The new vessel entered a pool at Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding, a Shanghai-based subsidiary of China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC), on Saturday, according to a photo posted on the Sina Weibo microblogging site.
The CSSC has yet to announce a launch date for the 054B, even though another photo taken on Sunday showed the frigate had been decorated with many red flags suggestive of the Chinese national flag, suggesting the authorities may be set to organise a formal ceremony.
Construction work on another Type 054B vessel is also believed to be nearing completion at Guangzhou’s Huangpu-Wenchong Shipyard, another CSSC subsidiary.
Photos posted by Chinese military enthusiasts last month showed the hull of the warship being rolled out from a dry dock, ready for launch into a pool.
The hull of the Type 054B is about 147 metres (482 feet) long and 18 metres wide, with an estimated displacement of about 6,000 tonnes, according to information posted by former US submariner Tom Shugart on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
With an extra 2,000 tonnage of displacement compared to the 054A, the 054B might be powered by an integrated electric propulsion (IEP) system developed by a team led by the PLA’s top naval power engineer, Rear Admiral Ma Weiming, Lu said.
The system would give the vessel more room to test new and advanced ship-borne weapon systems.
“The ultimate goal of using the IEP system is to equip the warship with high-power weapon systems like coil guns,” Lu said.
“The new frigate also [appears to have] adopted the advanced active towed sonar technology used by the Type 055 for anti-submarine capability, hinting that it might be an escort vessel of the PLA’s Type 075 amphibious assault ship,” he added.
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie was of the same view as Lu, and said the new warship could decrease the operational costs of the PLA Navy.
“The operational cost for the Type 055 destroyer is very high, because of its advanced design,” Li said, referring to the 12,000-tonne giant warship regarded as second in power only to the US Navy’s Zumwalt-class stealth vessel.
“Bigger propulsion power means the Type 054B can sail further afield, while its better anti-submarine capability means it could replace the Type 055 as a mini destroyer to protect the Type 075 to form a small strike group for a mission in high seas.”
Shugart’s estimate, based on satellite images of the Shanghai shipyard, put the new vessel at more than 10 metres longer than the Type 054A.
“The longer deck is designed to load Z-20 anti-submarine helicopters or drones,” Lu said.
“The Type 054B may play a role as a key partner of the Type 075 in a possible war over Taiwan.”
Zhou Chenming, a researcher at the Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank in Beijing, said the Type 054A is powered by diesel engines and cannot keep pace with China’s most advanced warships in aircraft carrier groups.
Only sea trials will prove whether the upgraded version will achieve the desired results, “especially relating to the IEP propulsion system”, but this will take time, Zhou said.
However, he dismissed online speculation about plans to build up to 18 Type 054B frigates.
“The PLA navy will only order more Type 054B vessels after everything goes smoothly [in the trials].”