Two vessels destined for Thailand and Pakistan while a third built to bolster PLA fleet. Chinese navy still needs to fill skill gap to make the most of its new equipment, analyst says

China launched three warships, including two for export, on Thursday, as it expands its naval construction strength.

The vessels – a 071E landing platform dock (LPD) and two Type 054 frigates – were launched at the Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding yard near Shanghai, according to the China Maritime Safety Administration and Chinese media.

The LPD was ordered by Thailand in Sept 2019, the first export contract for a ship of this class.

The vessel can be used to deploy helicopters and is expected to perform patrol missions, logistics tasks and disaster relief operations.

The Chiang Rai Times news site reported that Thailand would use the warship to conduct naval transport missions. It could also be used for civilian purposes, such as disaster relief and humanitarian rescue missions.

One of the frigates is among four such warships ordered by Pakistan in 2017 and 2018.

The Pakistan Navy variant is fitted with an SR2410C radar, a 3D multifunction electronically scanned array radar, and the country commissioned the first of the vessels in early November.

The Type 054A frigate is recognised as the backbone of the Chinese surface combatant fleet, with 30 in active service.

China has more than 20 yards supporting naval surface ship construction as well as dozens of commercial shipyards that exceed the largest US shipyards in size and throughput.

The facilities are central to the country’s military modernisation drive launched in 2015, with millions of dollars poured into the research and development of equipment.

Funding for the navy drove a shipbuilding frenzy and expanded China’s naval fleet.

According to the Pentagon’s “2020 China Military Power Report”, China has the biggest navy in the world with an overall battle force of about 350 surface ships and submarines, including over 130 major surface combatants. The US Navy’s battle force is 293 ships.

According to Chinese media reports, China has commissioned at least eight destroyers and six corvettes this year.

But bigger does not necessarily mean more powerful when it comes to battle fleets. For example, the US Navy has 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, while the People’s Liberation Army Navy has just two conventionally powered ones in active service.

Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator, said China needed more expertise and highly skilled personnel to safeguard the country’s expanding interests at home and abroad.

“A big challenge for the Chinese navy in fulfilling these responsibilities is a lack of naval talent,” Song said.

“The Chinese navy has to train more personnel who are capable of long-distance deep water missions. It takes highly skilled service personnel to make the most of the warships and advanced weapons.”