The increasing cooperation between the South African Navy (SA Navy) and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) was demonstrated this past Monday when the 22nd Escort Task Group 576 arrived at Naval Base Simons Town.
Coinciding with the four day port call by the Escort Task Group is the visit by the Commander of the PLAN, Admiral Wu Shengli, to Simon’s Town on an invitation from the SA Navy.
Speaking at the arrival of the Escort Task Group, Rear Admiral Bubele Mhlana (Flag Officer Fleet, SA Navy) noted that the SA Navy had been looking forward to the opportunity for interaction with the Chinese Navy. “It is the Chief of the South African Navy’s wish that our navies (further our) interaction at sea,” he said.
In reply, Consul General Kang Yong of the Chinese Consulate in Cape Town said that the PLAN had come to Cape Town “to bring the friendship from the Chinese Navy to the South African Navy.”
The 22nd Escort Task Group 576, comprising Type 052 destroyer Qingdao (DDG 113), Type 054A frigate Daqing (FFG 576) and Type 903A replenishment ship Taihu (AOE 889), left the port of Qingdao in east China's Shandong Province on 6 December 2015 for the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia to take over from the 21st Fleet for anti-piracy escort missions.
Having completed its mission, the Escort Task Group, under the command of Rear Admiral Chen Qiangnan, departed Djibouti in the Horn of Africa for South Africa. Demonstrating the importance of South Africa to China, the Escort Task Group travelled 7 500km (4 050 nm) south to make Cape Town the first country visited by the Escort Task Group as part of its port visit mission.
Although this is the fourth time that Chinese Navy ships have visited South Africa, the two navies have yet to conduct exercises at sea. This, however, will change.
The Escort Task Group was met by SA Navy frigate SAS Amatola (F145) whilst just out of False Bay and escorted the Chinese vessels to Simon’s Town.
This meeting at sea, Mhlana said, “was the formal beginning of cooperation and collaboration between the South African Navy and the People’s Liberation Army Navy.”
Despite inviting the media to the arrival of the Escort Task Group, no PLAN officials were willing to speak to defenceWeb. However, the Chinese Consulate did say that the Escort Task Group will conduct a series of exchanges with South Africa Navy, including mutual visits, a deck reception and a football competition.
For China, Cape Town is important because “it is an important meeting point for international shipping routes.”
Following four days of interaction between the two navies, the Escort Task Group will depart Simon’s Town on Friday 20 May. It is then that the culmination of the Chinese visit will result in actual exercises at sea where the SA Navy will put their surface and sub-surface warfare capabilities to the test with the Escort Task Group.
These exercises will once again involve frigate SAS Amatola and a submarine, most probably SAS Manthatisi (S101).
“There is always an opportunity for both Navies to learn from one another when these kind of interactions happen,” Mhlana explained, “That also signifies the first exercise of that magnitude.”
The increased relationship between South Africa and China has resulted in more opportunities for cooperation between the two navies. It would appear that talks are being held for a biennial naval exercise between the two BRICS countries.
The Escort Task Group will visit Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, prior to arriving back in China.
The Daqing is a modern multi-role Type 054A frigate, having only been commissioned into the PLAN North Sea Fleet on 16 January 2015. With a length of 134 m and a displacement of 4 053 tonnes, the frigate is crewed by 165 personnel. Armament includes a PJ26 76 mm dual purpose gun, a 32-cell VLS HQ-16 SAM/anti-submarine rocket launcher, two 4 x C-803 anti-ship / land attack cruise missiles, ASW torpedo launchers and 30 mm Close-In Weapon Systems. Also on board for the 22nd Escort Task Group 576 is a Harbin Z-9C anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter. The Z-9 is a licensed variant of the French Airbus Helicopters (previously Eurocopter) AS365 Dauphin.
The Type 052 Luhu-class multi-role guided missile destroyer Qingdao is one of only two vessels in its class, having been commissioned into the PLAN North Sea Fleet on 28 May 1996. Crewed by 260 sailors, the 4 800 ton, 144m warship is equipped with a Type H/PJ33A dual 100 mm/56 dual purpose main gun, C-803 anti-ship missiles, an eight-cell HQ-7 SAM, two torpedo tubes, two 7-barrel 30 mm CIWS and ASW rocket launchers. Able to carry two Harbin Z-9 or Kamov Ka-27 helicopters, Qingdao carried a Harbin Z-9C maritime helicopter with a roof-mounted optical sight and capable of carrying pylon-mounted armament.
The 178.5m Qiandaohu-class replenishment ship Taihu is also a fairly recent vessel, having been commissioned into the PLAN North Sea Fleet on 18 June 2013.
Whilst in Simon’s Town, the visiting Chinese vessels will be open to the public on 18 May from 0900 to 1100. Shuttle buses will be available to transport visitors to the ships from Cole Point Gate (at the circle). No pedestrian access will be permitted.