Under a December 1996 agreement China purchased two Russian Sovremenny-class destroyers, each equipped with eight supersonic 3M-80E Moskit SS-N-22 SUNBURN (75/155nm range sea-skimming) and two SA-N-7 launchers. The Sovremenny class was constructed primarily for surface action operations, China will receive 50 Moskit missiles for the destroyers by mid-2000. The displacement of this class exceeds that of any other Chinese surface warship by roughly at least 50%, indicative of the overall improvement in combat potential. The steam turbine used in the main engine of this class is suitable for extended high-speed voyages, and this class has very high endurance, three times China's Luda class and twice the Luhu class.
Despite having less ASW capability than the Russian Udaloy-class, and less strike capability than the Slava-class, the Sovremenny-class provides China with a balanced platform that vastly exceeds the capabilities of domestic designs. The Luhu destroyer is the first Chinese naval system of indigenous design even approaching modern standards. But the decision to buy Sovremenny-class destroyers from Russia to accomplish the same functions is indicative of the problems confronting Chinese weapons designers.
Historically the biggest weakness of Chinese destroyers and frigates has been their inadequate of ship-to-air missiles. Each large destroyer of the Sovremenny-class has two ship-to-air missile launchers, equipped with 48 SA-N-7 "Gadfly" 9M38) or SA-N-17 "Grizzly" (9M38M2) semiactive radar-guidance intermediate-range air defense missiles. The SA-N-7 Gadfly is similar to the US Standard ship-to-air missiles and is considered one of the world's most effective intermediate-range ship-to-air missiles today. The SA-N-17 Grizzly air defense missile is an improved version of the SA-N-7 Gadfly with more advanced performance. On the other hand, these ship-to-air missiles with a firing range of 25 km only serve to protect the fleet from air raids and to provide air defense cover when landing on islands. There is no capability of screening in-depth landing operations, still less of penetrating the fighter/strike plane attack zones in the coastal waters of an adversary.
Although the ships are equipped with self-defense antisubmarine weapons such as torpedoes and helicopters, the design does not ppace much emphasis on its antisubmarine capability. They are not equipped with the large and expensive towed sonar array and antisubmarine missile system that are commonly found on US and Japanese warships.
Construction of these two ships for the Russian navy had been suspended in 1995, with the one ship about two-thirds complete, and the other about one-third complete. As of August 1999 the two Sovremenyy-class destroyers ordered by China had been launched and were expected to enter PLA-Navy service by 2002. The first Sovremenyy-class destroyer completed fitting out at Severnaya and sailed to China in early 2000, and was expected to enter commission at the end of 2000. The second Sovremenny-class guided-missile destroyer, the Fu Zhou, cruised through the Taiwan Strait in mid-January 2001 on its way to the naval base in Qingdao in northeast China.
News reports in Taiwan suggested that a total of four Sovremenny destroyers will be purchased by China, with the two additional ships of this class to be withdrawn from units in service with the Russian Northern Fleet. Negotiations continued for the purchase of two more units, which would be refurbished former Russian Northern Fleet ships. A decision on these additional units was delayed due to Russian unwillingness to include an additional Ka-28 helicopter in the purchase price originally offered. The PLA-N may also have wished to put off deciding on acquiring further units of the class until it has had an opportunity to evaluate the ships in operational service.
The Russian-built destroyers will enhance the PLAN's surface fleet endurance for extended operations within the region and around Taiwan. In March 1998 Taiwan announced its intention to acquire four Aegis-class frigates in reaction to Beijing's purchase of the Sovremenny -class ships. Subsequently, Taiwan acquired four Kidd-class destroyers.
In January 2002 it was announced that Russia and China had signed a $1.4 billion contract for two modified Sovremenny-class destroyers. The two new 956ME vessels were due for delivery in four years and would include upgrades relative to the first pair delivered to China. Each new warship would carry one dedicated helicopter. In a surprise decision, St. Petersburg-based Baltiisky Zavod was initially named the winner of competition, beating out two other bidders in the tender, Severnaya Verf in St. Petersburg, which had been tipped to win, and Kaliningrad's Yantar plant. By October 2002 a dispute between Baltiisky Zavod and Severnaya Verf threatened to delay delivery of the two state-of-the-art destroyers. Ultimately, the contract for the warship was awared to the Severnaya Verf shipyards in St. Petersburg. Government sources reportedly estimated the value of the deal as over $1 billion. Other sources suggested that the contract could be worth as much as $1.5 billion, including weapons.
Jane's Defence Weekly reported on May 12, 2004 that the first of two modified Sovremenny-class destroyers being built for the PLAN by Russia was launched on 27 April 2004 [other reports give the launch date as 06 May 2004]. The ships were constructed at Severnaya Verf Shipyard, and were due to be handed over to the PLAN in late 2005. Both ships are of the Project 956EM design and include an aft AK-130 twin 130mm gun mounting, the Kashtan inner-layer defense system instead of the AK-630M. The 965EM also carries an improved version of the Moskit missile.
China took delivery of the third Sovremenny destroyer at the end of 2005. The second hull -- 139 Ningbo -- was launched in July 2004 but the delivery was postponed due to an accidental fire onboard the ship in April 2005. China took delivery of the fourth Sovremenny- class destroyer acquired from Russia in August 2006, and it passed through the Taiwan Strait in late August 2006.
China also reportedly holds the option to order another two Project 956EM destroyers in the future. The Buliny [Buynyy?] Project 956U improved Sovremenny remains incomplete. The Rastoropny Project 956 was put in refit in November 2000 for possible sale to China, but by 2004 was derelict at Severnaya Wharf, St. Petersburg [by 2007 the ship was in mid-life repairs at the Northern Shipyard]
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