Dry Dock in Chinese Aircraft Carrier Repair Complex Suffers Fire, Satellite Photos Show

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy’s new dry dock appears to have suffered damage from a fire, according to satellite imagery provided to USNI News by Maxar Technologies. Signs of fire damage are visible at the new dry dock in Sanya on Hainan Island, according to satellite imagery. The dry dock is specially designed for […]

H I Sutton Illustration for USNI News Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies Used with Permission

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy’s new dry dock appears to have suffered damage from a fire, according to satellite imagery provided to USNI News by Maxar Technologies.

Signs of fire damage are visible at the new dry dock in Sanya on Hainan Island, according to satellite imagery. The dry dock is specially designed for China’s aircraft carriers.

Soot covers two ships, which were recently sailed into the smaller of the two docks at the facility. It is one of the first times that the facility has been used.

Another vessel in the dry dock does not appear to have been burned, Damien Symon, an independent defense analyst who has been following the construction of this facility, told USNI News.

“The undamaged small passenger ferry in the dock shows that the black deposits are from a fire,” Symon said. “If it was sediment carried in when the dock was flooded, it would extend throughout the dock.”

Dry docks are strategic assets, allowing the growing Chinese Navy to better maintain its warships. This site has been under construction for years and was first reported in 2020. It has only finished recently and may not be fully operational yet.

The facility is close to the home berth of one of the Chinese aircraft carriers, Shandong (CV-17). The larger of the two docks at the site is large enough to accommodate that carrier or the larger Type-003 Fujian-class that is currently under construction. The smaller dock, where the fire occurred, can accommodate warships, which may include destroyers, submarines and even amphibious warfare ships.

H I Sutton Image

There are several other surface warships piers and two submarine bases nearby. One of these is Yulin, where the majority of China’s ballistic missile submarines are based. The other is for diesel-electric boats. There is also a new research program for China’s answer to the U.S. Navy’s extra-large uncrewed underwater vehicles (XLUUV).

The vessels affected by the fire appear to be two PLAN tugs, according to the satellite images. The full extent of the damage is difficult to gauge in satellite imagery, but the smoke damage seems extensive and both ships are heavily blackened.

The incident does not appear to have been reported in local media, which is not unusual in China, where censorship is heavy.

China Launches Third Aircraft Carrier as U.S. Wraps Major Pacific Exercise

China launched its third aircraft carrier on Friday, as the United States wrapped up its Valiant Shield 2022 exercise. Meanwhile, Chinese and Russian ships have been operating around Japanese waters this week, the Japan Ministry of Defense said in news releases. On Friday morning, China launched its third aircraft carrier, named Fujian (18), carrying hull […]

People’s Liberation Army Navy aircraft carrier Fujian on June 17, 2022. Xinhua Photo

China launched its third aircraft carrier on Friday, as the United States wrapped up its Valiant Shield 2022 exercise.

Meanwhile, Chinese and Russian ships have been operating around Japanese waters this week, the Japan Ministry of Defense said in news releases.

On Friday morning, China launched its third aircraft carrier, named Fujian (18), carrying hull number 18, at Jiangnan Shipyard of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation in Shanghai, reported the People’s Liberation Army’s official media channel, China Military Online.

The 80,000-ton carrier is China’s first flat deck carrier and uses Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS)-powered catapults to launch its aircraft, in contrast to the ski jump of its other two carriers. The EMALS system can launch heavier aircraft, such as the J-35 fighter and airborne early warning aircraft, to operate off its flight deck.

Fujian is named after the closest Chinese province to Taiwan, which lies east of the province and is separated by the Taiwan Strait. China has been steadily building its carrier capabilities, with carrier CNS Liaoning (16) conducting an extensive training period in May that lasted more than two weeks in the Pacific Ocean. Fujian, once fully operational, with its greater capacity and capabilities, will further enhance the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) power capabilities and allow the PLAN to field a total of three carrier strike groups, matching the normal two to three U.S. CSG presence in the Asia Pacific. The PLAN is expected to build additional carriers for service as well.

Meanwhile, Japan’s Joint Staff Office (JSO) of the Ministry of Defense announced on Tuesday that two PLAN destroyers, along with a replenishment ship, were sighted 200 kilometers west of Fukue Island, Nagasaki Prefecture at noon on Monday at noon. Hull numbers and images in the release correspond to destroyers CNS Lhasa (102) and CNS Chengdu (120) and replenishment ship CNS Dongpinghu (902). The three ships then proceeded northeast, through the Tsushima Strait, and sailed into the Sea of Japan. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) multipurpose support ship JS Amakusa (AMS-4303), fast attack crafts JS Hayabusa (PG-824) and JS Shirataka (PG-829), along with a JMSDF P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) from Fleet Air Wing 4 based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, monitored the passage of the PLAN ships, according to the release.

Dongpinghu, together with a Dongdiao-class surveillance ship carrying the hull number 794, were sighted sailing northeast in the waters about 130 kilometers south-west of Tappizaki, Aomori Prefecture at 9 a.m. on Thursday, a JSO release said. The two ships subsequently sailed through the Tsugaru Strait and were the same ones sighted earlier on Monday and Sunday respectively, the release added. JMSDF multipurpose support ship JS Suo (AMS-4302) and a JMSDF P-3C Orion MPA from Fleet Air Wing 2 based at JMSDF Hachinohe Air Base monitored the PLAN ships.

The JSO issued a second news release on Thursday that said seven Russian Navy ships were sighted 280 kilometers southeast of Cape Nedelin (Hokkaido) at noon on Wednesday. The Japanese government identified the ships by hull numbers and class types corresponding to destroyers RFS Marshal Shaposhnikov (543) and RFS Admiral Panteleyev (548); corvettes RFS Sovershennyy (333), RFS Gromkiy (335), RFS Gremyashchiy (337); RFS Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov (339) and missile range instrumentation ship RFS Marshal Krylov. The ships were then 180 kilometers southeast of Inubosaki, Chiba Prefecture at 9 a.m. on Thursday. JMSDF destroyers JS Yudachi (DD-103) and JS Kongo (DDG-173) monitored the Russian ships, the news release said.

The Russian ships are all assigned to the Russian Pacific Fleet and the Russian Ministry of Defense has previously announced that the Russian Pacific Fleet would conduct a large-scale exercise, starting June 3, involving more than 40 ships and about 20 aircraft in the Pacific Ocean and the waters around the Kuril Islands.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces on Friday completed the 12-day Valiant Shield 2022 exercise, which included joint operations across the sea, land, air and cyber domains sea, according to a Defense Department news release. The biennial exercise included drills throughout the Joint Region Marianas in Guam, with some parts of the exercise happening on the Northern Mariana Islands.

“This exercise was the perfect opportunity to conduct integrated deterrence, which was the cornerstone of our approach,” Rear Adm. Robb Chadwick, the Valiant Shield 22 Joint Exercise Control Group Director, said in the news release. “We combined our efforts across all warfighting domains and the spectrum of conflict to ensure that the United States, alongside our allies and partners, could dissuade or defeat aggression in any form or domain.”

An F-35B Lightning II aircraft assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, sits aboard amphibious assault carrier USS Tripoli (LHA-7) on June 10, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan carrier strike groups, along with amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LHA-7) participating in Valiant Shield, USNI News previously reported.

The exercise included the U.S. Marine Corps’ Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which conducted a HIMARS Rapid Infiltration (HI-RAIN) with a C-130 Hercules from the Air Force National Guard, according to the Pentagon news release.

“The inclusion of the HI-RAIN mission significantly increases the lethality of precision fires and survivability of the HIMARS launcher, crew, and aircraft due to the reduced exposure to hostile fires,” the release said.

The drills culminated with a sinking exericse, or SINKEX, with the ex-USS Vandegrift (FFG-48).

“SINKEX participants included Carrier Air Wing 5 embarked aboard the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), who conducted long-range maritime strikes from fixed and rotary-wing aircraft. Seventh Fleet, embarked aboard the USS Tripoli (LHA 7), directed the task forces in the execution of a complete live-fire process,” the news release reads. “USS Benfold (DDG 65) launched a targeted surface-to-surface missile, which was a significant impact in the sinking of the Vandegrift. USS Key West (SSN 722), along with B-1B Lancers from the 28th Bomb Wing, and F-18s & F-35Bs from the Marine Fighter Attack Squadrons (VMFA-533 and VMFA-121) also participated in the SINKEX.”

A number of non-U.S. naval ships have arrived in Guam to rest and replenish before continuing their voyage to Hawaii for the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 exercise, set to begin in Hawaii on June 29 and continue through Aug. 4. The ships include Indian Navy frigate INS Satpura (F48), Philippine Navy frigate BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151), Indonesian Navy frigate KRI I Gusti Ngurah Rai (332) and Royal Malaysian Navy corvette KD Lekir (FSG26).

Top Stories 2020: International Naval Acquisition

This post is part of a series of stories looking back at the top naval news from 2020. China, Russia and the U.S. all announced sweeping expansions of their naval capacity in 2020 as the three largest world fleets vie for high seas influence in a declared era of great power competition. The new tone for […]

HMS Queen Elizabeth R08 arriving back in Portsmouth July 2, 2020 after a period at sea conducting Operational Sea Training. UK Royal Navy Photo

This post is part of a series of stories looking back at the top naval news from 2020.

China, Russia and the U.S. all announced sweeping expansions of their naval capacity in 2020 as the three largest world fleets vie for high seas influence in a declared era of great power competition. The new tone for naval forces is helping U.S. allies achieve more lethal navies and expanded capabilities.

Everyone Wants an Aircraft Carrier

Chinese carrier Shandong. PLA Photo

While a debate of the future aircraft carrier force raged in the U.S., American allies and adversaries moved to purchase their own naval aviation capability.

In China, the People’s Liberation Army Navy made progress on its third aircraft carrier that would be a domestic design featuring modern catapults and arresting gear. The Type 003 (occasionally referred to in the West as the Type 002) is a departure from the Soviet-style carriers currently in the PLAN’s inventory.

“This design will enable it to support additional fighter aircraft, fixed-wing early-warning aircraft, and more rapid flight operations and thus extend the reach and effectiveness of its carrier-based strike aircraft. [China’s] second domestically built carrier is projected to be operational by 2024, with additional carriers to follow,” the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on Chinese military capabilities.

At least one senior U.S. official said China’s enthusiasm for the program makes a case for the efficacy of the carrier platform.

“To me that makes all the sense, they’re a maritime power and they understand the great value that comes from carrier aviation and how that can shape the international environment. It’s taken us over 100 years to get that right,” Adm. Chris Grady, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, said during the American Society of Naval Engineers 2020 Fleet Maintenance Modernization Symposium in September.
“Lot of blood, lot of loss of life, a lot of sweat and tears to make naval aviation work. We’ve got a huge lead and one that will continue to expand into the future. Go ahead and build that big ship, but to build the ecosystem that is naval aviation that brings that ship to life – that’s going to take a lot of hard work and time.”

Concept image of the LPX-II Lighting Carrier from South Korea. Republic of Korea Navy Image

South Korea is developing capacity to allow their big-deck ships to launch fixed-wing fighters. Following Japan’s conversion of its two Izumo-class helicopter destroyers to field F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, the Republic of Korea Navy is building a light carrier to field F-35Bs. The LPX-II carrier will be dedicated to naval aviation and not be modeled after U.S. and Japanese big deck amphibs, USNI News and Naval News reported in August.

Artist’s impression of PANG aircraft carrier.

France kicked off its own carrier program with an announcement from President Emmanuel Macron in early December. The PANG (Porte Avion Nouvelle Generation, or next-generation aircraft carrier) program is set to produce a replacement for the existing FS Charles de Gaulle (R91) aircraft carrier around 2038. Reuters reported the carrier could cost up to $6 billion.

The U.K. Royal Navy continued the development of its two-ship Queen Elizabeth-class carrier program with a carrier strike group exercise featuring lead ship HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08). HMS Prince of Wales (R09) was commissioned in late 2019 and has been working through post-delivery trials. The ship is currently undergoing repairs after major flooding in October. In November, the U.K. proposed a massive $32-billion military expansion that includes a larger Royal Navy fleet.

China’s Rapid Naval Expansion

Chinese sailors. Xinhua Photo

China’s rapid expansion of the People’s Liberation Army Navy drew major concern from the Pentagon in 2020.

“The PRC has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines including over 130 major surface combatants. In comparison, the U.S. Navy’s battle force is approximately 293 ships as of early 2020. China is the top ship-producing nation in the world by tonnage and is increasing its shipbuilding capacity and capability for all naval classes,” reads the Pentagon’s annual China military power report.

China is expanding its fleet in every area.

“It’s important to highlight the Chinese shipbuilding advantages in terms of its size of the fleet, is both in context of the broader modernization ambitions, virtual class military. This is a long-term challenge, and it’s not only demarcated by a single variable, which would be total number of vessels, tonnage capacity, capabilities, location, posture, activities, and then other aspects,” Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, said in September.

In addition to aircraft carriers, the PLAN kept up a high rate of construction throughout 2020.

The report highlighted the launch of almost two dozen Luyang III guided-missile destroyers, the commissioning of the 30th Jiangkai II-class guided-missile frigate, the construction of six Renhai guided-missile cruisers and the entrance more than 40 Jiangdao corvettes into the PLAN fleet.

The lead Chinese Type-075 preparing for sea trials. Photo via Weibo

China is also expanding its amphibious fleet, marked by the start of sea trials for the Type-075 big-deck amphibious warship. The Congressional Research Service tied the development of the Type-075 and the Type-071 amphibious warship to Beijing’s desire to reunite with Taiwan.

“The Type 075 would be of value for conducting amphibious landings in Taiwan-related conflict scenarios, some observers believe that China is building such ships as much for their value in conducting other operations, such as operations for asserting and defending China’s claims in the South and East China Seas, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) operations, maritime security operations (such as antipiracy operations), and noncombatant evacuation operations (NEOs),” the report reads.

China is also looking to expand its submarine force.

“The PLAN currently operates four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) with two additional hulls fitting out, six nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs), and 50 diesel-powered attack submarines (SSs). The PLAN will likely maintain between 65 and 70 submarines through the 2020s, replacing older units with more capable units on a near one-to-one basis,” reads the report.

Many of the new platforms are fielding new anti-ship weapons and land-attack cruise missiles.

HI Sutton Image, used with permission

China also developed its own unmanned surface vehicle that bears a resemblance to the U.S. Navy’s Sea Hunter program.

Russia’s Less Rapid Naval Expansion

K-560 Severodvinsk in 2018. Russian MoD Photo

Russia has seen a more modest uptick in naval construction in 2020.

In July, Russian Navy head Adm. Nikolai Yevmenov promised the Russian Navy would commission 40 ships into service – a mix of corvettes, mine countermeasures ships, ballistic missile submarines and a blend of nuclear and diesel-electric attack boats.

Among the most important shipbuilding efforts for the Russian Navy is the Yasen-class nuclear attack boat program.

The Russians have been slow to deliver the highly capable attack boats with only one, Severodvinsk, currently in service. Second-in-class Kazan is close to commissioning, successfully test firing both land-attack and anti-ship missiles in a training range near the Northern Fleet’s White Sea naval base, reported Naval News. The third ship in the class is also set to commission soon.

The effectiveness of the Yasen boats have, in part, driven the U.S. to pay more attention to anti-submarine warfare efforts in the Atlantic.

Jane’s reported that the Russians had laid the keel for two more Yasen attack boats, bringing the total under construction to eight.

The Russian Navy is moving to expand its fleet in the Pacific, announcing an increase of 15 ships in its Pacific Fleet in 2020 in the state-controlled Tass wire service.