After Fujian, China’s Mysterious Stealthy Warship Embarks On Maiden Voyage Amid Boiling Indo-Pacific Tensions

In a development sure to raise eyebrows among naval observers worldwide, a mysterious new Chinese corvette or light frigate has recently embarked on its maiden voyage.  

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The revelation comes hot on the heels of China’s unveiling of its first domestically designed aircraft carrier, which recently commenced its first-ever sea trials.

The photos, shared by a Chinese military aviation researcher on May 12, depict the sleek silhouette of the stealthy vessel navigating the open seas.

The development follows a prior glimpse of the ship in November 2023, captured in an image taken at Liaoning Shipyard, also known as Dalian Liaoning South Shipyard, adjacent to the Lushun Naval Base of the Chinese Navy (People’s Liberation Army Navy). Liaoning Shipyard, known for producing Type 056 corvettes in the past, has been the hub of construction for this innovative craft.

At that time, Naval News, referring to satellite images analyzed by defense analyst and former submariner Tom Shugart, reported that the ship’s construction had commenced in August 2023.

The first image of the new ship circulated on the Chinese social media platform Weibo on November 22.

The exact timing of the vessel’s departure from port, its route, and whether it has since returned remain shrouded in secrecy.

Naval defense expert Alex Luck noted that the vessel showcases significant efforts in signature reduction, likely employing stealth technology. He also speculated on the potential inclusion of water jet propulsion based on observation of its wake.

The purpose behind China’s investment in this stealthy craft remains unclear, with Andreas Rupprecht, a pro-China military observer, suggesting it may serve as an undisclosed “comprehensive test platform.”

China’s rapid development of the stealth vessel mirrors its push to modernize its naval forces, asserting itself as a dominant maritime player on the global stage.

China’s shipbuilding sector has been expediting the production of warships for its navy. The nation’s third aircraft carrier, the Fujian, recently completed its inaugural eight-day voyage and returned to port successfully.

Moreover, according to the US Department of Defense, China’s Navy currently holds the title of the world’s largest, boasting a battle force comprising more than 370 platforms. In contrast, the US Navy has a battle force of 292 ships.

The Mysterious Chinese Stealth Warship

Images of China’s new stealthy corvette have provided insights into its design, revealing similarities to Sweden’s Visby class corvettes while boasting larger dimensions and potentially enhanced capabilities.

With an estimated length of around 97 meters (318 feet), based on comparisons to the non-stealthy Type 056 corvettes, this new vessel is poised to bridge the gap between existing Chinese corvettes and frigates.

File Image: China’s Stealth Warship

The new corvette’s conspicuous feature is its turret design, which is reminiscent of the angular Bofors 57 mm Mk 3 gun found on Swedish Visby-class corvettes. When not in use, this main gun sits concealed inside a low observable dome, mirroring the design principle of its Scandinavian counterpart.

Behind the main gun and in front of the bridge is an elevated structure that likely houses a vertical launch-missile magazine (VLS). The technical specifications and the number of cells remain uncertain.

The vessel’s armament includes an HQ-10 launcher at the stern, potentially accommodating a smaller eight-round version atop what appears to be an aviation hangar or multi-mission bay.

Visby class corvette
The new Chinese corvette exhibits notable resemblances to the Swedish Visby-class counterpart, particularly in its main gun configuration.

The hangar, capable of accommodating at least Z-9-sized helicopters and larger VTOL drones, represents a notable improvement over the Type 056 corvettes, which lack such facilities.

The generously sized flight deck hints at the potential to support helicopters up to the size of the Z-20, aligning with the evolving requirements of the Chinese Navy (PLAN).

The overall design suggests a focus on littoral combat (a littoral combat ship is a relatively small surface vessel designed for near-shore operations). This positioning, combined with its pronounced stealth characteristics, indicates a versatile role for the new corvette in coastal defense operations.

While technical details such as the caliber of the main gun and the type of VLS remain to be confirmed, the emergence of this new stealthy corvette underscores China’s continued advances in naval technology.

Its innovation in shipbuilding signifies a strategic approach to enhance maritime capabilities and further solidifies China’s position as a powerful naval power that can rival the US on the global stage.