Stealth Ship Launches Amid Broader Military Advance

While China’s cyber warfare and espionage capabilities unwillingly hog the limelight, its conventional military forces continue to modernize and rebalance. In one of several recent developments on this front, the PLA Navy took delivery of the first of a new class of stealth frigates on Sunday, boosting the country’s capacity to wage war or rattle sabers in the South and East China Seas. From Henry Sanderson at Bloomberg News:

The frigate, delivered in Shanghai yesterday, has stealth capabilities, will be responsible for patrol escort, and can carry out anti-submarine warfare, the PLA Daily said. Admiral Wu Shengli, a member of the , attended the ceremony.

The frigate’s delivery is part of a wider military advance that’s seen China commission its first carrier and enhance its jet-fighter program. It comes after Chinese and Japanese vessels have tailed each other for months around the islands, raising tensions and straining a $340 billion trade relationship.

[…] China’s defense spending, the second highest in the world after the U.S., was set to grow 11.2 percent to 670 billion yuan ($106.4 billion) in 2012. The country will announce its 2013 figure just before the annual meeting of its legislature begins next week.

Elsewhere, the aircraft carrier Liaoning docked in its new home port of Qingdao this week, while the recent revelation that China contemplated a drone strike against wanted drug lord Naw Kham in Myanmar underlined the progress of its UAV and Beidou satellite navigation programs. Less glamorous but equally significant is the expansion of China’s sea and air military transport capacity. At Reuters, David Lague describes recent steps in this direction, and their strategic implications:

These transport workhorses are unlikely to arouse the same regional unease as the steady rollout of high performance fighters, long-range missiles or potent warships, but they are a crucial element of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) three-decade military build-up, defense analysts say.

Over time, the air and sea support will give the world’s second-largest greater geographical reach and will enhance the PLA’s capacity to assist troops on distant battlefields, potentially including Taiwan if Beijing were to launch a military assault to take control of the self-governing island.

China’s state-owned shipyards last year launched two 23,000-tonne type 903 replenishment ships, according to reports and photographs published on Chinese military affairs websites and blogs, with further orders in the pipeline.

[…] China also confirmed last month that the PLA had conducted the first test flight of its Y-20 heavy lift aircraft from the Yanliang airbase near Xi’an in Shaanxi Province.

See more on the Y-20′s first flight via CDT.