China’s PLA Navy (PLAN) commissioned its first Type 056 corvette, Bengbu (FFG 582) at a ceremony in Shanghai on Feb. 25, 2013, which was attended by Adm. Wu Shengli, head of the PLAN.
The ship was built by the Hudong Zhongua Shipbuilding Group and delivered to the PLAN on Feb. 24. According to the PLA, the ship was launched on May 23, 2012 and commenced sea trials in November 2012. It is likely to serve with the PLAN’s East Sea Fleet.
The Type 056 program first came to light in November 2010 when a model of the ship was presented by the deputy commander of the Hong Kong garrison to the vice chancellor of Hong Kong University. According to the official PLA Daily magazine, the new generation “stealth frigate” is about to be put into service on a large scale.
The Type 056 program is characterized by a rapid build rate. Since the Bengbu was first seen on the Chinese internet in May 2012, no less than 12 hulls have been identified at four shipyards – Wuchan, Huangpu, Hudong-Zhongua and Liaonan. The tenth hull was also launched from Hudong on Feb. 25, 2013.
Another eight hulls are on order, according to Chinese sources. In fact, total numbers are likely to reach 40 hulls. It is understood that these corvettes are to eventually replace the Type 037 large missile-armed patrol craft and the Type 053 Jianghu class frigate.
Several of the earlier Type 056 hulls underwent structural modifications after entering the water, presumably to improve the radar cross section (RCS) and seakeeping, and to reduce deck wetness. Visible modifications include a revised bulwarks arrangement, a revised funnel, and smaller windows by the stern, as well as a modified pilothouse on some hulls.
The Type 056 is around 90 meters long, with a beam of 10 meters, a draft of 4 meters, and a displacement of 1300-1500 tons. Clearly, there’s a strong resemblance to Damen Schelde’s SIGMA 9113 design – four of which were built for the Indonesian Navy. The PLA Daily report says that crew size is one-third the size of a Type 053 frigate – possibly around 60 personnel.
With a view toward reducing signatures, the ship’s boats are housed in enclosed spaces covered by panels or curtains. The ship is powered by what appears to be two diesels driving two shafts for an estimated top speed of 28+ knots. Range is thought to be 2,000 nautical miles at 18 knots.
Gun armament comprises a 76mm automatic cannon, and two small caliber remotely operated cannon with an integral EO director that are mounted just aft of the pilothouse. These guns look like a cross between Rheinmettall’s MLG 27 and BAE’s Mk. 38 Mod 2. The main strike weapon is reportedly the YJ-83 (C-802A) surface to surface missile, with a range of up to 180 kilometers – four of which are mounted amidships in two twin launchers. An 8-round HQ-10 surface to air missile launcher for the FL-3000N missile, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the SeaRAM launcher, is mounted atop the hangar-like structure. The anti-submarine warfare (ASW) suite comprises a bow-mounted sonar as well as two triple torpedo tubes housed in two small hangar-like structures. It is not clear if a towed array sonar system is fitted. Two 9-tube decoy launchers are mounted amidships beside the large single funnel structure housing two stacks for the diesels.
Key sensors include a mast mounted Type 360 series search radar, two navigational/surface search radars mounted on yardarms on either side of the foremast, and two SVA-Kaige radars – one forward on the foremast, one mounted aft on a stubby mainmast aft of the funnel. Fire control is provided by a radar with a cassegrain antenna – most likely the Type 347G – as well as an electro-optical (EO) director – possibly the OFC-3. An additional EO system – in a rectangular housing – is fitted atop the pilothouse.
Visible electronic warfare (EW) antennae include two sets of receivers or jammers on stubby pole-masts fitted onto short yardarms as well as what could be two direction finding (DF) antennae on the stubby mainmast. Two prominent SATCOM antennae are also located atop the hangar structure.
While the Type 056 can stage a Z-9 class helicopter, there is no organic stowage capability. The PLA Daily says the ship will be deployed primarily for escort missions and ASW operations. Crucially, the PLA Daily also notes that the induction of this ship marks the beginning of a large-scale force modernization.
Besides the PLAN, two of these corvettes have been ordered by the Bangladesh Navy. The ceremonial steel cutting for these warships took place in January 2013 at Wuchan Shipyard in Wuhan.