PLA navy is boosted with new radar

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 12:00am

The latest destroyer is equipped with an air detection and targeting system which matches the US' coveted Aegis

The Chinese navy is equipping its latest destroyers with radar that has a similar capability to the US Aegis system, despite American efforts to stop the spread of the advanced technology.

The development will allow the People's Liberation Army navy to simultaneously detect and track airborne targets, making US aircraft carriers less of a threat in the event of a war with Taiwan.

The addition of the radar, and a vertical launch system that allows rapid firing of missiles, to the Type 052C destroyers, marks a significant advance in capability for the PLA navy. It is also an irritating development for Taiwan, which has been trying for years to buy Aegis technology from the US.

The navy's achievement in developing and building an advanced warship on its own is significant, experts said, adding the quality gap with the US navy had narrowed slightly. Until now, the Chinese navy has had to make do with imported Soviet-era designs and some outdated ships developed locally.

Photographs have been posted on mainland Internet sites showing a Type 052C destroyer, with hull number 170, being fitted with the phased-array radar system in a Shanghai shipyard. The photographs have been authenticated by US, Taiwanese and Hong Kong military experts.

'The pictures do seem to show a superstructure being constructed to accommodate this [Aegis] type of system,' said Bernard Cole, professor at the US National Defence University in Washington. He said the radar would be a significant step towards increasing China's shipboard anti-aircraft warfare capability.

'The strong point in an Aegis-type anti-aircraft warfare radar system is that it is 'track while scan', said Professor Cole. 'That means that the same radar system can at the same time detect and track air targets.''

Ma Ding-shing, a Hong Kong-based military expert, said conventional radar systems collected data from a spinning antenna, while Aegis got it from all four sides simultaneously, via fixed, phased-array antennas embedded on a forward superstructure. The Number 170 was launched late last month. The second ship - Number 171 - is still being built in the Jiangnan Shipyard. They will be the most powerful warships in the PLA fleet.

According to Professor Cole, Russia may be helping China develop the system. Russia has been a major supplier of arms and military technology to China. In the 1999 Cox Report, which detailed Chinese espionage in the US, China was accused of attempting to use front companies to acquire restricted military technology, including the Aegis combat system.

Mr Ma said the superstructure of 170 appeared to have other characteristics of modern warships, including a stealth design, making it harder to detect on radar.

Taiwan-based PLA expert Andrew

Nien-dzu said the Chinese antenna appeared to have been customised, being oval in shape compared with the square antenna used by the US.

Professor Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei, said the radar and vertical-launch systems would make the Chinese navy more of a deterrent to the US.

Taiwan has asked the US to supply its navy with Aegis-equipped ships. The US has not made a final decision on the request.