China Modernizes Its Russian-Built Destroyers With New Weapons

China Modernizes Its Russian-Built Destroyers With New Weapons

The Sovremenny-class destroyers were built in the 1990s, and now they're receiving modern anti-ship and anti-air missiles.

Chinese naval modernization continues to draw attention. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) has made rapid progress building its own aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships, destroyers, and other vessels.

By some measurements, the PLA Navy is now larger than the U.S. Navy. The production of new Chinese warships has also been augmented by the modernization of older vessels. The Global Times, a Chinese state-backed newspaper, reported this week that the PLA Navy’s Sovremenny-class destroyers recently conducted exercises with new anti-ship missile systems. The Sovremenny-class destroyers were Soviet designs imported into China.

The Sovremenny-class destroyer Hangzhou recently conducted operations with eight new YJ-12 missiles that were added as part of an overhaul done between 2015 and 2019. The ship also featured thirty-two HQ-16 air defense missiles. Both systems replaced older designs from the Soviet era delivered by the Russian government when the ships were completed.

“Refitting the Sovremenny-class with China's domestically developed advanced weapons and equipment significantly enhances the ship's combat capability, as China's related technologies nowadays have far surpassed that of Russia's when the ships were delivered, a Chinese military expert told the Global Times on Sunday, requesting anonymity,” the newspaper said.

A separate Global Times article from last week described similar systems on the Fuzhou, another Sovremenny-class destroyer that China has modernized. The ship’s electronics were also upgraded.

“The modification of the vessel means all of its missiles are now domestically developed, Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military expert, told the Global Times on Wednesday,” the article said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy continues to upgrade its older Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The oldest Burke-class ships were commissioned more than thirty years ago, and the design continues to mature.

The continued Chinese upgrades are likely to concern the Department of Defense. U.S. Representative Rob Wittman (R-Va.) told the National Interest in an interview in 2021 that the progress of Chinese naval technology has become a focus in recent years.

“Fleet size considerations need to examine a combination of capacity and capability,” said Wittman, who is the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces. “So it’s two factors. It’s not only quantity, but its quality. You know, for years, we looked at the Chinese and said ‘they got quantity, but they don’t have quality.’ Well, let me tell you, the Chinese have quality now.”

Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Reuters.