One of China’s most advanced navy destroyers may have suffered a serious technical problem and broken down while passing through the Indian Ocean, according to sources. The warship was originally part of the task force fleet dispatched earlier in June to participate in the upcoming joint exercise with Russia.
Since 2013, China and Russia have been holding the annual “Joint Sea” naval exercise, and the 2017 Joint Sea is scheduled to be held in the Baltic Sea in late July. Such long range deployment on the part of China was not only intended to showcase the far seas capability of its rapidly growing People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), but also serves to strengthen the alignment between China and Russia.
Xinhua news agency, the official mouthpiece of the Beijing regime, published a news release on June 18 detailing the composition of the task force fleet departing from the PLAN naval base in Sanya, Hainan that day which included a Type 052D destroyer Changsha, a Type 054A frigate Yungchen, and a Type 903 replenishment ship Luomahu.
On July 8 however, a story published by the PLA’s official newspaper said that only the frigate Yungchen reached the Gulf of Aden and was resupplied there by the Chinese anti-piracy fleet in the area. No word was given as to the whereabouts of the destroyer Changsha and the replenishment ship Luomahu that were in the original task force. Instead, the story listed Hefei, another Type 052D destroyer as having joined the task force that will continue onward to the Baltic.
Similar deployments from the past years indicate that PLAN fleet usually took just two weeks, or 14 days to reach the Gulf of Aden if departing from Hainan and passing through the Indian Ocean. The July 8 story would mean that the sail this year took 18 days, or 4 days longer than usual.
French military watcher website East Pendulum reported that the destroyer Changsha might have suffered a serious technical breakdown while passing through the Indian Ocean. The report cited an anonymous user’s post on a Chinese military forum as the source, who claimed that a breakdown in the destroyer’s propulsion system deprived it of all of its power and the ship was essentially “floating.”
According to the same source, the breakdown took place “before June 26,” one week after the task force departed from the naval base in Sanya. This would put the fleet’s approximate location at the time of the breakdown as somewhere in the Indian Ocean.
The breakdown would also explain why the replenishment ship Luomahu did not reach the Gulf of Aden, since the task force commander or the PLAN leadership likely ordered the support ship to stay with the crippled destroyer.
It is currently unknown whether the Changsha had overcome the breakdown and return to the base in Sanya, or if it is still floating in the Indian Ocean awaiting repair or towing.
The Changsha is one of the many advanced Type 052D destroyers China had built and put into service in recent years. Chinese media often boasted the power and the technical advances of the Type 052D design and claimed that it can rival the U.S. Aegis destroyers.
Changsha’s breakdown, if confirmed, might cast doubt on the reliability of the Type 052D destroyer and Chinese warships in general. The Type 052D is powered by two sets of combined gas turbine and diesel engines, which also means that the breakdown had to be extremely serious for the ship to abandon its original mission.
Despite this, the fact that PLAN was able to quickly dispatch another Type 052D Hefei to join the task force and continue its original mission is in itself an indication of the growing scale of China’s overseas naval effort, according to James Goldrick at the Lowy Institute.
In addition, China has worked to acquire bases in many critical ports in the Indian Ocean that experts have described as a maritime “Silk Road.” Changsha’s breakdown could further justify the PLAN navy ambition to consolidate and expand such a network, according to the French website East Pendulum.