Sunday, 12 October, 2008

New Chinese Stealthy Fast Attack Craft

The Chinese navy has developed a new stealthy trimaran fast attack craft (FAC) design. It will probably grow into a larger more versatile platform, similar to the U.S. Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program. The use of advanced trimaran hull shows that the Chinese are able to incorporate advanced European and Australian fast ferry technology a bit faster than the U.S., as American programs to use these ships and this hull technology are only in the design and experiment stage. While the U.S. did use some Australian designed fast ferries in the 2003 Iraq invasion, the U.S. does not have ships coming off the lines, like the Chinese do. On one level, this new FAC is a Chinese program to replace old conventional hull designs, and to exceed the capabilities of Taiwan's new stealthy FAC design. The trimaran hull configuration confers greater high speed capability in heavy weather, while providing a large deck space for multiple uses.

This first ship appears to be focused on the FAC mission, and appears to be designed for the installation of anti-ship missile launchers amidship (in the middle of the ship). But we can safely expect that the Chinese will soon design and build larger models that can carry UAVs and small boats for landing commandoes, as the U.S. may soon be doing. The Chinese will probably already have its version of the digital connectivity which lies at the heart of the LCS program. So here we have an area of military technical competition in which the Chinese are demonstrating creativity and a potential ability to match the U.S. just as it is embarking on a new direction in naval warship and combat tactics modernization.

The new Chinese FAC design also demonstrates that the real naval threat from China is not aircraft carriers and large destroyers bought from Russia. No, the real threat is quiet diesel submarines and small ships like this new FAC. The real potential of this new design would be its use in co-ordination with their diesel subs and, possibly, theater ballistic missiles with precision guidance. A combination like that could enable the Chinese to deny the U.S. Navy the ability to safely move in some vital areas, such as the waters surrounding Taiwan.

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