23 February 2017
The China Shipbuilding Trading Corporation (CSSC) showcased its next-generation trimaran-hull frigate and the S26 air-independent propulsion (AIP) submarine (SSP) at the 2017 International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX), which is concluding in Abu Dhabi.
The S26 SSP appears to be the AIP-equipped variant of the S20 diesel-electric submarine (SSK), which CSSC has been marketing for export since 2013.
Although the S20 SSK was not offered with AIP by default, a customer could opt for it separately. It was not clear if CSSC was offering an AIP of its own or if the end-user would have to acquire it separately. With the S26, CSSC is offering its Stirling AIP system (IHS Jane’s).
In comparison to the S20 SSK, the S26 SSP has a heavier displacement (2,660-ton vs. 2,200-ton), is longer (79.5 meters vs. 66 meters) and slower at top speed (18 knots vs. 20 knots). However, CSSC did reveal the S26’s maximum diving depth and surface range at 300 meters and 14,816 km, respectively.
In January, Thailand allocated funds for three S26T SSPs. In 2016, Pakistan confirmed an order of eight SSPs, the first of which is scheduled to arrive in 2022 – these are almost certainly S26s as well. Like the S20, the S26 is equipped with six torpedo tubes, each capable of deploying heavyweight torpedoes and anti-ship missiles (AShM) (such as the 290-km range CM-708UNB).
Alongside the S-26, CSSC also unveiled its new trimaran-hull multi-mission frigate. While lighter than the Type 054A (2,450 tons vs. 4,000 tons), the trimaran-hull frigate is a multi-mission system. It is armed with a 76-mm main gun, vertical launch system cells for up to 32 surface-to-air missiles, and dual quad-cell AShM, and close-in-weapon-system guns. It is not clear if it is armed for anti-submarine warfare (ASW).
Powered by MTU diesel engines (feeding three waterjets), the trimaran-hull frigate can reach a top speed of 30-35 knots, which is relatively fast for a large frigate (rivaling the top speed of the Azmat-class fast attack craft). Although CSSC is offering the frigate for export, it must be noted that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is reportedly buying the design as well. The scale should result in competitive pricing.
Notes & Comments:
CSSC’s products demonstrate that China’s naval development and shipbuilding industry is progressing at a relatively brisk rate. The burgeoning domestic scale provided by the PLAN enable CSSC to scale its design and manufacturing work, enabling the company to provide competitively priced and capable solutions.
The speed-optimized trimaran-hull frigate should be an interesting solution for navies, especially in the developing world, striving to build surface fleets for protecting their sea-lanes and for anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) missions. If viewed in the context of China’s supersonic AShM, such as the CX-1 and CM-302, the trimaran-hull frigate could be an enticing option for many countries in Asia, Africa and potentially even Latin America.