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Sunday, April 14, 2024

China Rolls Out Bigger Frigates and New Helicopter Engine, Signaling Growing Naval Power

China’s long-term military modernization efforts are bearing fruit, with a string of upgrades for its warships and warplanes underway amid intensifying tensions in the Indo-Pacific, particularly the Taiwan Strait. Amid a row over Beijing’s new standard map, which includes Taiwan as part of China, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is rolling out a bigger version of its flagship frigate and upgrading an existing stealth fighter to fly supersonically without using fuel-guzzling afterburners. Meanwhile, Chinese designers are working on a heavy-lift helicopter with a smaller takeoff weight than the US Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion.

At a helicopter expo in Tianjin last week, the state-owned Aero Engine Corporation of China (AECC) showcased a 1,100-kilowatt turboshaft engine independently developed for medium- and heavyweight utility helicopters. With an integrated multifunctional sand filter device and a health management system, the high-powered engine is said to have world-leading performance in component efficiency, environmental adaptability, longevity, and reliability. The AECC engine can power utility helicopters with a takeoff weight of five to six tons, demonstrating a significant advancement in China’s aviation technology.

The Mogami-class frigate dubbed the Type 054B, has been fitted with an active electronically-phased array radar, which can detect air targets and guide missiles to them. According to Global Security, the ship is also armed with a 76 mm naval gun, eight YJ-83 anti-ship missiles, 32 VLS HHQ-16 surface-to-air missiles, and Yu-8 long-range torpedoes. The Type 054B can also deploy a towed sonar array and variable depth sonar to search for submarines.

China is also upgrading its Z-20 helicopter, the Navy’s leading transport and surveillance aircraft. It is set to be equipped with a new power plant, giving it more range and speed, while its avionics will be upgraded to allow it to use GPS/Beidou signals to identify friendly aircraft and land. It will also be able to carry more cargo, which is a necessity for humanitarian relief work in remote areas. The aircraft, which is expected to enter service in 2022, is already in production at a factory in Changchun. Hong Kong’s Government Flying Service has received three new variants configured for medical evacuation and law enforcement missions.

A third project is the development of a shipborne multirole helicopter. The Chinese Navy will need around 600 new Airbus Helicopters, H135s, configured for maritime patrol, medical evacuation, and oil-and-gas exploration. Foreign customers, including the Australian government and energy firm Woodside, are also evaluating the upcoming helicopter. The Navy’s current primary multirole helicopter, the AW101, is powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and has a top speed of around 340 km/h. The new model will be equipped with the Pratt & Whitney PT6C-30A engines, which have greater thrust and a higher altitude ceiling than their predecessors. It will also feature a more powerful anti-submarine torpedo system and an improved search radar.

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