Beijing’s ongoing buildup of modern, radar-equipped warships represents a “clear threat” to Taiwan, an expert on China’s military has warned.
“The eventual number of such ships is unknown, but could exceed 20 by the early to mid-2020s,” International Assessment and Strategy Center senior fellow Rick Fisher said.
He issued the warning after a report in Defense News said that by 2018, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will have more phased-array radar-equipped destroyers than any regional competitor — including Japan and South Korea.
The US-based magazine said that Beijing had commissioned its fifth Type 052C destroyer, the Jinan, on Dec. 22 last year, “leaving one last ship of that type to be finished.”
The magazine said that the Chinese navy’s procurement of Luyang-class Type 052C/Ds and Type 055 guided-missile cruisers with phased-array radars would provide long-range anti-aircraft warfare support to China’s planned carrier strike groups.
Fisher told the Taipei Times that the ships would be incorporated into anti-surface warfare groups that can use their long-range radar to help target long-range anti-ship ballistic missile strikes or cruise missile strikes from strike-fighters and bombers.
“Their larger size and larger weapons compliment means they can conduct anti-aircraft and anti-submarine missions in support of aircraft carrier and amphibious assault groups,” Fisher said.
He added that the next class of destroyer China will build is the Type 055, which is expected to be an 11,800-tonne destroyer capable of carrying more than 100 missiles and which could also be the first Chinese warship to use energy weapons like lasers or railguns.
“China’s rapid buildup of these large powerful warships helps to justify Taiwan’s requirement for submarines large enough to carry an adequate weapons payload of long-range anti-ship missiles and long-range torpedoes a significant distance from Taiwan,” Fisher added.
Echoing other defense experts, he said that a fleet of mini-submarines may not survive an offensive once they are at the distance from Taiwan proper they would have to be to engage the large Chinese warships.
“China’s large radar and missile ships also pose a grave threat to Taiwan’s fleet of 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft, again emphasizing Taiwan’s requirement for larger submarines capable of anti-submarine missions,” Fisher said.
Defense News said that the new destroyers would serve as the PLAN’s “workhorses,” giving the navy more flexibility.
In a Taiwan contingency, the vessels could provide area-wide defensive air coverage, “complicating Taipei’s ability to defend its airspace,” the magazine added.
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