China's Naval Equipment Acquisition

Srikanth Kondapalli, Research Fellow, IDSA


Naval equipment has been acquired by China either through indigenous development at its shipyards and research institutes, based on either import of designs or self-development, or through acquisition from external sources. Between these two methods of procurement, China laid more emphasis on acquiring naval weapons and technology through its own efforts, though import of technology from abroad was not overlooked, given the weak technological base of the country. In the last five decades of development, China concentrated, as far as the conventional naval vessels are concerned, mainly on acquisition of submarines, destroyers, frigates, torpedo boats, guided missile boats, submarine chasers, mine warfare vessels and auxiliary ships.

The development and production of naval equipment and technology has undergone a transformation in the history of China. The transition in this aspect took place mainly through the process of repairing and re-equipping old warships, import of naval weapon systems and vessels from abroad, licensed-production in the country with foreign collaboration, building warships with foreign models and blueprints or by reverse-engineering of the vessels as in the past, to the present day designing and manufacturing of warships with either selective foreign technology infusements or by indigenous efforts. These efforts have made China one of the largest producers of naval equipment in the world today.

In the modern history of China, several efforts were made by the declining Qing Dynasty to produce naval ships and equipment. In the 1890s, Li Hongzhang and Zuo Zongtang established ship-repairing and building factories in the coastal areas of China. These included the Jiangnan General Manufacturing Bureau based at Shanghai and others along the Yangze river.1

In the subsequent period, the Northern Warlords and the Nationalist Guomindang government established ship-building factories for making small to medium sized ships of limited tonnage. Before the withdrawal of the Nationalists to Taiwan in 1949, the Guomindang government established eight ship repair factories in various regions of China.


In the process of building naval ships and equipment, the People's Republic of China (PRC) has established elaborate paraphernalia to look into various aspects of production. These include ministries, bureaus, academies, research and policy groups, institutes, commissions, shipbuilding factories, and so on, for specific tasks of research and development (R&D). Several changes and reorganisations were made in the last 50 years to cope with the changing strategic, political, administrative and economic considerations of the country. Today, the naval establishment of China consists of more than 20 research institutes and production plants, testing sites and stations, spread out across the country. They are actively involved in the R&D of warships, platforms, communication and transport, design and trial production of ships and equipment.2

When the PRC was established in October1949, efforts were made to set up various organisations to give shape to the nascent naval building programme. In the first half of 1950, the Central People's Government Administrative Council (the predecessor of the current State Council of the PRC that was established in 1954) approved a Shipbuilding Bureau at Shanghai as a part of the Ministry of Heavy Industry. Next year, in 1951, the Bureau of Shipbuilding Industry was formed under Cheng Wang. Several existing shipbuilding factories in various parts of the country were brought under the jurisdiction of this bureau in the next two years. These include the Jiangnan Ship Machinery Corporation (renamed as the Wuchang Shipbuilding Factory), Male Shipbuilding factory (a foreign funded factory requisitioned by the PRC government and renamed as the Hudong Shipbuilding Factory) and Qiuxin Shipbuilding Factory (both in Shanghai), and factories at Shanghai, Dalian, Wuhu and Guangzhou3. In this period, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) organised a Shipbuilding Division to take charge of overhaul and building of the naval vessels. In 1954, the Shipbuilding Management Bureau established the Ship Product Design Branch (renamed in 1955 as the First Ship Product Design Office) in Shanghai. The major task of this office was to build five types of ships transferred from the USSR under the Sino-Soviet Treaty. These ships included the frigate, medium-sized torpedo submarine, base minesweeper, large submarine chaser and torpedo boat.4 For the same purpose, the responsibilities of the six shipyards and the two construction sites were reallocated to suit assembling and building of these ships.5 In 1954, the First Ministry of Machine Building Industry (MMI) organised the Ship Model Testing Institute that was enlarged in 1957 into the Ship Science Research Institute of the MMI and Ministry of Communications.6 For meeting the requirements of certifying the naval equipment, a Navy Equipment Group was formed under the Military Products Certification Commission in June 1956.7 During the period 1955-67, five research institutes were established that dealt with underwater weapons, hydro-acoustics, navigation and ship design.8 In 1958, the First MMI organised the Ship Product Design Institute and four research institutes including the Marine Steam Turbine Research Institute.9 In 1958, a research academy of ships was established under the Ministry of National Defence (MND) which soon became a PLA unit from January 1962 and was designated as the Seventh Research Academy under the leadership of Liu Huaqing as president and Dai Runsheng as political commissar.10 In the same year, 1958, the need for testing the naval weapons was realised when the North West Integrated Missile Test Range on the sea in the Liaoxi area was established with facilities to test anti-ship missiles, underwater ordnance, ship-gun weapon system, navigation, submarine to surface missiles and electronics counter-measures.11 Originally, these test bases were placed under the PLAN's operational jurisdiction. However, the Central Military Commission (CMC) on May 5, 1965, decided to shift the test bases from the PLAN leadership to that of the Commission of Science and Technology and Industry for National Defence (COSTIND) in order to "unify the management and leadership along with test bases of missiles, nuclear weapons and conventional armament."12 In 1959, the navy organised the Science and Technology Division in order to give a fillip to the research work on naval ships, weapons and equipment. For this purpose, several universities were established at Shanghai, Xian, Dalian and Wuhan. The Military Engineering Institute was also tasked, among other things, with the naval development programmes. Again, in 1959, altogether 13 major enterprises of shipbuilding, power and underwater arms and navigation were established. Prior to the withdrawal of the Soviet technicians from China, in 1960, the Ship Industry Management Bureau was incorporated into the Third MMI, and the Military Ship Overall Design Office under the Ship Product Design Institute was expanded with additional responsibilities of developing torpedoes and navigational instruments. In Wuxi, a large ship model test base was organised in the same year. Subsequently, in June 1961, a Warship Research Academy (Seventh Academy of the MND) was established by amalgamating naval research units and those under the organisation of the First and Third MMIs that dealt with ship research and design.13 Henceforth, the Seventh Academy supervised the overall matters of R&D of warships in China.14 In September 1963, the activities of the naval building programme were expanded with the separation of the shipbuilding industry of the Third MMI and the formation of the Sixth MMI exclusively to look after the naval production aspects. The Sixth MMI was headed by Fang Qiang as the minister.15 Several research institutes established in the mid-1960s—including the institute of shipbuilding, machine building, instrumentation, technology, standards and information—furthered the cause of the Sixth MMI. The Seventh Academy established several numbered institutes and plants that carried out R&D of naval equipment. Whereas in the 1950s, the Seventh Academy concentrated on the overall concept inquiry and preliminary studies, in the mid-1960s, it shifted its attention to the growth of the PLAN. Along with the Seventh Academy, the Sixth MMI developed the first generation of ships in China in the 1960s, including guided missile destroyers and frigates, submarines, ocean-going survey ships, etc., in the absence of the Soviet technical support and guidance.16 In the 1980s, with a massive reorganisation of the military structure of China, the navy establishment was also reformed. In the period from 1982, the MMIs were replaced and the China State Shipbuilding Corporation undertook the task of building the naval vessels of the country.17

Policy Perspectives

Keeping in view the defence requirements of the country, the PLAN, in conjunction with various organisations, as mentioned above, and with the approval of the State Council, State Planning Commission and the CMC, has formulated, over a period of time, several policies for the development of naval equipment and weapons production. As the strategic environment of the country kept changing over a period of time, necessitating a shift in stress on particular types of naval systems, the policy perspectives in this regard also underwent a change. The outbreak of the Korean War necessitated a relative thrust in the development of the ground force and air force equipment in comparison with that of the navy. Thus, for instance, of the 156 Soviet-assisted projects as a part of the Sino-Soviet Treaty of 1950, 41 are related to the defence sector in China. Of these 41 projects, only five are concerned with shipbuilding. However, even with these five projects, the PLAN made significant strides relative to its overall growth in the earlier period. Though investment in the naval development programmes in the 1950s was small compared with that in the later period, as a result of the diversion of resources to the Korean War effort and to the other armed services, and also because of investments in the infrastructure, an effort was made to expand and technologically transform the six shipyards. Several new projects were also undertaken in the process. In August 1950, the Chinese leadership made explicit the policy perspective of naval weapons production as: "building a light-duty sea surface fighting force, based on air (naval air arm), submarine, boat (torpedo) forces, with other arm troops development as a supplement."18 In 1951, the PRC adopted a three-pronged approach to raise the naval capabilities of the country. Since these three remained the key phrases in the subsequent policy of the PLAN, they need to be detailed. They are as follows:

l Qu cong sulian qude zhizao jianting de jishu zhuan rangquan [obtain from the Soviet Union the technology transfer rights to manufacture naval vessels];

l Congfang zhiguodu dao banzizhi [transition from copy production (of vessels) to semi-indigenous production];

l You banzizhi zhubu zouxiang quanzizhi [proceeding step-by-step from semi-indigenous production (of vessels) to complete (indigenous) production].19

The June 4, 1953 "Agreement on the Soviet Technical Aid to China Regarding Chinese Navy's Warship Purchasing and Building" has given a boost to the development of the PLAN. By this agreement, China not only acquired five types of Soviet ships but also their production rights. These included torpedo attack submarines, wooden torpedo speed boats, steam turbine powered escort vessels, diesel engine powered submarine chasers, base minesweepers, etc. Another agreement signed with the Soviets on February 4, 1959, called for the copy production of the Soviet missile submarines, modified medium sized torpedo submarines, small and large-sized missile speed boats, hydrofoil torpedo boats and two types of anti-ship missiles.20 In the same year, in October, the PLAN ordered the relevant organisations and institutes to follow the policy of: "In the naval weapons and equipment, put guided missiles in the first place, with constant improvement of conventional equipment; take the development of submarine as the focal point, with the small-sized and medium-sized surface ships under constant development."21

However, the impetus for the development of the naval equipment came from the long-term defence development programme launched in 1956. On March 6, 1956, Peng Dehuai, the minister for national defence, stressed the need to build submarines and other vessels when he spoke to the CMC meeting on "Concerning Strategic Policy of Protecting the Motherland and Problems of Military Construction."22 The twelve-year defence science and technology plan of the 1956-67 period set the following goal for the navy: "Close attention should be paid to the development of submarines and speed boats, torpedoes and mines."23

The July 1958 CMC resolution "Concerning the Decisions to Build the Navy" and the decisions of the enlarged meeting of the CMC held between September and October 1960, reiterated that submarines and speed-boats should be the "focal points" of the subsequent naval production programme.24 Marshal Nie Rongzhen, instructing the Seventh Research Academy, stressed that the major work during the 1960s should be on "torpedo speed boat, torpedo submarine and torpedo."25

The "Report on Several Problems in the Construction of Shipbuilding" prepared by Marshal Luo Ruiqing in September 1963, reflected on the policy to be adopted in the development of the naval equipment, specifically as the Soviets withdrew abruptly, disturbing the ongoing naval projects, among others. It reiterated the earlier injunctions on the thrust of development of the navy. However, the report, after mentioning the torpedo speed boat, torpedo submarine and torpedo, as laid down by the previous policies, stated that the naval production aspects should also stress "missile submarine, missile speed boat and ship to ship missile" after the earlier tasks of development have been completed.26 The reason for a change in the development policy was stated as the "urgent need of offshore combat" at that time. Again, in 1964, Marshal Nie instructed the COSTIND to "concentra[te]… resources on a breakthrough of the coast[al] defense missile copy production."27 In addition to the above mentioned basic production aspects, the ship-to-ship missile SY-1 was listed from this period onward as an item to be copy produced. The Sixth MMI's programme of developing nuclear submarines in the 1965-72 period also led to a change in the policy to include building of an anti-submarine escort ship and an artillery escort ship.28 However, all said and done, these changes in the requirements did not lead to an interruption in the fundamental development plan of the navy. Indeed, the defence science and technology development programme of the Third Five-Year Plan of 1966-70 unequivocally stressed the priority of developing submarines.29 COSTIND formalised these objectives in the Third Five-Year Plan (1966-70) for the development of science and technology of the country.30 Accordingly, the fundamental principles of this plan called for "adapt[ing] to the requirements of a strategic defense, the principal development objectives must be submarines and fast attack craft (motor torpedo boats), with the former as the key target, while taking appropriate R&D on other types of vessels." In addition to the development of submarines, nearly 20 types of naval vessels were identified, including fast attack craft, guided missile destroyers, frigates, and so on, in this plan period.31 In 1968, however, the CMC classified the missile destroyer as a major development item. After consulting various defence science and technology bodies involved in the R&D of naval equipment, Premier Zhou Enlai, at the end of the plan period clarified further the development plan of the navy, in June 1970, as:

For operations in coastal waters only, attention can be focussed on surface actions and air defense, while giving appropriate considerations for anti-submarine measures as well. But for oceanic assignments [meaning, in this context, ocean voyages], it seems appropriate to give more considerations for the anti-submarine weapon development.32

On the whole, the major objectives of the plan were reportedly fulfilled. In this regard, the target of enhancing the speed of the submarines by about 40 per cent was realised when China independently developed and commissioned for service its first generation medium-sized conventional power torpedo submarine by April 1976. By February 1975, a missile destroyer was certified and delivered to the PLAN. In the same period, an anti-submarine frigate and a surface combat missile frigate were developed by 1975 and 1976 respectively. By 1977, the first generation anti-ship missile and gun escort vessel were re-designed to include several modifications suggested by various agencies. Significant progress was also reportedly made in the development of the minesweeper, which was deployed in the Vietnam War operations in 1972.33 Official accounts of the development of the navy stated, that progress made in the direction of independent R&D of this period that included: electric power-driven, sound-guided anti-submarine torpedo, auto-depth-fixing drifting mine, induction of infra-sonic bottom mine, electromagnetic sound gear, Model 75 rocket launch depth charger, anti-submarine systems, "Sea-Hawk 2" shore-to-surface missile, and so on.34 Naval equipment production for defensive purposes, thus characterised this period.35 Even by 1977, the CMC was reiterating its emphasis on development of submarines, missile-armed submarines, anti-ship missiles, torpedoes, and so on. However, in 1978, coinciding with the launching of a comprehensive reform package, with the advent of Deng Xiaoping and others, the Chinese leadership launched a new programme called the "Five Naval Vessel Project." Several measures were undertaken to further the stalled strategic naval weapons programme of China. This project called for improving in-service torpedo-armed, nuclear-powered submarines, destroyers, medium torpedo-armed submarines, large missile-armed speed boats and anti-submarine escort vessels, and so on.36 The development policy for the 1980s called on the navy to "shorten the frontline, stress key links, grasp firmly on research, speed up renewal." The implication of this policy change was to improve the technological capabilities of the existing naval vessels, a fresh call for shifting the focus on to building new generation of ships.37 The direction of the development of the navy, in the current period, thus, is to acquire offensive capabilities.

By the 1980s, several types of naval equipment were either built or a large-scale modernisation of the equipment was initiated, including the dual-100mm ship-borne gun weapon system, Duihai-1 missile-gun escort, replacement of the Shangyou-1 two-mount dual rotary launcher by the Yingji-8 eight-mount fixed launcher called the Duihai 2 missile escort. The Yingji-8 anti-ship missile developed by China belongs to the second generation, featuring minimum altitude sea-skimming ability, strong penetration capability and high probability of target acquisition, relatively light weight with higher explosive power and is multi-purpose.38 The modernisation process of the equipment included enhancing electronic counter-measures and combat command automation of the first generation of destroyers, retrofitting of speed boats, improving the equipment of the torpedoes and escorts and other vessels.39 Specifically, the 053 H2 missile frigate, 051G destroyer, and SY-2 ship-borne missile systems were selected for enhancing their performance.40

The Seventh Five-Year Plan stipulated the broad parameters in which the naval equipment was to be developed in the 1980s. As serious difficulties were encountered in the attack capabilities of the navy, the Five-Year Plan sought to develop second generation missile destroyers, multi-function frigates, conventional-powered submarines, anti-ship missiles and under-water weapons. Broadly, the following guiding principles were laid down for the development of naval vessels in the 1980s:

l Raise the attack capabilities of anti-submarine, air-defence, anti-missile and anti-ship operations.

l Boosting of response and processing of information, command automation.

l Powerful electronic counter-measures.

l Introduction of new technological inputs in the construction efforts.41

With the "strategic transformation" (zhanlue zhuanbian) of 1985, and the increasing acceptance of the "local war under high-tech conditions" concept, the need for high-tech equipment led to a fresh thrust in transforming the policy regarding the various aspects of naval production in the 1990s. China's naval planners made several projections on the issue of current status and future naval requirements of the country in the light of the technological advances made by the major navies of the world. The fourth plenum of the Fifteenth Party Congress held between September 19-22, 1999 reportedly proposed drafting a five-year plan and a ten-year target for modernising the equipment of the armed forces. The thrust areas, as far as the navy is concerned, include focussing on developing ballistic missile nuclear submarines and missile destroyers. The plan reportedly envisaged "three generations" including "…upgrad[ing] a generation of weaponry, develop[ing] a generation of weaponry, and test[ing] a generation of weaponry."42 According to the projections of Yu Guoquan, the director of the Department of Naval Equipment Technology & Warships division in 1995, the development of the world naval equipment will in general follow three major trends, including:

l Warships will develop toward the invincible type, with advances in their flexibility and fighting characteristics, and massive applications of high technology equipment on warships.

l Although the aircraft will still be a strategic tool, there will be major breakthroughs in its size and characteristics.

l The tactical submarine will be the main trend for medium and small countries due to its characteristic of stealth, its strong striking ability, and the much lower cost of nuclear submarines.42

According to Shen Zhongchang and others, the new naval warfare weaponry to be used in the future naval skirmishes will have the following six features:

l Its reconnaissance and observation equipment will be improved, with long-range observation, precise target discovery, and integration with guidance systems, for an improved weapons-system reaction rate.

l The anti-personnel force of arms will be sharply higher, with a significant improvement in destructive form.

l Naval combat forces will have rapid mobility, expanded operational scope, and shortened success time.

l There will be a marked improvement in protective and survival capabilities.

l Emphasis will be placed on developing electronic jamming and attack systems.

l All-dimensional space will be brought into naval warfare service.43

On the basis of the above future requirements, the Chinese Navy made several contingency policies and programmes for acquiring naval vessels and systems. In a sense, the 1990s may be termed as a period when the Chinese Navy sought to convince the leadership of a comprehensive reform of the R&D establishment, equipment acquisition processes, and so on, to meet the naval challenges of the next millenium.


China in the last 50 years has produced a veritable list of naval vessels and equipment, including conventional and strategic submarines, surface ships (destroyers, escorts, torpedoes, missile speed boats, submarine chasers, minesweepers and landing craft), auxiliary vessels (ocean-going instrumentation ships, survey ships and others) and so on.44 With some assistance through the two major agreements signed with the Soviet Union on June 4, 1953 and February 4, 1959, China built up a powerful navy. It bought five types of warships and their production rights in 1953 and built shipbuilding factories at Jiangnan, Hudong, Qiuxin, Wuchang, Wuhu and Guangzhou. By the 1959 agreement, its missile submarine programme received a boost. Further efforts were made in the 1960s and 1970s in this regard.


Soviet technical assistance in the early 1950s gave a boost to the building of submarines in China. For a navy without submarines, or the capability to produce them, such assistance has played a significant role. Till today, most of the conventionally powered submarines of China were built on the basis of designs and blueprints supplied by the Soviets. However, the efforts of the Chinese scientific personnel and workers in the innovation of the same process should not be under-estimated, specifically during the 1960s when the Soviet technicians and advisors withdrew with blueprints in the midst of the unfinished programmes.

China has built several types of submarines in the last 50 years. These include the ballistic missile submarine of the Soviet G class; the Romeo class that is predominant in its inventory; the Whisky class submarines; the Han class-first Chinese-built nuclear submarines; and the Xia class nuclear propelled ballistic missile type. In the recent period, several projects were launched by the Chinese to upgrade and modify submarines based on the lessons learnt in the process of building them and also in the light of the requirements of the country for modern equipment. In the recent period, thus, China launched several ambitious projects, including the Ming class, Song class, and a new attack submarine (SSN) Type 093. One of the first efforts can be traced to the assembly of Soviet submarines in 1953 at the Jiangnan and Wuchang Shipyards, which were completed in 1957. The production of improved versions of the submarines, viz., medium-sized conventional variety and ballistic guided missile submarine, was completed by 1965 at the Jiangnan, Wuchang and Fulin Shipyards, and in 1966 at the Dalian Shipyard respectively.45 Mention should be made of the building of the following submarines:

l The first Romeo class (Type 031) submarine was built at Jiangnan Shipyard in mid-1962.46 China continued to build these subsequently at a rate of six per year at Guangzhou, Jiangnan and Wuchang Shipyards. Several modifications were made in the subsequent period with the building of Types 031 (ES3B, ES5E, ES5G, etc.) In 1983, one of these submarines was converted to launch cruise missiles and renamed as the Wuhan class of submarines, with 4-6 missile launchers, that resembled the Soviet Juliet class of submarines. In 1987, however, the production of this class of submarines was stopped, giving way to the improved Ming version.47 In addition to modernisation of the submarine fleet, China has imported various technologies and equipment, including the Kilo class submarines, to upgrade its capabilities.

l Ballistic missile submarines based on the Golf class submarines of the USSR were built at the Dalian Shipyard in 1964.48 The missile tubes of the submarine are fitted in the conning tower. In August 1981, the building programme of this submarine suffered a setback because one of the submarines was reportedly lost in an accident caused by a missile explosion during an "under-water test firing."49

l The Whiskey class submarines were assembled in China between 1956 and 1964. This type of submarine was gradually built at the Jiangnan and Wuchang Shipyards from 1960.50 These submarines were equipped with snort.51

l The Han class submarine, which was launched in 1968 and laid down in 1971-72, underwent trials in 1974 at the Dalian Shipyard, has an Albacore hull. It took a longer time for the Chinese to build this class of submarine—about ten years each—given the problems relating to the power plant, and so on. The second of this class was launched in 1977.52

l The Xia class nuclear-propelled ballistic missile submarine was laid down in the late 1970s and launched in the early 1980s.Two test launches of the CSS-NX3 (JL-1) missile were done in 1982. However, a satisfactory launch of the same was not achieved until 1988, thus, delaying the commissioning of the submarine. As several technical aspects of the nuclear submarine had to be mastered to combine propulsion and weapon systems, the building of the ship was at a slow pace.53 In all, six of this class are planned by China, though progress has been tardy.

l The Ming class (Type ES5C/D) modified and enlarged version of the Romeo class submarine was laid down in the 1971-72 period and became operational by the 1975-76 period. The second one was laid down in 1975. The building programme was affected due to several problems and was resumed in 1987 at the Wuhan Shipyard at a rate of one per year. 17 of this class have been built so far with two more in the pipeline.54

l The Song class (Type 039) submarines are being built at the Wuhan Shipyard: the first of these was laid down in 1991, launched in 1994 and is undergoing trials in 1999. This is comparable in size to the Ming class submarine and incorporates several imported systems.55

l China started building a new attack submarine (SSN) Type 093 along with the Russians on the model based on the design of the Victor III submarine. It was reported that prefabrication of the submarine was started in 1994 and the project was expected to be completed by 2002/2004 at Huludao Shipyard. Two of this type are planned.56

China has faced several problems in the construction of these submarines. In order to overcome these problems, from the late 1970s, coinciding with the reform and opening up to the outside world, China selectively imported several technologies and systems given the costs—economic and strategic—involved in importing whole systems. As most of the Chinese-made submarines are prone to enemy detection as their noise levels are relatively higher, efforts were made to improvise the design and systems of these submarines. By the mid-1980s such efforts succeeded at Wuchang. The submarines produced in the late 1980s have higher under-water endurance capacity, less noise levels—nearly 12 decibels less than those produced in the previous period—and relatively higher speed—an enhancement in speed of nearly 40 per cent over the previous submarines.57

Surface Vessels

In the last five decades, China has built a number of surface vessels, including destroyers, frigates, torpedoes, missile speed boats, submarine chasers, mine sweepers, landing craft, and so on. It is in the process of modernising the equipment developed on the basis of the Soviet equipment and, reportedly, initiated plans in the mid-1990s to build an aircraft carrier on the design scheme of the Russian Nevskoye Design Bureau.

A.Destroyers: Unlike submarines, the production of surface ships, specifically destroyers, was delayed till about the late 1950s, when the Seventh Academy started preliminary efforts in this direction. Soon these efforts received a boost with the country's requirement of a guided missile destroyer that could meet the needs of convoying and surveillance of the long-range strategic missile test in the mid-1960s. The first of these vessels adopted the concept of triangular form, triple connection, direct-hoist gear for guided missile loading" in 1968.58 In the 1970s, improvements were made in the "storage environment and the operation of the missile; adaptability to medium and high-sea state and anti-nuclear explosion capability…"59 In the 1980s, the R&D of the destroyers concentrated mainly on the enhancement of the "shipboard combat-intelligence-command systems; electronic countermeasure[s]…combat command automation level[s]…"60 For these purposes, China attempted to upgrade its technology by either importing systems or whole vessels. In January 1983, for instance, China signed an agreement with Britain for retrofitting of Sea Dart surface-to-air missiles on the Chinese destroyers. However, as the cost of the deal [£100 million] was considered to be too high, this was not pursued. Deals with the Italians, French, Ukrainians and Russians, however, have been successful in this regard.61 Specific examples of the construction of destroyers at the Chinese shipyards are as follows:

l Four Anshan class Type 7 Gordys acquired from the USSR in 1954-55.62

l The "Luda" class Types I and II 051 and Type III were the first Chinese -designed vessels akin to the Soviet Kotlin class, built in the 1971 and 1975 period.63 By the late 1980s, six of this class were built at Luda, and four each at Shanghai and Guangzhou.64 As several problems were faced in the construction of this type, China bought Italian Eilas-3 torpedo tubes in 1985 to be retrofitted to the Luda.65

l Two Luhu class Type 052 destroyers built at the Jiangnan Shipyard, were first ordered in 1985, laid down in 1988, launched in 1991 and commissioned in 1994. Several weapon systems were imported and retrofitted with this class, including the gas turbine from Ukraine, HQ-7 launcher from French Crotale, etc.66

l The Luhai class is an upgraded version of the Luhu class, which is being produced by the Dalian Shipyard. Laid down in 1996, this class of destroyers is yet to be commissioned by the navy.67

B. Destroyer Escorts: Broadly, the major stress in the production of escorts in China has been on "medium-sized and small-sized ships taking underwater weaponry, shipboard artillery and guided missile as principal weapons…"68 China has built various escorts for the navy, including the Jiangnan, Jiangdong, Chengdu, Jianghu, Jiangwei, and so on.

As the civil war still raged in the coastal islands off the mainland in the early 1950s, China started producing Type 53A coastal patrol boats at the Qiuxin, Jiangnan and Hudong Shipyards. In the 1960s, the Type 62 high-speed corvette was developed. The Type 65 frigate with a "forecastle design" was developed at the Jiangnan and Guangzhou Shipyards in the mid-1960s.69 An improved anti-guided missile frigate started taking shape at the Hudong Shipyard in the mid-1960s by the No. 701 Institute. Several problems were encountered in the development of this type of ship. Initially, it was supposed to be an anti-air frigate. However, China was unable to develop and assemble ship-to-air guided missile and artillery systems. Hence, it was reconfigured to an anti-ship variety with the consequent changes in the development of the shipboard equipment.70 In the 1980s, China worked on the development of the Type I and Type II anti-ship guided missile frigates with improvements in the double-barrel gun, missile systems (Shangyou and Yingji), electronics, etc. To elaborate, the following details may be noted:

l The Jiangnan Type 065, similar to the Soviet Riga class, have been built at Guangzhou since 1968.71

l The Chengdu class was built at the Hudong Shipyard on April 28, 1956, based on the Soviet Riga model. Four of these were completed by 1957.In 1971, China launched a conversion programme to replace the torpedo tubes by a twin SS-N-2 launcher. By the late 1970s, additional 37mm and 14.5mm guns were added.72

l The Jiangdong, built first at the Hudong Shipyard in 1970, and later at Qiuxin in 1979, as an anti-air missile frigate.73

l The Jianghu Type 053H class was an upgraded version of the Jiangdong class, built at Shanghai from 1974. At the rate of about three vessels per year, China built about 30 of this class by the mid-1980s. The Jianghu Type II, built at Hudong, incorporates the French Safecopter landing aid, French 100mm gun and optronic director and Italian triple torpedo tubes. Jianghu Type (053HT) III frigates are the first all-enclosed air-conditioned ships built by the Chinese. The latest versions show a "different shaped funnel and large air intakes."74

l The Jiangwei I Type 053 H2G are being built at Hudong Shipyard from 1990. Four of this class have been built so far, though trials indicated unsatisfactory performance of the SAM systems. The Jiangwei Type II is an upgraded version, laid down in 1996, launched in 1997 and commissioned in 1998. Five of these would be completed by 1999-2000 and two more are planned. It was reported that the difficulties of the SAM in the earlier version are being corrected, along with updating of the fire-control radars and anti-aircraft guns.75

C. Torpedoes and Missile Speedboats: The Sino-Soviet agreement in the 1950s called for the building of two torpedo production plants in China. Factories Numbers 872 and 874 undertook this task in the subsequent period.76 Copy production of the Soviet torpedo boats started in earnest in the 1950s at Wuhu and Guangzhou. In 1966, the No.701 Institute designed a four-tube torpedo boat at Wuzhou and Gueijiang Shipyards.77

Guided missile boats, similarly, have been developed on the basis of the Soviet expertise. Though the earlier versions of the torpedoes and missile boats were made of wood, later versions like that of the Hegu class, were of steel metal. Small-sized guided missile boats were developed at Wuhu by the No. 701 Institute. In the early 1980s, development of boats retrofitted with ship-to-ship missiles was undertaken.78 Specific construction activity in this field is as follows:

l The Huangfen class guided missile boats built on the model of the Soviet Osa type. In January 1965, China acquired one of these from the USSR, four in 1966-67 period and two in 1968. In the subsequent period, these were built at a rate of ten per year, acquiring its Chinese name in 1985.79

l The Hegu class, built on the model of the Komar class guided missile boats. One of this class was acquired in 1965, two in 1967 and seven in the 1968-71 period. The building programme was swift with about ten constructed per year.80

l The Hela class boats are a variant of the Huangfen class boats.

l The Hainan class boats were built at Shanghai from 1964 on the basis of the Soviet "S01" type.81

D. Submarine Chasers: The Huangpu Shipyard developed a number of submarine chasers on the basis of a large amount of data left over by the Soviets in the 1950s.82 The Soviet model of the Kronstadt class was selected by the Chinese in 1956-57 period as the basis for the construction of the submarine chasers.83 Later, the shipyards at Dalian, Guangzhou and Qiuxin developed improved versions of the anti-submarine corvettes.84

E. Mine Warfare: The first generation harbour minesweepers were developed by the efforts of the First Product Design Office of the Ship Management Bureau of the First MMI in the mid-1950s. These were mainly built at the Qiuxin, Zhonghua and Jiangxin Shipyards under the technical direction of the No. 708 Institute. Among those developed in the past 50 years are the Type 312 and Type 082 boats.85

F. Landing Craft: Whereas small-sized landing boats were built in the 1950s, the size of the landing craft increased over a period of time. By 1975, the Type 072 boat of 450 tonnes capacity was developed by the Zhonghua Shipyard under the guidance of the No.708 Institute.86

3. Auxiliary Vessels

A. Ocean-Going Instrumentation Ship: For the purposes of maritime surveillance and survey of the maritime boundaries and oceanic areas, and to track the path of the long-range missile tests like that of the ICBMs, the need for developing an ocean-going instrumentation ship was realised in the late 1970s.87 The concept of a "three-level stability system" was adopted by the No. 708 Institute in this process of uninterrupted work of the ship. These include:

l First level: inherent stability of the ship maintained by two pairs of large-sized retractable anti-rolling fins and a super-large single-plate bilge keel.

l Second level: adoption of a planar to coordinate the stability system.

l Third level: included a servo system connected to the measuring radar, remote measurement and dual-frequency speed measurement equipment.88

Several problems in the development of this ship, viz. hull-bending deformation, noise of the propeller, electro-magnetic compatibility, navigation system, radars, etc. have been reportedly solved.

B. Ocean-Going Survey Ship: For preliminary scientific investigations at sea, weather forecasting, communications, etc. the No.708 Institute and the Jiangnan Shipyard developed a survey ship from 1975 onwards.89

C. Others: For the purposes of rescue and salvage, oil and water supply, training, communications and other related logistic purposes, China has built a number of auxiliary ships. 90 Supply ships include:

The Galati class acquired from Romania in the 1960s and converted in the 1970s.

l The Zhandou class built at Shanghai in the 1959-65 period.

l The Danlin class built in the 1960s.

l The Fuzhou class built in the 1964-70 period.

Salvage ships built in China include:

l The Yending class built at Shanghai in 1972-74.

l The Kansha class built at Zhonghua Shipyard from 1980-81. This was designed by the China Marine Design and Research Institute.

l The Dinghai class built from 1964-66 period.

Submarine rescue vessels include:

l The Dajing ships built at Guangzhou, the first of which was launched in mid-1973.

l The Dadong class built at Hudong from the late 1970s.

l The Duzhong class.

l The Hudong class.

l The Dalang class built at Guangzhou Shipyard from the 1973-75 period.


After the procurement of naval equipment from the shipyards, several problems in the integration of the naval warships by the troops were detected. Prior to the launching of the reform process, the development of the naval vessels was separated from the development of the shipboard equipment. For instance, it took, according to the investigation of the PLAN's Shanghai Military Representative Bureau that represents over 100 factories and research institutes which produce most of the naval equipment, "at least two years after delivery of equipment, to turn it into combat capacity. It even occurred that new equipment, after delivery to the unit, was left sitting on 'the cold bench.'"91 Hence, to overcome the problem of "seeking modernization but concurrently fearing modernization", the Bureau sent over 1,000 specialist consultative groups and equipment repair and follow-up service teams to survey and research the shortcomings. After three years, in 1995, a joint pact was signed between the Bureau and a detachment of the East Sea Fleet for the purpose of turning new equipment into combat capacity as quickly as possible, known as "technical guarantee service". The pact sets out four obligations for the Bureau, including,

i. When they deliver equipment, they will [,] at the same time [,] hand over all blueprints and drawings, spare parts, specialized tools, and testing instruments, and meters, so that the equipment is complete with all necessary accessories.

ii. When a shipyard is engaged in building a ship, sailors will be able to enter the shipyard and participate in the whole process of building the ship, so that the sailors truly "understand" their equipment.

iii. While new equipment from any factory is going through trials, the forces will engage in training courses with the equipment, so that there is an organic link between the handing over of equipment and training.

iv. Experts will come on board ship to provide follow-up service, and they will remain until sailors have attained specialized up-to-standard certificates, and the equipment has been converted into combat capacity92.

In addition to these obligations for the Bureau, the users also have three rights:

i. When the new equipment is being developed and produced, they have the right to carry out quality supervision and checks.

ii. When receiving new equipment, they have the right to reject products that are not up to standard or not integrated.

iii. When new equipment is put into use and quality problems are encountered, the users have the right to make direct complaints and proposals to the factory.93

This reform measure is too little and too late to shore up the procurement method of naval equipment, as has been the established practice of navies the world over. In what is termed as "operational exploitation," major modern navies of the world implement the principles mentioned above. An integrated approach to weapons acquisition in China, thus, has been slow.94 Nevertheless, the integrated approach of development called for the "five-systems principle": analysis and study as a complete system, design as a complete system, product certification as a complete system, production as a complete system, and delivery as a complete system.95 The performance of these systems and equipment needs to be observed in actual combat. However, as has been the experience of navies all over the world, possession of different kinds of equipment and the demands of modern war lead to problems in command and control and proper utilisation of the equipment. The challenges emanating from the integration of these systems within even one type of equipment need to be evaluated. Finally, the much-neglected aspects of anti-submarine and anti-aircraft capabilities of the PLAN equipment need to be evaluated.


1. See, for the early development of the navy, John Rawlinson, China's Struggle for Naval Development, 1839-1895 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1967).

2. See, for aspects on the R&D of the naval research establishment, China's Defense R&D (Hong Kong, 1988) chapter 6, p. 184.

3. See China Today: Defense Science and Technology (Beijing: National Defence Industry Press, 1993) vols. 2 (hereafter CTDST) vol. 1, pp. 11-13 and vol. 2, p. 657, for details.

4. See Zhang Aiping et. al. eds. Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun [Chinese People's Liberation Army] vols. 2 (Beijing: Dangdai Zhongguo Chubanshe, 1995) (hereafter Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun), vol. 1, p. 540.

5. CTDST, vol. 2, n. 3, p. 657.

6. Ibid., p. 658.

7. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 21.

8. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 36 and vol. 2, p. 658.

9. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 658.

10. Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 36-37.

11. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 39.

12. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 48.

13. Han Huaizhi et. al. eds. Dangdai jundui de junshi gongzuo (China Today: The Military Affairs of the Chinese Army) vols. 2 (Beijing: Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 1989) (hereafter Dangdai jundui de junshi gongzuo) vol. 2, p. 157 and CTDST vol. 2, n. 3, p. 658-659. According to another official version, the decision to establish the Seventh Academy in the MND was taken by the CMC in 1960. See Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun, vol. 1, n. 4, p. 541.

14. See Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun, vol. 1, n. 4, p. 541.

15. CTDST, vol. 1, n. 3, p. 47.

16. Ibid., vol. 2, pp. 659 and 663.

17. See, for the reorganisation process, Srikanth Kondapalli, China's Military: The PLA in Transition (New Delhi: Knowledge World & IDSA, 1999), chapters 3 and 6; Gerald Segal and William T. Tow eds., Chinese Defence Policy (London: Macmillan, 1984), pp. 126-127; John Krankenstein and Bates Gill, "Current and Future Challenges Facing Chinese Defence Industries," The China Quarterly, no. 146, June 1996, p. 400, and SWB FE/3174 S1/13, March 13, 1998.

18. CTDST, vol. 2, n. 4, p. 657 for the quotation.

19. Cited by Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun, vol. 2, n. 4, p. 33. For a slight variation in this policy, see Dangdai jundui de junshi gongzuo, vol. 2, n. 3, p. 155.

20. Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun, vol. 1, n. 4, p. 540 and vol. 2, p. 33.

21. Quoted in CTDST, vol. 2, n. 3, p. 658.

22. See Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun, vol. 1, n. 4, pp. 540-541 and vol. 2, p. 33; and see Dangdai jundui de junshi gongzuo, vol. 2, n. 13, p. 156, for details.

23. CTDST vol. 1, n. 3, pp. 32 and 107 and Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun, vol. 1, n. 4, p. 541. The "major objective" and the "core and backbone" of naval development policy, according to Marshal Nie Rongzhen, in 1956, was the development of the submarines and fast attack craft. Here, the principal targets, according to him, are not the size of the naval vessels under consideration but the enhancement of speed and firepower of the equipment.

24. See Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun, vol. 1, n. 4, p. 541.

25. Nie Rongzhen cited by CTDST vol. 1, n. 3, p. 72. For Nie's views on overall defence science and technology policies in China, see his Inside the Red Star: The Memoirs of Marshal Nie Rongzhen (Beijing: New World Press, 1988), chapter XXIV, pp. 659-730.

26. CTDST, vol. 1, n. 3, p. 72.

27. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 72.

28. Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun, vol. 1, no. 4, pp. 542-543.

29. CTDST, vol. 1, n. 3, pp. 78 and 108.

30. See Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun, vol. 1, n. 4, p. 542.

31. CTDST, vol. 1, n. 3, p. 107.

32. Zhou Enlai quoted in Ibid., vol. 1, p. 108.

33. See Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun, vol. 1, n. 4, pp. 543-544, on the progress made in the 1970s concerning the navy.

34. CTDST vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 108-109 for this information.

35. Jane's Fighting Ships, 1979-80 (London: Jane's Publishing Co., 1979) p. 103.

36. CTDST, vol. 1, n. 3, p. 139.

37. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 660.

38. This is based on Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 170-171.

39. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 139.

40. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 171.

41. See Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun, vol. 2, n. 4, p. 35 and CTDST, vol. 1, n. 3, p. 139.

42. Yu Guoquan interviewed by Chen Wanjun "Naval Power Through an Expert's Eyes: An Interview With Yu Guoquan, Director of the Department of Naval Equipment Technology, Warships Division", Jianchuan Zhishi (Naval & Merchant Ships), no. 7, July 8, 1995, pp. 2-3 in FBIS-CHI-95-169, August 31, 1995, pp. 29-31 (cited on pp. 30-31).

43. See Shen Zhongchang and others "A Rudimentary Exploration of 21st Century Naval Warfare", Zhongguo renmin kexue (Chinese Military Science) no. 1, February 20, 1995, in FBIS-CHI-95-113 Supplement, June 13, 1995, pp. 26-32, (cited on p. 28).

44. Dangdai jundui de junshi gongzuo, vol. 2, n. 13, p. 153.

45. This is based on CTDST vol. 2, n. 3, p. 661.

46. Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun, vol. 2, n. 4, p. 34.

47. For details, Jane's Fighting Ships, 1979-80, p. 104; Jane's Fighting Ships, 1984-85, p. 93 and 118; Jane's Fighting Ships, 1989-90, p. 101.

48. See for details, Raymond V.B. Blackman ed., Jane's Defence Ships, 1967-68, p. 54.

49. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1984-85, p. 93.

50. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1979-80, p. 104.

51. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1984-85, p. 93.

52. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1981-82, p. 101; Jane's Fighting Ships, 1984-85, p. 93; Jane's Fighting Ships, 1986-87, p. 99; Jane's Fighting Ships, 1989-90, p. 100.

53. For an excellent consideration of the strategic nuclear naval programme of China, consult John Wilson Lewis and Litai Xue, China's Strategic Seapower: The Politics of Force Modernisation in the Nuclear Age (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994); and Jane's Fighting Ships, 1984-85, p. 92.

54. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1989-90, p. 102; and Jane's Fighting Ships, 1999-2000, p. 118.

55. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1999-2000, p. 117.

56. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1999-2000, p. 116.

57. CTDST, vol. 2, n. 3, p. 662. In the latest improved models, the hull form adopted was of a "straight-raked bow, slanting stern, an adjustment in hull's length-breadth ratio, reasonable arrangement of piping and valving in superstructure, reduced space between decks, reduction of deck width, improving the forms and arrangement of flooding ports, so as to reduce submarine drag to a great extent." Ibid.

58. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 664.

59. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 664-665.

60. CTDST, vol. 2, p. 666.

61. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1984-85, p. 95; Jane's Fighting Ships, 1999-2000, p. 119-120. According to an agreement signed with the Russians in September 1996, China imported two Sovremenny class Type 956E destroyers by 1999.

62. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1984-85, p. 95.

63. See for details on the consideration of the Type 051 destroyer, Dangdai jundui de junshi gongzuo, vol. 2, n. 13, p. 158, and Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun, vol. 2, n. 4, p. 34.

64. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1984-85, p. 94; Jane's Fighting Ships, 1979-80, p. 105; Jane's Fighting Ships, 1989-90, p. 103.

65. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1986-87, p. 100.

66. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1999-2000, p. 120.

67. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1999-2000, p. 119.

68. CTDST, vol. 2, p. 667.

69. Dangdai jundui de junshi gongzuo, vol. 2, n. 13, p. 157.

70. CTDST vol. 2, n. 3, p. 668. Mainly, the equipment on this frigate included the single-barrel 100mm gun instead of a double-barrel 100mm gun needed for an anti-air guided missile frigate. However, the hull design of the original plan was retained. (Ibid.)

71. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1970-71, p. 61; See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1986-87, p. 103, Jane's Fighting Ships, 1979-80, p. 105.

72. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1986-87, p. 103; See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1984-85, p. 97.

73. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1979-80, p. 106; See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1989-90, p. 106.

74. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1986-87, p. 106; See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1984-85, p. 96; See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1999-2000, pp. 124 and 128.

75. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1999-2000, p. 124-125.

76. CTDST, vol. 2, n. 3, p. 678.

77. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 669.

78. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 669.

79. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1973-74, p. 79; See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1984-85, p. 99; See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1986-87, p. 105.

80. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1986-87, p. 105; Jane's Fighting Ships, 1984-85, p. 99.

81. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1979-80, pp. 108-109.

82. CTDST, vol. 2, p. 670.

83. See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1970-71, p. 63; See Jane's Fighting Ships, 1986-87, p. 105.

84. CTDST, vol. 2, n. 3, p. 670.

85. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 670-671; Jane's Fighting Ships, 1973-74, p. 80; Jane's Fighting Ships, 1979-80, p. 111; Jane's Fighting Ships, 1986-87, p. 109.

86. CTDST, vol. 2, n. 3, p. 672.

87. Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun, vol. 1, n. 4, pp. 544-545.

88. Cited in CTDST, vol. 2, n. 3, p. 673.

89. Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun,vol. 1, n. 4, p. 544 and CTDST vol. 2, n. 3, pp. 676-677.

90. The information below is based on the estimates of Ibid., vol. 2, pp. 677-678; Jane's Fighting Ships, 1981-82, pp. 109-111; and Jane's Fighting Ships, 1984-85, pp. 104, 107-108.

91. See for the assessment of the Shanghai Military Representative Bureau, Chen Wanjun and Chen Guofa, "First PLA pact on Jointly Building Combat Capacity Signed in Shanghai", Liberation Army Daily, January 14, 1995, p. 2 in FBIS-CHI-95-045, March 8, 1995, pp. 43-44.

92. Ibid., p. 43.

93. Ibid.

94. Personal communication with Cdr. Vijay Sakhuja, September 24, 1999.

95. CTDST, vol. 1, n. 3, p. 139.