The Chinese Type 053H frigate, Jiujiang, is an absolutely fascinating vessel for multiple reasons but the main reason is that the vessel was converted to a multiple launch rocket (MLR) fire support ship.
As a bit of background, the class was built in the 1970’s-1990’s and traces its lineage back to the Russian Riga class frigates. The vessels are around 330 ft long with a displacement of around 2000 tons. Jiujiang was launched and joined the Chinese fleet in 1975 as a surface warfare frigate before being converted into a fire support ship in 2002.
The fire support modification consisted of 5x50-tube 122 mm (~5”) rocket launchers for a total of 250 rockets. The rockets had a range of 20-30 km. In addition, the ship retained its two dual 100 mm (~4”) guns.
That’s right, while the US Navy has abandoned fire support or offered an ill-conceived and now impotent Zumwalt and dithered about the possibility of mounting MLRS launchers on ships, the Chinese went ahead and did it. This illustrates a few things:
- The Chinese recognize the need for ship based fire support.
- The Chinese are willing to construct/modify one-off prototypes to test and evaluate concepts. While the US Navy has floundered around and largely ignored the issue of fire support, the Chinese built a fire support frigate, evaluated it, and are now retiring it.
- The Chinese are willing to put older ships to use as test platforms. Contrast this use of older vessels with the US Navy’s tendency to EARLY retire completely usable ships.
- The Chinese were able to mount a LOT of
firepower on a small, cheap vessel.
Contrast this with the
insistence on making every vessel big, expensive, and do-everything. Also, contrast this vessel and its firepower density with the LCS’ near total lack of combat firepower. US
- The Chinese are far more open and nimble than the US Navy in terms of willingness to embrace change and the speed with which they build and experiment.
One cannot help but acknowledge that the Chinese are putting us to shame when it comes to prototyping, variety of designs, firepower density, speed of construction, and rate of technological advancement of their navy. At this rate, we’re going to have to start hacking them to get their technology and designs!
We should also note that mounting rocket launchers on ships is hardly new. The US Navy did it extensively in WWII, for example, but seems to have completely forgotten that capability just as they’ve abandoned fire support altogether. If you’re interested, do an Internet search for LSM(R) to see what kind of rocket fire support vessels the
used in WWII. US
Check out these photos from China Defense Blog (1)
|Fire Support Frigate Jiujiang - Note The Five Launchers On A Frigate Sized Ship|
|Launcher Close Up|
The US Navy needs to look to the past while developing for the future and be more willing to construct one-off prototypes. Older ships can be used for development purposes instead of being retired and sunk, scrapped, or sold. The Navy and Marines need to continue to address naval fire support especially since the Zumwalt turned out to be a hideously expensive total failure. We can learn a lot from the Chinese about how to develop a Navy!
(1)China Defense Blog, “PLAN decommission of the day: FFG516 "Jiujiang"
's only MLR fire-support frigate” China 16-May-2017,