Kunming (hull number 172 named for the capital of capital of Yunnan province) — is the first of 12 planned Luyang III guided missile destroyers (DDG) that are being built with radars and missile systems reflective of modern American and European ships.
“Using a combination of imported technology, reverse engineering, and indigenous development, [China] has rapidly narrowed the technology and capability gap between itself and the world’s modern navies,” according to a recent assessment of China’s naval modernization by the Office of Naval Intelligence.
The new 7,500 ton warship design expands on developments in Chinese missile technology and the new Luyang III ships field a more advanced vertical launch system (VLS) that expands the variety of missiles People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) can field.
The 64-cell HHQ-9B VLS could be “equipped with advanced [surface-to air-missiles], anti-submarine missiles, and possibly an eventual land-attack cruise missile (LACM),” according to the ONI assessment.
“These modern, high-end combatants will likely provide increased weapons stores and overall flexibility as surface action groups venture more frequently into blue water in the coming years.”
According to an assessment from Jane’s Defence Weekly, the new VLS system is capable of an almost 100 pound warhead almost 62 miles. Those numbers are small compared to the ranges of Western Aegis air defense systems, but is a significant increase in ranges for PLAN ships.
In addition to the missiles, the PLAN is developing new sensor technology to provide targeting information to its new weapons.
“As these extended range weapons require sophisticated over-the-horizon-targeting (OTH-T) capability to realize their full potential, China has invested heavily in maritime reconnaissance systems at the national and tactical levels, as well as communication systems and data links to enable the flow of accurate and timely targeting data,” according to ONI.
“The addition of these newer units allows the [PLAN’s] surface force to operate with increased confidence outside of shore-based air defense systems, as one or two ships can now provide air defense for the entire task group.”
To that end, PLAN is fielding the Type 346 Dragon Eye radar that represents a major leap in Chinese radar technology.
Though the Chinese technology may look impressive, it’s unclear how effective the new weapons and sensors are “and is the question all China’s watchers have,” Eric Wertheim, author of Naval Institute’s Guide to Combat Fleets of the World told USNI News on Friday.
“They are getting closer and closer to advanced naval weapon system in appearance.
“But are they really as good as they look? We really don’t know.”
The second ship in the planned class of ten — Changsha (hull number 173) — is currently undergoing sea trials, according to Chinese media.