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It is not known which Chinese warships have the new generators installed, but state media suggested they could be used on the Type 055 destroyer. Photo: Reuters

China adds turbo generators to warships to power high-energy weapons, state media says

  • Its developer says the 20-megawatt units went into service ‘recently’ but does not specify which ships now have them installed
  • They will quadruple power-generating capacity on the vessels, making full electric propulsion possible

China has equipped its warships with advanced generators to power high-energy weapons like lasers and rail guns, according to state media.

Work on the 20-megawatt turbo generators was finished in 2018, and they went into service “recently”, according to their developer, the 704 research institute of the China State Shipbuilding Corporation.

Announcing the move on its WeChat account, the institute did not say which ships now had the generators installed, but it is believed they will be used to power the navy’s most advanced destroyers, such as the Type 055 guided-missile destroyer.

They will quadruple the power-generating capacity on the warships, making full electric propulsion possible. The generators will also be used for electromagnetic rail guns that can fire high-speed projectiles and laser weapons.

Li Jie, a naval expert in Beijing, said the turbo generators were crucial for the warships. “A powerful generator will mean all these high-energy-consuming systems can operate,” Li said.


The growth of Chinese military power over the past four decades

The growth of Chinese military power over the past four decades

Chinese scientists have made significant progress on an advanced integrated electric propulsion (IEP) system providing full electric power for the navy’s warships.

Compared to diesel or combustion turbine engines, or a hybrid system, full electric propulsion can save on fuel, increase response time and improve manoeuvrability. And with the integration of high-energy weapon systems, it will also strengthen the ship’s combat capability.

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But until now, the technological bottleneck has been the generator needed to support the IEP system with a strong and stable power supply, the institute said, adding that the new turbo generator unit “laid the foundation” for the propulsion system.

At present, only the US Navy and Britain’s Royal Navy have destroyers that are fully powered, or close to fully powered, by electricity.

The US Zumwalt-class destroyers have two 36MW generators, while Britain’s Type 45 destroyers are powered by two 21.5MW generators with two additional 2MW diesel units.


First made-in-China aircraft carrier, the Shandong, enters service

First made-in-China aircraft carrier, the Shandong, enters service

With three or four of China’s new turbo generators installed, the Type 055 destroyer would be able to support a top speed of over 30 knots, in addition to powering weapons like rail guns, state tabloid Global Times reported on Wednesday.

In 2018, photographs on Chinese military websites showed the People’s Liberation Army apparently testing the world’s first ship-mounted rail gun. Military experts said the weapon had the potential to fire shells with enough force to destroy a warship.
The turbo generator could also be used for China’s aircraft carriers. Without an adequate power supply, electromagnetic catapults are not feasible – only the nuclear-powered US Gerald Ford-class aircraft carrier currently has such a launch system to propel planes off the deck.

China’s third aircraft carrier, which is being built in Shanghai, is believed to have a conventional power system, but sources close to the PLA said the navy was keen for it to use an electromagnetic aircraft launch system.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Turbo generators installed on warships