An export variant of the Chinese Type 052D destroyer has reportedly been developed to target foreign markets, with the 7,500 ton ships representing possibly the most capable surface combatants made available by any country for sale. Although China has emerged as a leading exporter of surface combat ships, notably examples being the Type 052D’s lighter counterparts the Type 054A frigate and Adhafer Class corvette sold to Pakistan and Algeria respectively, destroyer sized combat ships have very seldom been exported by any country. The large majority of countries intending to field such large vessels have generally been capable of producing them domestically – even if requiring some foreign assistance to do so. The Type 052D is one of the most capable destroyer classes in the world, and first entered service 2014. It was the first ship class in the world with comparable capabilities to those provided by new generations of the American AEGIS system – which are used by the navies of the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Australia.
The Type 052D fleet surpassed 25 ships in 2022, making it the second most numerous in the world by a considerable margin outnumbered only by the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke Class. Eight were launched in 2019 alone. The warships have been commissioned in parallel to the larger Type 055 Class destroyers, which were are approximately 70 percent larger at 13,000 tons and have been widely referred to by Western sources as the most capable surface combatants in the world. Offering the Type 052D for export could indicate that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy’s immediate demand for the ships has been satisfied, and that some possible clients may have already expressed an interest.
Each Type 052D integrates 64 vertical launch cells, and can carry a wide range of new weaponry including YJ-100 cruise missiles with a 1000km range and an air defence network comprised of HQ-16, HHQ-9, HHQ-10 and DK-10A surface to air missiles – as well as multiple new close in weapons systems. They are also compatible with the YJ-21 ship launched hypersonic ballistic missile, although these are considered unlikely to be offered for export. An specialist variant, the Type 052DL Class, is notably longer allowing them to accommodate newer Z-20 helicopters and integrate new meter wave radars optimised to track airborne stealth targets, although it remains uncertain whether this modification will also be offered abroad.
Despite the rarity of destroyer export deals anywhere in the world, a number of countries may consider acquiring the Type 052D. One of the most notable possible clients is Algeria, which in 2020 revolted artwork on the wall if its defence ministry building featuring both Russian Su-57 fighters and the Type 052D – as well as a range of equipment it already in service. With reports having since emerged that the Su-57 is already on order, the Type 052D could well also have long been planned to provide a much longer ranged surface warfare capability. If acquire, the Type 052D would represent by far the most capable surface combatant in the region and in Africa more broadly, with destroyers from neighbouring European states considered potential adversaries lacking comparable capabilities to their Chinese or American counterparts. Algeria has notably seen state revenues grow substantially due to a rise in oil prices from 2022, and has reportedly doubled planned spending on acquisitions in the face of perceived threats from NATO.
Another potential client is Russia, which due to bottlenecks in its shipbuilding industry has failed to lay down any surface combatant larger than a frigate for its navy since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. There have been significant and growing calls in Russia to acquire warships from Chinese shipyards, up to and including aircraft carriers, with a Type 052D acquisition potentially being presented as a stopgap until Russia can eventually lay down its own destroyer sized ships. The ships could potentially be fitted with Russian vertical launch system to accommodate its cruise and surface to air missile classes, both of which have some significant advantages over their Chinese counterparts, while benefitting from Chinese sensors and electronics which are considered far superior to those Russian industry can produce. The Type 052D has significantly lower operational costs than Russia’s ageing Soviet built destroyers, and could present a much more cost effective and potent alternative to continuing to upgrade and extend the lives of these old 1980s vessels.
A Type 052D sale could be particularly attractive to both sides if the destroyers are deployed to the Pacific or Arctic, since it would avoid implicating China in arming Russia for its war in Ukraine, while destroyers in the Russian Pacific or Arctic fleets would be deployed relatively close to China and thus potentially be easily refurbished in Chinese shipyards. Russia’s need for modern destroyers may well appear more urgent as the country moves to commission two medium sized aircraft carriers, which were both laid down in Crimea in 2020 and are expected to deploy helicopters and vertical landing capable fighters. Russia fields no suitable escorts for these ships other than modernised Soviet-built vessels. The cost of importing Type 052D Class destroyers could potentially be offset by supplying China with new Russian hardware or technologies, such as air defence systems, or else with the massive revenues from Russia’s fast growing fossil fuel exports to China which have risen considerably in quantity over the past year.