3 new world-class warships commissioned together, shoring up ‘nuke retaliation, S.China Sea security, island seizing’
Published: Apr 24, 2021 11:10 PM
President Xi Jinping presents a PLA flag to the newly commissioned Changzheng 18 warship at a port in Sanya, South China's Hainan Province, on Friday. Photo: Xinhua

President Xi Jinping presents a PLA flag to the newly commissioned Changzheng 18 warship at a port in Sanya, South China's Hainan Province, on Friday. Photo: Xinhua


President Xi Jinping commissioned three main battle warships into the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy on Friday, the service's 72nd founding anniversary, with analysts saying on Saturday that the unprecedented, concentrated warship commissioning represents the rapid development of the PLA Navy and Chinese shipbuilding industry amid the grave military struggle pressure China is facing.

According to report footage, the three large warships are likely a Type 09IV nuclear-powered strategic ballistic missile submarine, a Type 055 large destroyer, and the country's first Type 075 amphibious assault ship, observers said, noting that the displacement of the three vessels combined is larger than the total displacement of many countries' entire navies.

President Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, attended the commissioning ceremony of three PLA Navy warships, namely the Changzheng 18 (hull 421), the Dalian (hull 105) and the Hainan (hull 31), at a naval port in Sanya, South China's Hainan Province, on Friday, the PLA Daily reported on Saturday.

The ceremony was held on Friday, and Xi presented a PLA flag and the naming certificate to the captains and political commissars of the three warships. Xi then boarded the newly commissioned warships, reviewed the guards of honor, inspected the onboard equipment and talked to sailors, the report said.  

While the PLA Daily report did not identify the three ships' types, a China Central Television report on Saturday showed video of the ships, as military observers identified the Changzheng 18 as a likely Type 09IV nuclear-powered strategic ballistic missile submarine, the Dalian as the country's third known Type 055 10,000 ton-class destroyer in service, and the Hainan as the country's first Type 075 amphibious assault ship.

The PLA Navy names nuclear-powered submarines with Changzheng, destroyers with the names of large cities, and aircraft carriers, cruisers and amphibious assault ships with the names of provinces.

These vessels represent a top level of China's military strength and are also world class, experts said.

The Changzheng 18 is likely an upgraded version of original Type 09IV nuclear submarine, as it gets enhanced capabilities in noise reduction and missile attack accuracy, giving China even more credible nuclear deterrence with further improved nuclear retaliation capability, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military affairs expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Saturday.

Yet another Type 09IV's commissioning also means China now has more strategic submarines on alert and can cover more time periods, leading to enhanced nuclear counterattack capability, another Chinese military expert told the Global Times, requesting anonymity.

The CCTV report also showed that the Changzheng 18 submarine had its missile hatch open during the commissioning ceremony, observers said.

As a pillar of China's sea-based nuclear power and the country's latest nuclear-powered strategic submarine, equipped with the country's most advanced submarine-launched ballistic missiles, the Changzheng 18 left its missile hatch open to show its capability to the chairman of the Central Military Commission, Wang Ya'nan, chief editor of Beijing-based Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times on Saturday.

The submarine was in a ceremonial state, and the scene is very rare for normal people to see, because the hatches are usually closed when boats sail or are moored, Wang said.

The Dalian is the first Type 055 large destroyer in service with the PLA South Sea Fleet, after the previous two Type 055s, the Nanchang and the Lhasa, entered service with the PLA North Sea Fleet in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

It is China's main surface combatant with a displacement of about 13,000 tons, surpassing the US' Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and Ticonderoga-class cruiser, as it is expected to serve as a powerful escort of aircraft carriers or act as a lead ship in a flotilla, with its powerful anti-air, anti-missile, anti-ship, anti-submarine and land attack capabilities, experts said.

The Hainan is China's first Type 075 amphibious assault ship, also often dubbed a helicopter carrier, which was launched in September 2019.

By carrying a large number of helicopters in addition to amphibious armored vehicles and tanks, the Type 075 can launch not only horizontal but also vertical landing missions on islands, reefs and even land from the sea, analysts said.

It is expected to partner the PLA Navy's Type 071 amphibious landing ships in resolving island-related questions, Song said, noting that it can also team up with aircraft carriers and other warships in a task group capable of seizing air and sea supremacy as well as amphibious landings.

While the Hainan was commissioned into the PLA South Sea Fleet, it can be deployed in multiple areas for various tasks, Song said.

When needed, it can conduct missions in the Nansha Islands, Dongsha Islands and even the Penghu Islands and the island of Taiwan, Song said, noting that the combination of the Type 075 and Type 071 in an amphibious landing task group will be very powerful in island seizing, and with the support of land-based aviation troops and aircraft carrier combat groups, the PLA will get an even stronger joint combat capability in landing operations.

Unprecedented commissioning

Friday's commissioning of warships is unprecedented in many aspects, as it is the first time the PLA Navy has received three different types of large vessels on one day. This is also not seen in other countries, observers said.

This reflects the rapid development of the PLA Navy as well as the Chinese shipbuilding industry, as the two become world class, experts said, noting that China can develop, construct and harness these advanced vessels in a very short time, showing "Chinese speed."

It is also the first time the PLA South Sea Fleet has received three large surface and underwater main battle equipment on the same day, which highlights China's determination to manage the South China Sea, analysts said.

Under the current complex international situation, China attaches great importance to the construction of the South China Sea; the deployment of the new sea craft further strengthens the PLA's ability to safeguard national territory and territorial sea sovereignty, experts said.

Song said that China is facing grave military struggle pressure, and needs large warships to build a stronger navy.

These vessels will play important roles in solving questions in places like the island of Taiwan and the South China Sea, Song said.