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CNN report warns of Chinese vessels more dangerous than latest aircraft carrier

Beijing's maritime militia, civilian ferries give Chinese navy boost in capabilities

Chinese Navy sailing in South China Sea.

Chinese Navy sailing in South China Sea. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — There are other vessels at the Chinese military’s disposal that are more concerning than its newest aircraft carrier, the Fujian, a recently published CNN report claims.

Though the latest carrier features an electromagnetic catapult system, allowing it to launch more heavily-armed aircraft, other ships pose a more significant threat to the U.S. and its Indo-Pacific allies, CNN said on Sunday (June 26).

The Type 05 destroyer, launched in 2017, is large enough to be considered a cruiser by NATO standards and is equipped with 112 vertical launch tubes that can launch a multitude of missiles, including anti-ship long-range land-attack projectiles.

"This ship in particular has a sophisticated design, stealth features, radars, and a large missile inventory. It is larger and more powerful than most U.S., Japanese, and South Korean destroyers," RAND Corp. senior analyst Timothy Heath told CNN.

The Lhasa, one of the five Type 055s in operation, was recently dispatched to the Sea of Japan where it carried out drills, adding to the growing tensions with Taiwan, per the report.

China’s Type 39A/B submarines, 17 of which have already been built, are also on the U.S. radar. The subs have air-independent propulsion (AIP) that enables them to stay underwater for longer periods without having to surface to get the air required to power their batteries via diesel combustion.

"When operating on batteries, AIP-equipped submarines are almost silent, with the only noise coming from the shaft bearings, propeller, and flow around the hull," CNN cited U.S. Navy officers Michael Walker and Austin Krusz as saying in a 2018 US Naval Institute's Proceedings magazine article.

The sub is capable of firing "wake-homing" torpedoes, which follow in the wake of a target ship before exploding near its propulsion and steering systems, CNN said. Another concern is China’s fleet of civilian ferries that could be easily converted for military use.

“China's biggest ferry shipbuilder said in 2015 that one of its largest roll-on/roll-off ferries was built for dual military and civilian purposes …,” Thomas Shugart, a former US Navy submarine commander, said in a 2021 War on the Rocks article. He added that China has already organized civilian ferry companies operating in the Yellow and South China Seas into People’s Liberation Army auxiliary units.

He assessed that converted civilian ships would give China an additional 1.1 million displacement tonnes. The maritime militia is also another thing the US should keep tabs on, CNN said. The force consists of at least 122 vessels and as many as 174, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The militia is made up of two parts: professional militia boats and actual fishing boats employed by the Chinese military under a subsidy scheme, CNN cited a CSIS report as saying. The professional force harasses foreign drilling ships and blocks foreign fishing boats, while the fishing boats focus on intimidation through sheer numbers, per CSIS.