Washington, Dec 12, 2023 – Recent satellite imagery revealed a significant assembly of Chinese naval vessels at the military port of Meiji Island, including a Type 052D, a Type 052C missile destroyer, and a Type 053H3 missile frigate. In addition, a Type 072-2 tank landing ship and at least three coast guard vessels are part of this nearly ten-strong naval and coast guard deployment.
Apart from the three coast guard ships, these combat vessels are the mainstay of the Chinese Navy, indicating readiness for a worst-case scenario, possibly signaling China’s intention to address the South China Sea island disputes more assertively.
Tensions in the South China Sea, particularly around the Ren’ai Reef, have been escalating, with the Philippines, allegedly emboldened by the United States, continuously challenging China’s sovereignty by deploying naval and coast guard ships near the Ren’ai and Huangyan Islands. Even high-ranking Philippine military officials have been spotted aboard transport ships, gradually provoking China’s sovereignty in the South China Sea.
Main Chinese Warships Gathered
The arrival of two main types of naval destroyers in the South China Sea suggests China’s robust military preparedness to counter provocations. Both the Type 052D and 052C are now visible in the satellite images.
The Type 052C, China’s pioneering missile destroyer, has significantly enhanced the Chinese Navy’s long-range and area defense capabilities. The first two units were deployed in the Southern Theater Navy, followed by four in the Eastern Theater Navy. The Type 052C’s arsenal includes 48 HHQ-9 long-range surface-to-air missiles and eight YJ-62 heavy anti-ship missiles, providing China with the foundational ability to operate in the high seas.
The Type 052D destroyers, successors to the Type 052C, were first received by the Southern Theater Navy in 2014. With over ten Type 052D destroyers in its fleet, the Southern Theater Navy has replaced the older destroyers in the South China Sea fleet. The Type 052D, featuring advanced radars and an increased vertical launch system capacity, possesses greater firepower compared to the Type 052C.
The Type 053H3 frigates, one of the most advanced second-generation missile frigates with balanced anti-submarine, anti-air, and anti-ship capabilities, have also been deployed in the South China Sea. This frigate class, although less than 2300 tons, boasts nearly comparable combat abilities to the 4800-ton Type 052 destroyers.
As the Chinese Navy introduced more advanced Type 052D destroyers and Type 054A frigates, the role of the Type 053H3 frigates has evolved, with some being sold overseas and others reassigned to naval frigate squadrons for patrol, surveillance, and confrontation missions in key areas like the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
Preparing for the Worst
In addition to these destroyers and frigates, a Type 072-2 tank landing ship, a pivotal vessel for troop transport in Taiwan Strait operations and potentially in the South China Sea, was also observed. The Type 072 family includes various models built in large numbers for both the Eastern and Southern Theater Navies. These ships are crucial for amphibious operations and, given their capability to transport a fully equipped marine company, play a significant role in the current standoff in the South China Sea islands.
Recently, the Philippines has been increasingly confrontational, challenging Chinese waters at both Ren’ai Reef and Huangyan Island with naval and coast guard vessels. Under the illusion of American backing, the Philippines seems to forget the lessons of the 2016 South China Sea arbitration, not realizing the potential consequences of escalating tensions with China.
As the situation unfolds, the deployment of China’s main naval forces in the South China Sea suggests a clear message of deterrence, showing the Chinese military’s complete readiness for any eventualities.