The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has continued to maintain a presence in the neutral waters of the South China Sea, which Beijing doesn’t actually see as so neutral. The PLAN has continued to increase in size, and earlier this year the latest Type 052D guided-missile destroyer, the Nanning, entered service and has recently made its public debut in an exercise in the contested region.
According to a report from the state-owned Global Times, warships attached to a destroyer flotilla of the PLAN under the PLA Southern Theater Command recently conducted a four-day-long “realistic-combat” training exercise in the South China Sea. That included a variety of maneuvers including a replenishment-at-sea. Nanning (Hull 162) was among the warships taking part in the exercise, which also included the Type 091 comprehensive supply ship Changanhu (Hull 967), and the Type 071 amphibious dock landing ship Qilianshan (Hull 985).
This was reported to be the first time Nanning was reported to be seen taking part in a PLAN exercise – which would indicate that the warship has been officially commissioned into the PLA Southern Theater Command Navy.
Upgraded Guided Missile Destroyer
The Global Times also reported that based on the official photos released by the official website of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Nanning appeared to be an upgraded variant of the Type 052D with an extended helicopter flight deck as well as new anti-stealth radar.
The Type 052D, also known as the Luyang III-class destroyer, is itself a larger variant of the Type 052C. Chinese media has informally described the Type 052D a “Chinese Aegis,” comparing it to the United States Navy’s warships that are equipped with the Aegis Combat System. The lead ship of the class was first launched in 2012 and commissioned two years later.
Beijing has intended to build upwards of twenty-five of the class, and as of April of this year seventeen have been constructed. Jiangan Shipyard Group and Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company have been the lead contractors on the program.
The potential mission of the ships is sea-based air defense support, and analysts have suggested that could include for an amphibious force. The stretched variant, commonly referred to as the Type 052DL, could be used to deploy the Harbin Z-20 helicopter. Introduced in 2018, it is believed that all subsequent warships of the class are of this class.
“After gaining combat capabilities, the South China Sea-based Nanning will play an important role in safeguarding China’s territorial integrity, national sovereignty and development interests,” a Chinese military expert told the Global Times on Monday.
Nanning was reported to be the third Type 052D to enter service with the PLAN this year, following the Suzhou and Huainan. The vessels are being quickly produced, and after launch, the outfitting work takes about a year or two, so it is likely additional guided-missile destroyers could also enter service this year.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.