The nation of China has increased her military spending by 11% from her 2011 budget. For the first time in its history during 2012, China's military budget reached $100 billion (US) dollars, propelling her defense spending to the second highest in the world behind the United States of America. In 2012, the United States spent $600+ billion dollars on all facets of her military which counts for almost 50% of the world's total military budget spending on war or defense material. Many observers feel China is in an arms race with the United States though it is hard to agree with such an assessment based on the vast difference between the budgets of both countries. Nevertheless China's budget does have the long view concerning her military and naval intentions and her new numbers are due to be released sometime in March of 2013.
The Chinese sees the South and East China Seas are her home waters and feels the need to control the western and northern arms of the Pacific Ocean. The seas not only border a large part of China's coastline (geographically positioned east and south of mainland China), the seas also border the island of Taiwan, the Philippines in the west, north west of Sabah (Malaysia), Sarawak (Malaysia) and Brunei, northeast of Singapore, Vietnam on the east and Japan in the East China Sea. Also the northeastern part of the sea is a deep basin, with depths of up to 18,000ft (5,490 m), perfect for China's missile-laden submarine fleet. The Sea contains the Paracels, Spratlys and other islands that China and her neighbors have conflicting claims over - these areas proving rich fishing grounds as well as natural deposits for oil and natural gas that are on and around the hundreds of the East and South China Sea Islands. Contributing to the struggle is the Pearl and Red rivers from China, the Mekong from Viet Nam, and the Chao Phraya from Myanmar - rivers that flow into the South China Sea allowing trade from and into those countries making the sea critical to many national interests.
The concentration of populations in the nations that border the South China Sea, as well as other countries in the region, are required to have their merchant ships transit these seas for trade. This amount of ocean-going traffic moving through the sea lanes relates to one-third of the world's total merchant shipping. Additionally, the United States maintains its World War 2-era military bases in Japan as well as a presence in Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines which is seen by the Chinese People''s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) as a regional military threat to the sovereignty of China's home waters. To control the South China Sea and push back the naval presence of the US Navy and navies of countries that border the sea, the PLAN require a stronger sea-going force with ships like the Type 056 Jiangdao-class corvette. The seas bordering the thousands of miles of China's coastline, and the numerous reefs and islands, require a corvette-type warship to help patrol for China across her "blue" and "brown" waters.
On February 26th, 2013 the PLAN received the Bengbu, the first Type 056 Jiangdao-class corvette, in Shanghai to support its need for increased maritime defense and increased control of the South and East China Seas. The Bengbu (#582) became the lead ship of the Type 056 group , displacing at a rather lightweight 1,400 tons, roughly the same size of 1942-era World War 2 destroyer escorts (as well as some Iranian Navy frigates produced in 1969, still in service in 2013). The categorization of "corvette" for the Chinese vessel is more related to her size, modern-though-limited armament, available sensor suite and support of a single naval helicopter. The Type 056 features a hull design specifically shaped to be inherently "stealthy", complete with the requisite sloped surfaces and a compact superstructure to help reduce her radar signature. There is an integrated helipad along the stern but she has no hanger facility common to such vessels. The Bengbu is 313 feet, 3 inches long (95.5 m) with a beam (width) of 38 feet, 1 inch (11.6 m), drawing only 14 feet, 4 inches (4.4 m) of water.
The vessel can make upwards of 28 knots (51.8 km/h; 32.2 mph) and has the fuel to take her 2,000 nautical miles (3,704 km) (at approximately 18 knots (33.3 km/h; 20.7 mph)) giving her "blue water" range. Her primary weapon's suite is the YJ-83 supersonic, sea-skimming, anti-ship cruise missiles useful against many types of land- or sea-based targets. The YJ-83 has an operational range of over 255 km when air-launched and 150 to 200 km when surface-launched. The YJ-83 is featured across four missiles within 2 x twin-cell launchers. To counter anti-aircraft threats there is a single "Flying Leopard" 3000 Naval (FL-3000N) short-range, fire-and-forget compact missile system with eight available missiles. Each missile is 2 meters in length with a minimum range of 500 meters and a maximum range of 5.5 miles (9 km) for subsonic targets, and 3.7 miles (6 km) for supersonic targets.
The Bengbu sports 1 x 76mm main gun mounted forward on the forecastle. The gun is fed by 152 ready-to-fire rounds and has selectable rates-of-fire of 30, 60 and 120 rounds-per-minute. The 27.3 lb (12.4kg) shell has an effective range of 6.2 miles (10km) and a maximum range of 9.6 miles (15.5km). The gun can be used against surface ships, coastal positions and even aerial targets - including low-flying incoming anti-ship missiles requiring a defensive net of multiple, exploding shells. The onboard anti-submarine weapon is the indigenously-produced Harbin Z-9EC helicopter, a Chinese military rotary-wing utility platform built under a French license production from the Eurocopter Dauphin design. She can be equipped with pulse-compression radar, low-frequency dipping sonar, a radar warning receiver (RWR) and can be armed with anti-submarine warfare (ASW) torpedoes.
The Type 056 group of surface warships is still under construction as a whole - three have been named while ten have had their pennant numbers assigned (the Bengbu is the only active vessel of the fleet as of 2013). As more Type 056 ships come online, the PLAN's ability to pressure the navies of her neighbors and keep track of US naval assets in the region will serve to increase China's capability in protecting her claims on the busy sea lanes across the East and South China Seas. The Chinese Navy will only grow with such additions which include a new ex-Soviet aircraft carrier currently (2013) undergoing trials.
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