A Chinese naval flotilla on its way home from the North Atlantic called in to Cape Town on Friday 1 September for a brief, three-day visit.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) task force comprises the Type 052D destroyer Hefei (DDG-174), Type 054A frigate Yuncheng (571) and Type 903A replenishment ship Luomahu (964). They conducted live-firing drills involving the ship’s deck guns and small arms in the Mediterranean Sea in mid-July whilst en route to partake in “Joint Sea 2017”exercises with the Russian navy in waters off the Russian cities of St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad.
Whilst “Joint Sea” serials have taken place in the Pacific Ocean and the Black and Mediterranean seas before, this was the first time the exercise had taken place in the Baltic.
At the same time that the Chinese naval flotilla was exercising with the Russian navy, China was demonstrating their increased activity in the oceans and seas of the world by having another task group, comprising the Type 052C guided-missile destroyer Changchun, the Type 054A guided-missile frigate Jingzhou and the Type 903A oiler Chao Hu also in the Mediterranean Sea, this time conducting exercises with the Italian Navy.
Then, in early August, the destroyer Haikou, frigate Yueyang and the Fusu-class replenishment ship Qinghai Hu, constituting the PLAN’s 27th naval escort flotilla, departed southern China for the Indian Ocean as part of China’s contribution to the international counter-piracy campaign off Somalia.
A further three navy ships (the guided missile destroyer Chang Chun, a guided missile frigate Jing Zhou and replenishment ship Chao Hu) are presently in the Maldives on a mission that will see them visit 23 countries for maritime training.
It would appear that the Chinese wanted to keep the task force visit to Cape Town low key, as numerous requests to the Chinese embassy went unanswered and the South African Navy (SAN) was requested to keep the media away. No formal drills with the SAN are expected, besides the traditional social interaction and deck receptions between visitor and host nation. Due to their berthing location within Duncan Docks at Table Bay Harbour, they will not be open to visitors.
This is in stark contrast to the last time a PLAN task force visited Cape Town. In May 2016, 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), arrived in Naval Base Simons Town to much fanfare, with special shuttles laid on to ferry the public to the ships for tours.
The flotilla was scheduled to depart Table Bay Harbour at 1700 on Sunday 3 September.
The 052D Kunming class is the latest generation of guided-missile destroyer (DDG) of the Chinese Navy and is comparable to the American Arleigh Burke class general-purpose destroyers. Hefei was launched at the Jiangnan-Changxing naval shipyard on July 2nd 2013 and commissioned into the PLAN South Sea Fleeton 12 December 2015. Crewed by 280 sailors, the 7,500 ton, 156 metre long warship is equipped with two 32-cell for surface-to-air, cruise, anti-ship and anti-submarine missiles. Other weapons include a single 130 mm main gun, an HHQ-10 launcher with short-range air defence missiles and a 30 mm Close-In Weapon System (CIWS). For anti-submarine warfare there are torpedo tubes and anti-submarine rocket launchers.The Type 052D class has a hangar for a single helicopter.
The Yunchengis a multi-role Type 054A frigate, commissioned in January 2010. With a length of 134 metres 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. A Harbin Z-9C anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter (a licensed variant of the French Airbus Helicopters AS365 Dauphin) is normally carried aboard.
The 179 metre long Type 903A replenishment ship Luomahu is a Fuchi II class of new large comprehensive supply ships, having only been commissioned into the PLAN on 15 July 2016. A flight deck allows operation of a single helicopter and the ship is equipped with two naval guns at the bow. The Type 903A ships were designed to be integration into a maritime task force to carry out underway and mooring replenishment, as well as to perform long-distance navigation tasks, for destroyers and frigates.