China has completed a major weapons upgrade for their Shenzen destroyer, which will return to operations with the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) fleet in the South China Sea amid brewing tensions over the disputed territory, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly reported.
The missile system of the Shenzen, Beijing’s only Luhai-class destroyer, was upgraded to a 32-cell vertical launch platform capable of firing medium-range HHQ-16 surface-to-air (SAM) missiles with a range of 19 nautical miles and a maximum speed of 2,148 mph (3457 kph). Defense analysts say the system is comparable to the powerful Russian Gollum/Shtil-2 missile system.
Other combat characteristics added to the ship include four 37 mm twin anti-aircraft guns with two Type 1130 close-in weapon systems, along with upgraded surface and air search radars. The ship’s radar system has also been augmented to remove a blind spot in the previous system’s visible range.
The 6,000-ton destroyer, commissioned in 1999, is unique among modern destroyer classes, as it uses a steam propulsion system and doubles as a helicopter hangar, with space allowing for the landing and takeoff of up to two helicopters.
Prior to the upgrades, the Shenzen served as Beijing’s flagship in the South China Sea, but it remains uncertain whether it will currently remain in the position of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s command ship.
Significant upgrades to what was already China’s most lethal destroyer come as Beijing faces increasing pressure to relax its claims over oil rich South China Sea territories, through which some 40% of the world’s shipborne commerce travels each day.
The recent ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration is challenged by China, saying that the Hague does not have the jurisdiction to decide upon the case. According to Beijing's interpretation, China would have had to jointly submit to the dispute for the court’s decision to be enforceable.
Despite China’s explanation, Beijing faces growing pressure from the West, as well as from regional rivals Japan and Australia, that analysts worry could push the regime of Xi Jinping into a corner, increasing the threat of hostilities.
China has warned its people to be prepared to go to war over the South China Sea territory and has further engaged in aggressive statements against both Japan and Australia – the latter of which fell prey to an op-ed by the state-run People’s Daily calling for a military assault on the country.
Since that time, China has deployed combat patrols into the South China Sea and has ramped up its naval war exercises, joined by the Russian Navy, with both countries offering a counterpoint to the increasingly aggressive posture of the Western defense establishment.