier models of the Type 054 were initially thought of by Chinese analysts primarily as “littoral corvettes,” meant to strengthen and upgrade China’s littoral water defense capability and protect its EEZ.  In examining how other countries such as Great Britain, France, and Italy employed their corvettes, Chinese analysts concluded that light frigates are lower in cost, operationally reliable, and can perform multiple functions. 
Along the same lines of using the earlier Type 054 model to protect China’s littoral areas, in 2004 several sources cited countering Taiwan’s Kang Ding-class frigates as one of the reasons China sought to construct the Type 054 and design it to accommodate the 16PA6 STC diesel engine. This engine had a much higher output power than the Kang Ding frigates and it was estimated that the Type 054’s maximum speed would surpass the Kang Ding’s 25-knot speed, thus providing the PLAN with a faster frigate to counter the Taiwanese Navy if necessary (although, according to some reports, the Type 054 was only slightly faster than the Taiwanese ship).
By 2006, Chinese defense analysts had identified the main threat to the PLAN as coming from the air, implying that “PLA Navy ship formations must rely on their own ship-borne air defense [and] anti-missile weapons systems to put up an air defense protective umbrella for the fleet.” The PLAN had four destroyers (DDGs) with air defense capabilities at the time, but that was not deemed sufficient to protect the fleet. The question was raised as to whether the Type 054 and the newer Type 054A could fill this gap in air defense capabilities. To address this issue, the Type 054 was upgraded and the Type 054A designed with a more modern weapons system, radar, and vertical launch system (VLS) (comprising a Chinese ‘mini-Aegis,’ discussed below). The Type 054A was also made to be stealthier than its predecessor, and with these improvements the Type 054A was considered too high-end to be purely undertaking defensive tasks in the 200-nautical mile offshore area. The expansion of the ship’s roles and missions had begun.
The newer Type 054As and an expanding mission set
Regional/Near Seas Defense: China’s redesign of the Type 054 and the subsequent production of the more modern Type 054A allowed for an expansion of roles and missions for these ships. Beyond simply being conceived of as a littoral defense ship, the PLAN began to use the Type 054A in a central role for regional and near seas territorial defense. Indeed, most of the newly-built 054As have been commissioned to the South Sea Fleet, where they primarily conduct escort and patrol missions in and around disputed territory in the South China Sea. For example, in late 2012 the PLAN sent a Type 054A frigate, the Liuzhou, to the South Sea Fleet. Chinese analysts have in the past noted that the Type 054 is “one of the more advanced multi-role warships in the fleet; the new ship’s primary mission is to protect Chinese interests in the South China Sea.  We suspect that for this particular role, the Type 056 Jiangdao-class corvette is rapidly supplanting the Type 054As, allowing them to be re-focused on missions further afield.
The Type 054As have increasingly been a part of PLAN flotillas conducting regional training and exercises meant to demonstrate China’s regional naval prowess, show the flag in contested waters, and set the precedent for a ‘new normal’ level of Chinese naval training missions. For example, in November- December 2012, a PLAN East Sea Fleet warship formation, made up of two guided missile destroyers (Ningbo and Hangzhou), two Type 054A FFGs (Zhoushan and Maanshan) and a supply ship conducted training in the Western Pacific Ocean. The training focused on infringement of Chinese territorial waters by the vessel of another country, as well as search and rescue and inspection and seizure of a foreign vessel that collided with a Chinese law enforcement vessel. The formation also practiced adopting electronic countermeasures and missile attack, and anti-missile training in maneuvers in a large area. On returning to port, the formation cruised through China’s claimed territorial area around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.
Missions Abroad: The Type 054As are more widely known for their participation in the anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden, which are mainly undertaken by the South and East Sea Fleets from whence the majority of the Type 054/054As have been sent. In addition to counter-piracy patrols, The Type 054A also featured in the PLAN’s first Non Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO), which took place in Libya in 2011. The Type 054A FFG Xuzhou was sent from the Gulf of Aden to participate in the NEO, which was the first of its kind for the PLAN. Finally, sending the Type 054As to the South Sea Fleet also indicates that they will play a role in a carrier group, as it is likely that the South Sea fleet will receive China’s new aircraft carriers. Chinese analysts have carefully examined the use of escort ships in carrier battle groups by the United States, Britain, and France, and concluded that:
“[Multi-functional] escort ships are members of the ocean ship fleet that they cannot do without. Besides anti-submarine escort ships being capable of use in single formations and executing ocean anti-submarine tasks, anti-submarine protection rings for aircraft carrier battle groups likewise require the participation of escort ships. Escort ships equipped with advanced air-defense missiles are already about the same as missile destroyers in operational capability, and they are necessary components of the various nations’ aircraft carrier battle group protective rings.”
China’s aircraft carriers will require a much larger surface fleet than the South Sea Fleet currently has, although the PLAN is working to build up a mixture of modern DDGs and FFGs for that fleet. As the Type 054As are one of the most advanced frigates the PLAN has, it is likely they will conduct blue water escort for the aircraft carriers once they are operational. Any future Type 054 variants will likely be constructed with defense of an aircraft carrier in mind.
Chinese Assessments of the Type 054A
Much of the open source coverage of the Type 054A as it has participated in the above missions has been positive, as are assessments by Chinese analysts as well as those who have commanded or otherwise sailed on the ships. Major problems from the Gulf of Aden deployments are not mentioned in Chinese publications or by foreign analysts, who almost certainly would have noted and reported on major problems such as engine failures or other mechanical issues that would require towing back to port and lengthy repair.
Some of the areas cited by Chinese defense analysts where the Type 054A design is vastly improved over the Type 054 include: 
–Improved air defense: The Type 054A’s medium-range HQ-16 VLS SAM system now provides area air defense from all engagement angles up to a range of 50km, a considerable upgrade from the limited engagement angle, short range SAM system of the Type 054.
–Improved reaction time against close-in threats: The Type 054’s four AK-630 close-in weapon systems (CIWS) were replaced with two Type 730 CIWS on the Type 054A, which has far better reaction time for anti-aircraft and anti-missile engagements.
–More capable radar systems: A Russian-derived MR331 Mineral-ME fire-control radar (for anti-ship missile and for the main gun as its secondary mission), capable of over the horizon targeting, has been installed on the Type 054A frigate.
–Better stealth design: The V-shaped hull design combined with stealth radar capabilities makes the 054A a quieter and stealthier ship.
While coverage of areas for improvement of the Type 054A is sparse, a few sources did note that improvements to the next iteration of stealth frigates, the Type 054B, would be focused on the electronic equipment used in the combat information command system as well as changes to the weapons configuration. This could indicate that the Type 054B will be equipped with new air defense and anti-ship missiles.
The upgraded capabilities of the Type 054A reflect its expanded mission sets and enhance the ability of the ship to defend itself against a range of threats that it might encounter in both the regional seas and missions abroad, to include potential conflicts with regional navies as well as pirates in distant waters. Given the Type 054A’s success to date and the strong likelihood that the PLAN will seek improved follow on variants, it is important to analyze the research, development, and procurement process that the PLAN used to bring the Type 054A into the fleet.
The Type 054A in Relation to the ‘mini-Aegis’ concept and Fleet Air Defense
While the Type 054A represents an exponential improvement in the quality and capability of the PLAN’s frigate force, it nonetheless remains a distinctly limited design, in terms of its size and armament certainly but most especially in terms of its electronics outfit. The Chinese appear to recognize this fact and view the 054A as an intermediary design intended to play a specific, limited role in fleet defense, with a key Chinese source from 2011 affording a remarkable insight into the way in which the PLAN views the class. In the Chinese view, while a full-scale Aegis-type system is effective, it nonetheless has a number of drawbacks, especially the multiple large, limited-aspect antennae (c. 5.5 tons each), and many more tons of computers and other equipment required to support it.
In total, such a radar outfit, on its own, can weigh in at more than 100 tons, while the extended range of the system mandates greater numbers of larger and heavier missiles, thus most full-scale installations necessitate ships on the order of 9,000-10,000 tons. In order to avoid the high costs associated with such large ships, some countries have attempted to develop so-called ‘mini-Aegis’ warships, the term ‘mini-Aegis’ indicating ships in the 5,000-6,000 ton range with either a full-sized radar set-up (as in the Spanish Alvaro de Bazan-class and Australian Hobart-class designs using the AN/SPY-1D) or a smaller radar set-up (as in the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen-class using the AN/SPY-1F) combined with a less than full-sized VLS capacity (i.e. fewer than the 90-120 cells found aboard typical American cruisers and destroyers).
Though the Type 054A can be considered a ‘mini-Aegis’ type, the Chinese nonetheless recognize the limitations of the concept. Because of their small size, they cannot carry a number of long-range missiles sufficient to support an actual area defense capability or deal with saturation attacks by anti-ship missiles, which generally necessitates carrying 100 or more long-range ship-to-air missiles, while most ‘mini-Aegis’ types typically carry only 30-50, or even fewer such missiles. In addition, such ships cannot produce sufficient electrical power to consistently sustain Aegis radars at full capacity, further limiting their capability. Together, the small size and lower power of mini-Aegis systems necessitates placing their antennae as high above the waterline as possible, potentially impacting stability and seakeeping.
Moreover, all Aegis systems (but especially mini-Aegis types) only reach maximum effectiveness when capable of cooperative engagements with radar-equipped aircraft operating at a distance (a capability which China does not possess and one which would not likely be dependable in wartime), while even a full-scale Aegis system’s detection range against sea-skimming missiles is usually reduced to barely a dozen miles (c. 25 kilometers). Finally, placing such large and numerous radar and computer systems in comparatively small hulls severely limits capacity for future upgrades, which is especially problematic for those countries utilizing mini-Aegis type vessels as backbone surface combatants in their fleets.
It is with these limitations in mind that the Type 054A was designed and its role in the fleet defined (as will be the case for any of its successors). In particular, the Chinese appear to have adopted a basic theory of fleet defense identical to that utilized by the American and other Western navies for half a century, with an outer-screen composed of large air defense warships (cruisers or large destroyers) providing long-range anti-air and anti-missile defense supported by an inner screen of smaller warships primarily providing anti-submarine defense while also defending against any air or missile threats (especially sea-skimming ASMs) that leak through the outer screen. It is in this second, inner-screen that the Type 054A with its HQ-16 missiles and Type 382 Sea Eagle S-band (海鹰-S) radar, is intended to serve, and in such a context, with primary anti-air and anti-missile defense resting upon larger vessels (presumably the Type 052C and Type 052D destroyers), the Type 054A’s lack of truly long-range missile or 3D phased array radar becomes less problematic.
The Chinese view the combination of the HQ-16 and Type 382 as sufficient to confronting most threats faced at present and over the last decade (within the context of the operational principles described above), with the HQ-16 viewed as roughly equivalent to the ESSM (“Evolved Seasparrow Missile”) in size and thrust, though needing improvements in terms of thrust vectoring (the HQ-16 apparently relies upon a gas-rudder) in order to attain full effectiveness against sea-skimming targets. The Type 382 is an S-band radar, using a frequency sweep dimensional phased array system (essentially a one-dimensional phased array system that uses electronic scanning in elevation, while still using mechanical scanning for azimuth) which approaches the speed and flexibility of electronic scanning and can form two beams in the elevation direction, in order to improve the coverage of the radar and increase detection sensitivity.
All of this is critical to improved sea-skimming anti-ship missile defense (ASMD) by increasing low-altitude detection ranges, reducing surface-clutter, and improving data update rates (though not to a degree sufficient to effectively handle supersonic ASMs). The Type 382 can apparently detect a target with a 10 square meter radar cross-section (RCS) at more than 200km and an ASM-type sea-skimming target at 50km. Its total weight is approximately 7 tons, with a 2 ton antenna, allowing it to be mounted very high-up, further improving detection ranges.
At the same time, however, the Chinese acknowledge that the Type 054 has its shortcomings, especially because of the Type 382, which has a standard scan rate of 6rpm, which can be increased to a practical maximum of 12rpm when actively targeting. The Type 382 often needs at least 2 revolutions to confirm a target, during which time the faster supersonic sea-skimming ASMs can close as much as 30km. In addition, in order to ensure a sufficient detection distance, the Type 382 must operate in the S-band and at a low frequency, such that the wavelength is longer and the transmission signal strength decreases through the atmosphere, preventing it from directly providing missile guidance signals. Thus, in order to deal with multiple targets, the Type 054A must employ multiple higher-frequency X-band guidance radars, which increases the complexity, procurement costs, and maintenance expenses of the ship.
When combined with the other necessary radar and ECM equipment, such a setup becomes impossible to install at mast height and must be mounted on the superstructure thereby limiting its line of sight. In addition, on a stealthy warship tight radar beam control is vitally important to limiting exposure and the use of large numbers of active guidance radars negates to a large degree the advantages of a stealthy hull. Thus, in the Chinese view, the present Type 054A remains a limited design deficient in face of the supersonic and hypersonic anti-ship missiles developed and being developed by potential adversaries, and which will be entering their arsenals in increasing numbers in the decades ahead.
Indeed, these deficiencies point the way toward an improved warship capable of standing in the inner screen. In terms of armament, though the HQ-16 will also, in the long-run, prove deficient in supersonic ASMD, an improved missile armament for the inner screen is of limited value in Chinese eyes. Though there is apparently discussion of increasing the HQ-16’s range to around 50-60km, this will likely not be worth the cost, and because the primary role of the HQ-16 is ASMD, such ranges will be far beyond detection ranges likely to be achieved without cooperative engagement assets. Ultimately, the most critical element in improving ASMD is radar, especially the development of a fully modern two-dimensional phased array radar, electronically scanning in both elevation and azimuth, which has the critical advantage of a high data update rate and the ability to quickly confirm targets, which is most important when dealing with modern supersonic anti-ship missiles. Of course, such a system (especially one optimized for compactness in frigate service) would likely entail a long period of testing and development before deployment, perhaps well more than a decade, thus casting in a more reasonable light the PLAN’s decision during the 2003-04 time to deploy a ship of moderate and sharply time-limited capabilities yet able to face most existing threats in order to replace en masse absolutely antiquated vessels (older variants of the Type 053).
Though the article providing these insights is not an explicit statement of official naval policy, in our view, the its credibility is greatly enhanced by the fact that the publication, Shipborne Weapons, is sponsored by China Shipbuilding Industry Corp (CSIC)’s 713th Research Institute, which develops shipboard electronics and electrical machinery for vessels including warships. Furthermore, the author’s use of a name that is almost certainly a pseudonym strongly suggests that his primary purpose is not personal or scholarly recognition, but rather to serve as a conduit for information. While the publishers of Shipborne Weapons almost certainly recognize that foreign analysts read their publication, the thrust of weapons system discussions appears to be primarily aimed at an internal Chinese audience. Indeed, the content of this specific article discussing the Type 054A’s ‘mini-Aegis’ radar system may be a subtle lobbying piece because it implies throughout that the Type 054A is a gap-filler intended to be replaced by a more capable vessel in the future (perhaps a Type 054B). Finally, the level of detail in the author’s discussion of the Type 054A’s radar system and how it may be employed points to a degree of knowledge that likely renders him unable to speak publicly to the issue under his true name.
Research, Development, and Acquisition
Having examined the role and capabilities of the Type 054/054A, we now examine the process of research, development, and acquisition which led to the approximately 23 vessels presently in, or soon to enter, service with the PLAN. Chinese sources of all stripes provide very little hard data on how the country’s ship design and procurement process works, especially concerning specific types of vessels, but by piecing together various data points gleaned from media sources and journal articles a general picture of the situation can be deduced, allowing us to situate within it the information on the Type 054/054A provided above.
As such, this analysis uses Chinese data when possible, and in cases where hard data or reasonably conclusive statements are not available, examines what foreign warship designers have been able to achieve with technologies similar to those accessible to Chinese warship designers. This analysis also strives to classify the information on the basis of what is known with reasonable confidence from Chinese sources, what is likely based on reasonable inferences, and what is “unknown” at present about how the Type 054/054A was designed and how it is now procured. This analytical framework is intended to facilitate further research by bounding the body of knowledge and analysis on the Type 054A to help other analysts more quickly assess and weigh existing knowledge and analysis against new information disclosures as they occur in the future.
The Type 054A’s Lineage
By the late 1990s, the PLAN was aware that the Type 053H3 could not meet the service’s mission requirements. Key deficiencies included the fact that the ship’s anti-air missile complement consisted solely of an 8-cell launcher that could quickly deplete (“Winchester”) during an engagement and that the HQ-7 missile had a maximum engagement range of only 12 km versus aircraft and 6 km versus seas skimming anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and has limited angles of engagement. The replacement ship to supersede the Type 053H3 was needed quickly and had to meet three qualifications: (1) it would play a similar role to Type 053H3; (2) it would offer a significant leap forward in combat capability; (3) it could be produced at a lower unit cost than the Type 053H3.
In response, Chinese ship designers developed the Type 054, which was said to be heavily influenced by the French Lafayette-class frigate. The French influence is important because it shows the relative backwardness of China’s military shipbuilders at the turn of the century and also because as China’s shipyards absorbed the French ideas and technology, they set the stage for the Type 054A, which in many ways was like a Lafayette-plus, with larger size and a greater onboard weapons complement.
Indeed, China now deploys the Type 054A against pirates in the Western Indian Ocean—precisely the type of post-Cold War, lower intensity conflict mission the Lafayettes were designed to confront on behalf of France, a naval power that maintains a limited global operational profile similar to that which the PLAN currently displays. China now has commissioned nearly 20 Type 054As, which along with the ship’s capable anti-air and anti-ship missiles plus its ‘mini-Aegis’ radar system, suggests that the Type 054A will play a much more central role than was intended for the Lafayettes. In the near term, the Type 054A is allowing the PLAN to modernize its frigate ranks, with seven old Type 051 ships retired between 2007 and 2012 as the Type 054As were commissioned into the fleet.
While the PLAN is “getting salty” with low-intensity missions at present, China faces the potential for high-intensity naval conflict in a way that France did not when it was designing and building the Lafayettes. This reality, coupled with the fact that the Type 054A is becoming one of the PLAN’s mainstay warships, means that the Type 054A marks the point where China’s mission needs diverged to the point that the Type 054A required a significant evolution beyond the Lafayette-derived Type 054.
The Type 054A’s systems and design features (discussed in detail above) reflect this higher requirements standard. For instance, the ship’s more advanced targeting radar system and the domestically-produced vertical launch SAMs with which it is fitted create a much stronger air defense capability than any of the PLAN’s other frigates. The ship also has a low-observable hull that is relatively compact and reduces the chance of being successfully attacked by radar-guided missiles. Some Chinese analysis even suggests that in terms of radar stealth (i.e., using radar to create invisibility by emitting inverse waves or deflecting incoming enemy radar away from antennae), the Type 054A possesses tactical advantages over the U.S. Navy’s Aegis-equipped destroyers.
In practice, the benefits of such active cancellation are unclear, since opposing forces could presumably detect the radar emissions being used to mask the ship’s presence. Finally, the Type 054A has anti-submarine capability and an anti-submarine helicopter with ASW torpedoes. According to Chinese analysts, the Type 054A’s upgraded weapons and radar systems combined with the fact that it is tall with a V-shape cross section render it “incredibly suitable for accompanying distant sea fleets heading out to action.”
Current Deployments Will Likely Influence Future Iterations of the Type 054A
In the longer term, the Type 054A is likely to spawn more modern and capable follow on vessels that incorporate lessons learned in its construction and from deployments in places such as the Gulf of Aden. Chinese sources hint that the PLAN’s Gulf of Aden mission may be influencing Chinese naval architecture and engineering. For instance, an article in Modern Navy notes that during escort missions, electromechanical machinery, toilets, and air compressors have failed on a fairly frequent basis and that domestically-produced items have suffered the highest failure rates. The article’s authors also point out that the designs of Chinese warships deployed to the Gulf of Aden fail to provide adequate physical space for making efficient repairs under deployment conditions.
The Chinese sources do not specify which of the ships in the escort fleet suffered from these problems, but since the typical escort fleet composition features destroyers and frigates and since China’s large surface combatants all appear to be designed by CSIC’s 701 Institute in Wuhan, it is likely that common warship design approaches have made the lack of space a common problem in the fleet, which had been largely designed and built for operations far closer to home. Based on the complaints about lack of space for making repairs and the general need for additional space to accommodate systems to make a ship more combat-capable, there is a strong likelihood that the Type 054B will be significantly larger than the Type 054A. According to various media sources, the design work for a Type 054B has been underway since approximately 2009 and will especially focus on improved electronics and CIC capability, and may also carry longer-range missiles, both improvements likely necessitating a larger hull.
Chinese warship design
Chinese media sources indicate the Type 054A was designed by the 701st Institute, which is run by the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC). The 701st Institute, located in Wuhan, is also known as the China Warship Design Center (中国舰船研究设计中心) and is the country’s primary designer of large surface combatants. The 701st Institute also designed the Type 052 Luhu destroyers and more advanced follow-on variants such as the Type 052C and Type 052D, China’s latest blue water surface combatants.
According to Shipborne Weapons, although the Type 054 closely resembles the Lafayette-class and uses many systems and much equipment that are basically in common with those used by the Lafayette-class, there is no evidence that France directly transferred any materials or technology. The Type 054 also has a displacement approximately 400 tons (~11%) larger than the Lafayette, because Chinese designers enlarged the hull space to accommodate equipment that conferred greater combat capacity and made it an improvement over the Type 053H3. The Type 054A is basically the same physical size as the Type 054, but with further improved systems and capabilities. But what made this possible?
One possibility is that in addition to more capable missiles and electronics, Chinese ship designers also used an improved design approach that effectively allowed them to wring more capability from the same physical size. CSIC Vice President Shao Kaiwen and China Ship Development and Design Center technical expert Zhang Jun—two highly qualified Chinese warship designers—published an article in the February 2008 issue of the Chinese Journal of Ship Research extolling the virtues of a so-called “integrated design” (总体设计) approach.
The article invokes the concept of cellphones and other consumer products—which must both integrate a number of systems within the device and also fit into and function within a larger network—to draw an analogy to how warship design should be done. Shao and Zhang even explicitly define the term “integrated” as they discuss how the designers must think of all the ship’s systems and the tasks for which the ship is likely to be used as they design it. For Shao and Zhang, “integrated” design considers ship size, hull volume, displacement, buoyancy, speed, stability, seakeeping, and other factors in light of the ship’s likely missions and then looks holistically at how the ship hull design, machinery (including combat systems), and electronics function as a system to make the ship an effective tool for achieving its mission.
Such analysis and discussion suggests that at the time the article was written there was an internal debate within China’s naval design community, and it also suggests that prior to that period Chinese warship designers were generally taking a stove-piped and narrowly technocratic approach to ship designs, as opposed to using a comprehensive thought process that from the very outset thought about how systems needed to fit together both architecturally and operationally. While there is no explicit discussion confirming a move toward a more integrated design philosophy, the rapid increase in modern warship output from Chinese shipyards post-2009—including for the Type 054A—suggests there is a significant probability that design reforms accompanied increased procurement and production efficiency.
Similarly, there is an emphasis on the importance of multi-objective decision-making in weapons and equipment design, especially in relation to shipbuilding. A 2007 journal article by a naval officer attached to a research unit in Shandong particularly makes the case for continually balancing the trade-offs among various capabilities, overall cost, speed of availability, and reliability when making design choices, with a well-balanced design being optimal for cost reasons. It is clear that the Type 054/Type 054A, which seeks to be sufficiently but not overwhelmingly capable against both submarine and airborne threats, fits well into such a design philosophy, indicating either that such a philosophy influenced the design of the Type 054/054A, or that the design decisions made regarding the Type 054/054A gave rise to such a philosophy.
In broader terms, the design of the Type 054A may be reflect a more general mindset in China’s approach toward the design of naval vessels, one favoring “regular and measured strides” (渐进方式) as opposed to “small, rapid steps” (小步快走方式) in terms of developing and deploying weapons and equipment. This is primarily conditioned upon a consideration of cost and the assumption that, in the long-run, it is more costly to continually rush the best available equipment into service as it becomes available because it creates greater variation in capabilities between vessels and reduces economies of scale. This outlook fits with the decision to procure the Type 054/054A, which, as noted above, is a limited design with systems largely derived from aging foreign products, but one which was basically competent to perform its mission and which would not utilize China’s next generation of electronics and weapons systems before it had the opportunity to become fully matured and proven in testing.
The Crux of the RDA Process
How such principles and considerations become and are developed into real designs, and are able to influence procurement decisions, however, is the key issue at hand, and available information seemingly points to key organization wherein such evaluations and determinations are in all likelihood made, namely the Naval Equipment Research Academy (海军装备研究院) in Beijing. First founded in 1983 as the Naval Equipment Demonstration Research Center (海军装备论证研究中心), the Academy is charged with undertaking qualitative and quantitative research regarding strategic and policy decision-making for naval equipment development. It apparently oversees a number of functionally-focused laboratories and research institutes, which cover more than 100 discrete technical subjects and areas. Most importantly, its Vessel Demonstration Institute (舰船论证研究所) apparently holds authority to order changes in design and equipment specified by ship construction plans.
The Academy possesses an extremely wide purview and is responsible for research into potential and actual pre-research, technical pre-research and feasibility studies, and the evaluation of developed systems and equipment prior to acceptance. This applies to systems and equipment to be used in all three domains (air, surface, and subsurface), which personnel from the Academy test and evaluate in actual conditions while at sea. Such evaluations apparently take place even on active deployments to both the South China Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The scale of the Academy’s efforts is indicated by the fact that it was reported, in 2012, to have undertaken more than 1,000 research and evaluation tasks, of which approximately 100 involved equipment and systems ready to enter serial production. Statements in Chinese journals also indicate that the demonstration phase is meant to be extended and rigorous, with its focus on determining reliability and cost effectiveness over a system’s whole service-life, because once the demonstration phase is complete, most major technical decisions regarding the system are finalized and difficult to modify before entering production.
At the same time, however, post-production development and evaluations are also considered vital, allowing for operational feedback and incremental improvements to subsystems to preserve operational viability in the face of rapid technical advances. That such efforts are under the purview of the Naval Equipment Research Academy and have impacted the Type 054A is apparent from the fact that a researcher from the Academy oversaw an eight year (2003-11) research and evaluation effort to improve unspecified aspects of the HHQ-16’s fire-control system. Considering that the first Type 054A entered service in January 2008, and that nine had been commissioned by 2011, such a program must represent considerable effort directed toward research and development as well as evaluation and in-service enhancement. The fact that a single individual headed the program for a period of eight years may well indicate the sort of strong and consistent central guidance utilized to successfully see development programs through, from conception to development to evaluation to deployment.
Moreover, the fact that the Naval Equipment Research Academy appears to have the chief responsibility for not only (1) fleshing out the technical aspects of the Navy’s operational requirements, but also (2) guiding the design and development ships, systems, and equipment, as well as (3) conducting final evaluations and providing certifications, would seem to make the academy the crux or linchpin of the Navy’s RDA process. Of course, the present evaluation is unable, due to a lack of available information, to determine a number of key points, including (a) the actual degree to which the Academy is able to direct and coordinate research and development work being undertaken by the defense industry, and (b) whether the results of the Academy’s evaluations are considered decisive in relation to procurement decisions (which are presumably made by the Navy’s Equipment Department). Nonetheless, it is clear that the Academy almost certainly plays a (if not the) key role in questions of research, development, and acquisition for the PLA Navy.
Foreign Assistance in Designing the Type 054A
Chinese sources allege that Russia’s Severnoe Design Bureau provided design assistance for the Type 054A. Interestingly, Russia’s Project 11356 frigates, built by the Yantar Shipyard in Kaliningrad, bear an uncanny resemblance to the Type 054A (Exhibit 2). The Project 11356 vessels are based on the Talwar-class advanced frigates Russia designed and built for the Indian Navy, and as the Admiral Grigorivich-class are slated to enter Russian service in 2014.
Exhibit 2: Russian, Chinese, Indian frigates side by side
Top—Project 11356, Bottom Left—Type 054A, Bottom Right—Talwar
Source: Severnoe Verf, Chinese Internet, Asian Blogspot
The Type 054A hull design and placement of equipment very closely resembles the hull shape and layout of the Admiral Grigorivich and Talwar frigates. Given the Severnoe Design Bureau’s participation in the Russian and Indian late-generation frigates, and alleged role in helping design the Type 054A, there are strong grounds for believing that Russian ship designers played a material role in helping China craft the Type 054A’s hull design.
The Severnoe Design Bureau’s apparent willingness to sell a common frigate design—and presumably provide technical advice on key ship systems—to multiple parties is likely to water down any edge in combat capabilities that the physical design and systems might otherwise confer. Accordingly, this very likely enhances China’s incentive to introduce proprietary improvements to the Type 054A design based on Chinese naval deployments to areas such as the Gulf of Aden. Given that the Type 054A has thus far proven to be a reasonably reliable and effective platform in China’s four and one-half year old anti-piracy mission, a Type 054B successor frigate makes sense for the PLAN and when it appears, will almost certainly feature developments intended to make the vessel more capable than the Russian and Indian ships that are cousins to the Type 054A.
Exhibit 3 traces the development of various systems of the Type 054/054A, including the source country and the Chinese developer. It will be noted that, by and large, the electronics and other weapons systems utilized on the Type 054/054A are derived from foreign designs, reworked and reengineered, to greater or lesser degree, by research institutes within the defense industry. Moreover, even though the ordnance and electronics industries did have an unspecified role in developing some of the systems listed, it would nonetheless appear that the preeminent research and development role was taken by the shipbuilding industry’s own research organizations, even in the case of highly technical systems, such as radars. This would seem to indicate that the research and development process for naval equipment and systems is largely divorced from that for other services.
Exhibit 3: Key Type 054/054A Ship Systems and their Development Pathways
At the most fundamental level, Chinese warship acquisitions are driven by the civilian and military leaderships’ perception of threats and the requirements needed to handle anticipated and potential contingencies. Once this internal consensus is reached, the subsequent Five-Year Plan will be structured to include new military shipbuilding.
At the military level, the PLA’s General Armament Department (GAD) uses regional military representative bureaux (军代表局) to supervise weapons and equipment production compliance. A level below, the representative bureaux manage military representative offices (军事代表室) which are normally located near major military weapons and equipment production facilities. The GAD’s Army Armament Scientific Research and Procurement Department manages the bureaux, which are tasked with overseeing and testing weapons and equipment according to established quality standards, while also managing procurement contracts.
Warship Design and Construction in China: Competition Strongest at Yard Level
China’s shipbuilding industry has four main clusters of naval shipyards—one in Guangzhou, one in Shanghai, one in the Wuhan area (which primarily builds submarines), and one on the Bohai Gulf (for nuclear submarines and conventional surface warships). The Type 054/054A are produced in China State Shipbuilding Corp (CSSC)’s Hudong Zhonghua yard in Shanghai and the Huangpu shipyard in Guangzhou. Additional Type 054A and follow-on Type 054B vessels could come from these yards, as well as CSSC’s large new Changxing Island yard near Shanghai and CSIC’s shipyard in Dalian. Media reports, however, indicate that any future export orders for the 054A will be assigned to the CSIC yards in Dalian, in order to (a) provide for further redundancy in wartime, (b) partially compensate CSIC for the fact that the 054A is its own design, and (c) prevent export orders from interfering with the PLAN’s own construction schedule.
In the shipbuilding industry, yards are controlled by two enterprises—CSIC and CSSC. They build essentially all of China’s surface combatants and submarines. The fact that CSIC personnel design the ships and CSSC personnel actually build them suggests that the decision Beijing took to split the original CSSC into the modern CSSC and CSIC in July 1999 primarily affected the commercial shipbuilding businesses that each enterprise runs and that the military construction business is, at a fundamental level, one where the company split is largely symbolic. It also strongly suggests that competition in China’s naval shipbuilding business is not so much between the CSSC and CSIC parent companies as it is between the individual shipyards themselves. It bears noting that some of the larger CSSC and CSIC yards such as Hudong Zhonghua, Changxing Island, Huangpu, Dalian, and Huludao could by themselves be considered world-scale shipbuilding enterprises.
According to CSSC, the construction of Huangshan (黄山, Hull 570) in 2006 featured a new focus on quality control. Accordingly, from the design stage through building, trials, and the servicing of active ships, the Huangpu yards began emphasizing new aspects of the building process. These focused on (1) component source control, (2) risk analysis and control plans, and (3) establishing a reliability-centered quality management system. This process included a research effort into hull welding processes and methods, with a view to improving reliability based on the suggestions and experiences of serving naval personnel. This is apparently part of the Huangpu yard’s efforts at distinguishing itself and the quality of its construction, indicating that such issues may represent a key aspect of the various yards’ efforts to competitively differentiate themselves.
Concerning the quality control of naval shipbuilding, Chinese sources indicate that the military shipyards are working hard to improve their quality control procedures and protocol. Unfortunately for analytical purposes, it is difficult to determine how much of the quality control push originates in the yards as opposed to what is forced upon them as procurement requirements by the PLAN end user. Part of this puzzle stems from the fact that the main source publishing on this matter in China is again Shao Kaiwen, a senior CSIC executive, and while his writings appear to be well informed on technical matters, they do not explain the provenance of the quality control push underway in the Chinese shipbuilding sector and it is thus difficult to determine objectivity, or whether there are other perspectives on how quality control arises.
At the factory level, Puska et al. state that military representatives are stationed in arms factories and have extensive responsibilities throughout the materiel development process, ranging from the contract bid phase to final delivery of weapons systems. Military representative bureaux are authorized by end-users to determine which companies can submit bids for equipment manufacturing contracts. The bureaux also assess companies and review bidders’ compliance qualifications and organize the quality control process for equipment development (including participation in new equipment demonstrations), design review, and technical design review prior to inspection by the military end-user. MROs are also expected to understand product pricing and production finances for each piece of materiel under their purview, but often appear not to. This quality control system is compromised to some degree by the fact that the factories, research institutes and shipyards are essentially the danwei (work units) for personnel in the military representative offices, meaning that they are responsible for the military representatives’ salary, housing, education, employment, etc., impairing their impartiality. In particular, this has contributed to persistent problems with rent-seeking behavior and corruption in the procurement process across all services, problems which are yet to be entirely grappled with successfully.
Even with a military specifications system, military representatives still must be technically fluent in their respective areas to be capable of checking that standards are being met. If in coming years the PLAN billets some individuals with real operational experience (from the Gulf of Aden and other missions) into MRO posts, shipbuilding quality control and formulation and implementation of requirements would stand to benefit greatly. However, most military representatives are career specialists who have never served in line units or support bases, and it is unlikely that officers with operational experience would be switched over to a completely different set of duties given the stove-piped nature of the PLA’s career tracks. Moreover, individuals deemed to have served with distinction in the Gulf of Aden and other distant seas might well be saved for more operationally demanding roles.
Finally, the shipbuilders appear to substantially influence the decisions PLAN Armament Department personnel make regarding warship purchases and this would seem to leave the PLAN open to manipulation by the shipbuilders. For instance, CSIC Vice President Shao Kaiwen—who used to head the 701st Research Institute that designs China’s large surface combatants—writes, “we either have to help the customer decide why they should buy a ship or explain to them what the ship does.” This statement strongly hints that the PLAN’s ship acquisition is a complex process where paths of influence do not respect the seemingly clear power hierarchy presented in flow charts of the Chinese weapons acquisition bureaucracy.
Indeed, the shipyards themselves likely wield substantially more sway than commonly thought. This is an important power dynamic because continuing malaise in the global commercial ship market coupled with rising Chinese naval procurement budgets is likely to induce shipyards to lobby harder and harder for military ship business. Ultimately, this will increase competition and could help decrease relative costs for the Type 054A’s successor frigate designs when those enter full-on production.
The degree to which the relationship between CSIC and CSSC (at least in the realm of naval construction) is likely collaborative instead of competitive is perhaps best illustrated by a consideration of many of the sources of the various components and systems which go into the Type 054A. It will be particularly noted in the tables provided that many of the Type 054A’s key weapons and electronics systems are the products of CSIC and CETC research institutes. These include its primary air and surface search radars (Type 382 from the CSIC 724th Research Institute and Type 360 from the CSIC 723rd Research Institute) as well as anti-shipping and secondary anti-aircraft fire-control radars (Type 344 and Type 347G from the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation/CETC 20th Research Institute). Furthermore, the Type 054A’s primary anti-aircraft and dual-purpose gun systems (30mm Type 730 and 76mm PJ-26) were both developed by the CSIC 713th Research Institute, while the Yu-7 anti-submarine torpedo is a product of the CSIC 705th Research Institute.
In addition, a number of more mundane components appear to be sourced from companies associated with CSIC. These include the Zhejiang Chuangxiang Energy Efficient Science and Technology Co. Ltd. (浙江创想节能科技有限公司) in Hangzhou, which develops and produces “quickly removable valve insulation kits, rapid disassembly turbine insulation kits, hydrant protective insulation kits, fiberglass and metal ventilation pipes, and other products” for applications in industry, energy production (including nuclear), and shipbuilding, with many being used on China’s “latest lines of destroyers and frigates.” In particular, the company is a supplier for the ‘mid-sized frigates’ being built at the Hudong yards, indicating that its products are most likely utilized in the construction of the 054A. The company utilizes a 15,000 square meter production and research facility and employs 68 persons, of whom 21 are researchers and engineers. The company itself was first formed in 1986, having previously been known as the Tonglu Special Fire-Resistant Materials Factory (桐庐特种耐火材料厂).
Similarly, the Pusen Fireproof Material Co. Ltd. (浦森耐火材料有限公司), in Huzhou, develops and produces fire-resistant and insulating materials (耐火材料) for shipbuilding and energy applications, with the PLAN as a primary customer, including deliveries to the Hudong yards. Its development efforts have involved work with the 863 program and its products have received national patents, 3rd class PLAN honors, and PLAN Equipment Dept. certification. Its products have also been evaluated and certified by CSIC’s 719th Institute, while it has apparently been supplying the PLAN since 2001, when its materials were first utilized on nuclear submarines. Its products are also used in nuclear power plants. The company was formed in 1998 from the former Deqing No. 1 Fire-Resistant Materials Factory (德清第一耐火材料厂).
Taken together, these instances point to what may be the likeliest explanation of the nature of the CSIC-CSSC relationship, especially in regard to the Type 054A. In essence, a CSIC institute (e.g., the 701st) designs a warship utilizing components, materials, and systems from companies and other research institutes with which it is has functional links or other familiarity, whereupon a central decision is made regarding allocation of orders to specific yards, with CSIC and CSSC complexes being simultaneously considered. The yards selected then construct the necessary hulls integrate the materials, components, and systems provided by the designated suppliers, whether they are affiliated with the yards’ parent company or not.
The ultimate impact of this yard-focused type of competition is difficult to gauge without more precise and detailed data, which are not presently available. In particular, there are very few policy planning and other internal documents currently available (at least publicly) which could shed light on the nature and impact of inter-yard competition. Most particularly, we do not know if this trend is being officially fostered or has simply developed spontaneously as individual yards seek to maximize their individual business. In the end, inter-yard competition may simply represent the only form of meaningful competition possible in a sector (namely naval shipbuilding) which is still a tightly-controlled state monopoly. Seeing as the introduction of any competition at all generally redounds to the benefit of the consumer (in the case the PLA Navy) such a development may, in fact, be looked upon favorably by the Chinese navy.
Costs of Building a Type 054A
We estimate that the Type 054A currently costs a total of approximately US$348 million per vessel to build and fit out (Exhibit 4). This estimate derives from breaking the ship down by its main systems categories (hull and equipment, propulsion/power transmission, weapons, and electronics) and calculating their respective costs, as well as the cost of the labor needed to assemble the ship into a finished product. We rely heavily on valuation by analogy in many cases because Chinese sources simply do not disclose cost information on the vast majority of the inputs being used in warships being built in China. As such, the figure as stands is conservative and may overestimate the construction and equipment costs.
Exhibit 4: Type 054A Cost Breakdown
Million USD, Percentage of total estimated ship cost (numbers rounded)
Source: Alibaba, U.S. Navy, Local and Foreign Media Sources, Authors’ Analysis
The next section elaborates sequentially on the Type 054A’s cost structure, with the areas that contribute the most to final ship cost addressed first.
Electronics: US$102 million, 29%. Chinese military-grade electronics makers disclose little or no information on the unit costs of systems then produce for the PLA. Furthermore, the PLA does not publish detailed budgets such as those commonplace in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). As such, this analysis uses a valuation by analogy approach to estimate the likely cost of the ship’s main electronics systems. The ship’s ZKJ-4B/6 combat data system is said to be based on Thompson CSF’s Tavitac. The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems, 1997-1998 estimated that the Tavitac accounted for less than 5% of the final cost of the French Lafayette-class frigate, which based on the US$466 million original unit cost of the six Lafayette-class frigates (“Kang Ding”) purchased by Taiwan in 1992, suggests Tavitac costs approximately US$20 million. Given the systems’ stated similarity, it is reasonable to value the ZKJ-4B/6 at US$20 million per unit.
The Type 382 3D search radar likely costs approximately US$15 million per unit based on the price of the AMD radar system Saab sold to Australia for its Canberra-class LHD and the fact that Chinese radar makers likely have not yet attained the experience and efficiency level of Saab’s production process. The Type 054A’s sonar suite likely costs around US$20 million, based on the unit cost of the Royal Navy’s Sonar 2087 and the procurement requirements the U.S. Navy used in 2005 when specifying the characteristics of a new towed sonar array. Finally, the authors estimate that the Type 054A’s machinery control system costs US$15 million, based on the fact that Northrup Grumman has contracted to supply the much larger LHA-7 amphibious assault ship’s machinery control system at a cost of US$50.6 million. We acknowledge that shipboard electronics costs may in fact be lower, although no data presently known to us supports a lower cost.
Weapons: US$84 million, 24%. The most expensive part of the Type 054A’s weapons suite is likely the vertical launching system cells. An 8-cell module from the US Mk 41 VLS system—the most widely used in the world—costs around US$15 million. The Type 054A has 32 total VLS cells and the author discounts the 8-cell module cost to US$10 million, making the system cost an estimated US$40 million. The second most expensive component of the Type 054A’s armament are its two Type 730 close in weapon systems (“CIWS”), which likely cost around US$11 million for both. The U.S. Navy’s Phalanx Block 1B CIWS costs US$5.6 million per unit, and we believe this is a reasonable proxy for the Type 730 CIWS cost because although the Chinese gun is a larger caliber and the system is physically larger, the assembly and materials costs are likely substantially lower.
Labor: US$75 million, 22%. While data are somewhat scarce, building and commissioning a frigate-sized warship of between 3,000 and 4,000 tons displacement appears to require between 2.5 million man hours (US FFG-7) and 10.8 million man hours (India’s Godavari-class) of labor. We estimate that at present, Chinese military shipyards, which can afford a higher degree of labor intensity than Western yards due to a large labor force, but which are also almost certainly substantially more efficient than Indian yards, require around 3.2 million man hours to build and commission a Type 054A frigate. Chinese yards’ average labor cost is based on the 2013 labor expenditures of Jiangsu Rongsheng, a top private shipbuilder, which are then increased by 25% to reflect the premium paid for special skill sets required for shipbuilding work done to naval specifications.
Hull and equipment: US$45 million, 13%. This cost estimate is based on the fact that around one-third of the light ship weight of surface combatants such as the Type 054A typically consists of metals—primarily steel, along with lesser quantities of high-grade alloys and wiring and pipes. The author then multiplied the 1,200 tonnes of steel likely required for a ship the size of the Type 054A by an average cost of US$2,000/tonne for high quality steel such as that used in warships. The remainder of the cost comes from composite materials and radar absorbent materials, whose cost data were obtained from similar items sold on Alibaba.com and from the cost of applying radar absorbent coatings to frigate-sized U.S. warships, as disclosed by the Chicago Tribune (admittedly a bit dated as it is 1993-vintage). Cost data for paint, piping, pumps, valves, and wiring also come from similar Chinese-made items advertised for sale on Alibaba.com as well as the London Metals Exchange spot price for copper, the underlying component of wiring and likely at least part of the pipe alloys.
Propulsion: US$32 million, 9%. The biggest share of the Type 054A’s propulsion costs come from its four Pielstick/Shaanxi PA6 diesel engines. At least one trading company offers Pielstick engines for sale at between US$1and US$10 million apiece. This estimate uses the mid-range price of $5 million per engine to reflect the size of the engine and the premium quality needed for a military application. The balance of the estimated cost reflects the gearbox, drive shafts, steering gear, and props.
Miscellaneous costs: US$10 million, 3%. This category is a “catchall” that helps the overall estimate account for bits and pieces that might have been overlooked in the process of estimating each ship segment’s cost.
The US$348 million unit cost estimate dovetails reasonably well with the price at which China offered Type 054 frigates to Thailand in early 2013. Thailand’s Navy sought to spend US$1 billion on new frigates and China reportedly offered three Type 054s at that price. China’s offer of ships at an effective price of US$333 million each suggests that with higher international-level profit margins built in, the actual delivered ship cost is likely between US$350 million and US$375 million per vessel. In addition, the imported ships would likely cost less to build given that they are not as comprehensively capable as the Type 054As delivered to the PLAN.
If the Type 054A’s actual construction cost falls into this range, and the shipbuilders are allowed a five percent “profit” margin for ship deliveries to the PLAN, the delivered ship price would be US$365 million. In procurement terms, this would offer the PLAN a significant value relative to the cost of foreign-sourced vessels. For instance, French shipbuilder DCNS has sold a FREMM class frigate to Morocco for US$676 million and Germany’s first four F125 frigates priced at US$740 million apiece.
Military hardware spending always incurs an opportunity cost, since even a large and growing economy like China’s still has only a finite amount of resources which can be realistically devoted to military expenditures. To put the cost of purchasing one Type 054A at US$365 million into perspective, consider that the ship uses funds equal to each of the following alternative expenditures, all of which are in demand in various branches of the PLA:
–Thirteen J-10 fighter aircraft.
–Ten SU-30K strike fighters.
–Pay the annual salaries of nearly 64,000 junior PLA officers.
A slightly modified version of the Type 054A has been promoted by Dalian China Shipbuilding and Offshore International (CSOC) for export to Pakistan and Thailand, as well as potentially Bangladesh and Algeria. Pakistan became China’s first customer for the frigates: in 2005 China and Pakistan signed a contract for four Chinese-built Type 054A frigates that included some modifications specified by the Pakistani Navy. The new frigate model is called the “F-22P,” and one was recently commissioned in Karachi in April 2013. Apparently three of the four ships were built in China, and the fourth is being constructed in Pakistan after China transferred the technology needed to build the ship.
While the Chinese courted the Thai Navy heavily and reportedly came close to selling three frigates to Thailand, the story ended with Bangkok ultimately choosing South Korea’s Daewoo as a more reliable and cost-effective option for the frigate purchase (the Chinese price was $255 million per frigate). This decision was made despite rumored pressure placed on the Thai Navy by Thailand’s executive branch to purchase a frigate from China. According to Thai media, several naval officers voiced concerns about the capacity and quality of frigates from China being lower than other options. Another complaint was that the ship’s steel structure is not durable. 
According to Chinese sources, the weapon systems and radar on the export edition of the Type 054A are not exactly the same as the 054A currently in service in the PLAN. The export edition has a standard displacement of 3,800t, full load displacement 4,200t, length 136m, and height 8.6m. It can navigate on the sea for 90 days and nights, navigation range 4,000nm at a speed of 18 knots. It needs an operating crew of 160 and is powered by 4 diesel engines. This model of the FFG has a maximum speed of 26 knots, which is supposed to be one of the weaknesses of 054A. Modern FFGs and DDGs normally have a navigation speed of 30 knots.
Overall, the Type 054A has proven a relatively successful vessel for the missions the PLAN needs it for right now, a multi-functional ship that can deploy abroad and has decent air defense and stealth capability.
However, the Type 054A is in many ways an interim design with some flaws and limits to its ability for fleet defense. The Type 054B will likely improve upon this design through. Key changes we expect include larger hull size to accommodate equipment additions, a vertical launch system that is physically larger capable of launching larger missiles and holding more missiles than the 32-cell system used by the Type 054A. It is also likely that the Type 054B will use a more capable radar system and a longer range anti-air missile, perhaps the HHQ-9 SAM used on the Type 052C/D destroyers, which can engage aircraft up to 125 km away.
The case of the Type 054A points to and supports several key observations about the RDA process for military shipbuilding in China. First, the corporate split between CSIC/CSSC may be largely notional. At the very least, competition is more likely between individual yards rather than the conglomerates. Second, the PLAN is very cost conscious in its procurement and (for the present, at least) favors capable rather than cutting-edge equipment and all-purpose as opposed to specialized designs. Third, most major sensor and weapons systems are the products of shipbuilding industry research institutes, as opposed to ordnance/electronics research centers. Fourth, the Naval Equipment Research Academy likely plays a central (if ill-defined) role in the RDA process.
In addition, China’s naval shipbuilding apparatus is becoming sophisticated enough that for major surface combatants, foreign assistance will play a much smaller role in future designs because Chinese military shipyards are advancing to the point that their technology for surface platforms and their subsystems will soon match that of Russia, the main military power willing to share technology with China. To a certain degree, European naval electronics and Ukrainian gas turbine propulsion technology will remain area of interest, but even these are likely to be substituted within 4-5 years by domestically designed and manufactured systems.
Finally, the example of the Type 054/054A typifies what has proven to be the case during much of China’s military and technological modernization of the past thirty years: namely that many of the technologies utilized, and operational concepts underpinning their use, are highly derivative in nature, depending upon considerable foreign input, either in the form of components or very often in the wholesale appropriation (and partial redesign) of systems. In the case of the Type 054/054A, its hull form, its engines, and most of its major weapons and sensors systems were directly derived from foreign models or technology.
Indeed, perhaps the only aspect of the Type 054A’s design representing true innovation (or at least serious original thinking) was the recognition that while a full “mini-Aegis” outfit for the ship might be technically possible, it would be operationally unsound and excessive. Despite this, China has been able to mass-produce a sizable class of surface combatants capable of performing a wide-range of missions at relatively low-cost and low-risk (because other countries bore much of the development cost and technical risk when they developed the original systems upon which the Type 054/054A’s are based). In this way, China has indeed (as in so many other fields) achieved a useful latecomer advantage, using equipment and technology largely derived from foreign sources as a combination of shortcut and gap-filler.
Ultimately, this case-study of the Type 054/054A serves to highlight the enduring paucity of publicly available information concerning the naval shipbuilding industry’s RDA process. It is clear that the Naval Equipment Research Academy plays a key role for both ships and systems, but the degree to which the Academy’s decisions are influenced by outside political or economic considerations remains less so. Likewise, it is apparent that some form of inter-yard competition takes place in the RDA process, yet the degree to which this is an intentionally fostered aspect of the system remains a question that can likely only be answered by materials (especially planning and policy documents) which are not currently available. These are perhaps the two most pressing questions for future research concerning the shipbuilding industry’s RDA process.
 Jane’s Fighting Ships – Jiangkai I (Type 054) class, updated 2/12/2013; Jane’s Fighting Ships – Jiangkai II (Type 054A) class, updated 3/11/2013, https://janes.ihs.com/CustomPages/Janes/DisplayPage.aspx?Doc.JiangkaiIIClass//
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 ‘Offshore or Ocean.’
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 ‘Offshore or Ocean.’
 “054 FFGs Commissioned to PLA Navy at Accelerated Pace.” Kanwa Asian Defense Review Online, 1 July 2011.
 For the most detailed analysis to date, which does not mention any such problems, see Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, Six Years at Sea… and Counting: Gulf of Aden Anti-Piracy and China’s Maritime Commons Presence (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, 2015), http://www.amazon.com/China-Gulf-Aden-Andrew-Erickson/dp/0985504501/ref=la_B001JP451A_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1423762463&sr=1-1&tag=viglink23300-20.
 “PLA Navy Type 054A Missile Frigate,” updated 15 January 2013, http://www.wautom.com/2013/01/pla-navy-type-054a-missile-frigate/.
 ‘中国密集建造054A型护卫舰 首艘054B型即将下水’ [China’s intensive construction of the Type 054A frigate – First Type 054B soon to be launched], 大公报 [Ta Kung Pao], 11 January 2013, accessed 3 July 2013, http://news.takungpao.com/military/defense/2013-01/1381873.html; ‘054A型护卫舰服役情况终极揭秘’ [Service conditions of the Type 054A finally revealed], accessed 3 July 2013, http://military.people.com.cn/n/2013/0219/c1011-20529521.html.
 小飞猪 [Xiao Feizhu], ‘从迷你神盾看 054A的改进’ [Improving the Type 054A from the viewpoint of mini-Aegis], 舰载武器 [Shipborne Weapons], 2011 No. 10 (October): 27-35. Here we note that while the author’s pseudonym sounds a bit ridiculous (“Small Flying Pig” for those who do not read Chinese characters), he appears to have very substantial knowledge of Chinese naval development, as he has authored at least 10 other naval-focused articles which can be located with a search under the author name “小飞猪” in the CNKI database. There are also instances where a figure with the same name is credited for providing photos for content published in online versions of the People’s Daily, which suggests he is a well-regarded, or at the very least, well-connected, member of the Chinese domestic military analyst community. It is possible that there is a second naval analyst using the same pseudonym, but given the close correlation in subject matter with the Shipborne Weapons articles, we believe the purveyor of the photos to the People’s Daily is most likely the same analyst. See for instance, “中国海军新型反舰导弹露面 一枚可击沉万吨级战舰” [A New PLA Navy Anti-Ship Cruise Missile is Revealed: One is Enough to Sink a 10,000-ton Warship], People’s Daily, 7 May 2014, http://hb.people.com.cn/n/2014/0507/c192237-21150536-4.html. As elsewhere in this report, which is derived solely from open sources, technical analysis is designed to reflect the tenor of discussion in this and other Chinese sources. It does not intend to offer a definitive net assessment of Chinese and American military capabilities, and specifics must be interpreted with caution.
 Xiao, ‘Improving the Type 054A.’
 Xiao, ‘Improving the Type 054A.’
 Though of course this is ultimately dependent upon the PLAN developing a guided missile destroyer with more than the 48-64 launch tubes shipped on the Type 052C and Type 052D.
 Xiao, ‘Improving the Type 054A.’
 Xiao, ‘Improving the Type 054A.’
 Xiao, ‘Improving the Type 054A.’
 Xiao, ‘Improving the Type 054A.’ The article also proposes an improvement to the Type 054A, mounting an X-band air- search radar, as it would be relatively small with low weight antennae, which could be mounted on a mast at relatively high elevation in order to increase the radar horizon. An X-band radar could also be used as a missile illumination radar, simplifying construction, improving electromagnetic compatibility, and improving the ship’s stealth capabilities. The compromise suggested seems to be four planar arrays with the ability to focus on electronically scanning with only one at a time and thereby improve that sector’s data update rate, since the frigate will be used in the inner screen and only cover a fairly narrow sector.
 ‘Type 053H3 / Jiangwei II Class Frigates, China’, accessed 3 July 2013, http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/jiangwei-class/.
 银河 [Yin He] and 祁长军 [Qi Changjun], ‘中国现代护卫舰的技术发展及出口前景-兼评F-22P型护卫舰’ [Technical Development and Export Prospects of China’s Modern Frigate – The Type F22P Frigate], 舰载武器 [Shipborne Weapons] 3 (2009): 29-43.
 Yin and Qi, ‘Technical Development and Export Prospects of China’s Modern Frigate.’
 Yin and Qi, ‘Technical Development and Export Prospects of China’s Modern Frigate.’
 “054 FFG Becoming More Russianized,” Kanwa Defense Review, No. 26, 1 December 2006.
 Li Guoqiang, “Looking at the Development of the Chinese Navy from the Xuzhou,” Wen Wei Po Online, December 23, 2009.
 杨屹 [Yang Yi] and 程虹 [Cheng Hong], “让中国海军舰艇走得更远” [Let Chinese Navy Warships Go Farther], 装备技术 [Armament Technology], 当代海军 [Modern Navy] (June 2011): 68. See also Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, No Substitute for Experience: Chinese Anti-Piracy Operations in the Gulf of Aden, Naval War College CMSI China Maritime Study 10 (November 2013), 94, http://www.andrewerickson.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/China-Antipiracy-Ops-in-GoA_CMS10_201311.pdf.
 Ibid. Original text: “目前对维修通道, 空间, 设备考虑得不充分”
 “中国密集建造054A型护卫舰 首艘054B型即将下水” [China’s Intensive Construction of the Type 054A Frigate – First Type 054B Soon to Be Launched], 大公报 [Ta Kung Pao], 11 January 2013, accessed 3 July 2013, http://news.takungpao.com/military/defense/2013-01/1381873.html.
 ‘054A型护卫舰服役情况终极揭秘’ [Service Conditions of the Type 054A Finally Revealed], accessed 3 July 2013, http://military.people.com.cn/n/2013/0219/c1011-20529521.html.
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 Yin and Qi, ‘Technical Development and Export Prospects.’
 Yin and Qi, ‘Technical Development and Export Prospects.’
 邵开文 [Shao Kaiwen] and 张骏 [Zhang Jun], ‘总体者,集大成也’ [Integration’s Many Successes], 中国舰船研究 [Chinese Journal of Ship Research] 1 (2008): 1-4,12.
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 魏汝祥 [Wei Ruxiang] and 誉书宇 [Yu Shuyu], ‘武器装备发展方式比较研究’ [Comparative research into methods of weapons and equipment development], 军事经济研究 [Military Economic Research] 1 (2011): 43-44.
 This organization’s name is often translated as ‘Academy of Naval Armament’, or some other variation thereof, in published academic articles. Nonetheless, because no consistent official translation has been identified, and in order to limit the use of the term armament to the GAD, the authors of the present paper have decided to utilize a literal translation as the organization’s English name.
 This is a literal translation of the organization’s name, with no official English name being available.
 “海军装备研究院简介” [Introduction to the Naval Equipment Research Academy], 7 December 2012, accessed 29 June 2013, http://heu2011.hrbeu.edu.cn/Article/ShowArticle.asp?ArticleID=591. The overall size of the Academy is approximately 800 personnel, according to: “海军装备论证研究中心” [The Naval Equipment Demonstration Research Center], 20 August 2010, accessed 29 June 2013, http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_61218c4a0100kjhm.html.
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 “海军装备研究院工程师奔赴歼15舰载机试飞现场” [Naval Equipment Research Academy Engineers Rush to Conduct Field Flight Tests of the J-15 Carrier-Borne Fighter], 21 February 2013, accessed 28 June 2013, http://mil.news.sina.com.cn/2013-02-21/1547716300.html.
 “海军装备研究院某研究所纪事:决战决胜于无形” [A Research Institute of the Naval Equipment Research Academy Documents: War and Victory Are Decided by the Intangible], 科技日报 [S&T Daily], 26 March 2013, accessed at http://news.xinhuanet.com/mil/2013-03/26/c_124502807.htm. The evaluations in the instance described involved unspecified information management systems.
 余华梁 [Yu Hualiang], “装备研究院科研创新团队扬帆科海打造海军‘明星装备’” [Equipment Research Academy’s Research and Innovation Team Sets Sail to Develop the Navy’s ‘Star Equipment’], 2 June 2013, accessed at http://navy.81.cn/content/2013-06/02/content_5362155.htm. The evaluations in the instance described involved unspecified communications and signal processing equipment.
 “海军装备研究院: 1400余项科研成果托举强军梦” [Naval Equipment Research Academy: More Than 1400 Research Achievements in Support of the Dream of a Strong Military], 15 May 2013, accessed 28 June 2013, http://news.xinhuanet.com/mil/2013-05/15/c_124713308.htm.
 Ni, ‘Strengthening Equipment Management.’
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 Susan M. Puska, Joe McReynolds, and Debra Geary, “China’s Military Representatives: Striving Toward Professional Contracting and Procurement,” SITC Policy Brief No.21, September 2011, accessed at http://igcc.ucsd.edu/assets/001/503245.pdf.
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 This vessel was the second Type 054A constructed by Huangpu.
 “黄船: 辛勤耕耘铸‘黄山’” [Huangpu Yards: Diligently Forming Huangshan], 中国船舶报 [China Ship News], 21 April 2009, accessed 10 June 2013, http://www.cssc.net.cn/component_news/news_detail.php?id=6675.
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 This, of course, raises the question of whether or not the PLAN takes any active interest in the development of inter-yard competition, a point on which, once again, sufficient information is currently lacking.
 “054A FFG Being Exported,” Kanwa Asian Defense Review Online 92, 1 June 2012, 2-3.
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