While experience grows among Indo-Pacific naval designers, order numbers remain crucial to keeping costs down and yards in business.
The Indo-Pacific region has a significant number of shipyards that have the capability to undertake naval shipbuilding. However, depending on the sub-region and the country, the extent to which that capability has developed enough to build more complex warships varies greatly.
Most of the highly developed naval shipyards in the Indo-Pacific region are clustered in North East Asia where China, Japan and South Korea have been building large and complex warships for some time and have a long history of naval construction. These three countries have the largest commercial shipbuilding enterprises in the world and these have supported the relatively small but important naval shipbuilding industries.
However, it is only China’s shipyards that can build the full range of vessels for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) from nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile submarines, conventional submarines, large hull aircraft carriers and amphibious ships, as well as surface combatants like frigates and destroyers. The industrial might of China means that is has been able to increase the size of the PLAN fleet by orders of magnitude over the past two decades and is the only country in the region that is close to the capability of the United States.
According to figures from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in the four years from 2014-18 China launched more tonnage for its navy (678,000t) than the total of tonnage of in-service ships for the French (428,000t) or Indian (529,000t) navies and almost as much as the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (681,000t) or UK Royal Navy (692,000t).
China’s naval shipbuilding capabilities lie within two large conglomerates: China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC). These were amalgamated in November 2019 but there is a geographical division whereby CSSC operates yards in the southern part of China, whilst CSIC yards are located mainly in the North. CSSC shipyards build a large portion of the PLAN’s surface combatants that include the Jiangnan Shipyard and Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding both based in Shanghai and Huangpu Shipyard in Guangzhou. Jiangnan builds the Type 052D (Luyang III class/Kunming class) destroyer, Type 055 destroyer (Renhai-class cruiser), the PLAN’s second new aircraft carrier and amphibious floating dock. Hudong-Zhonghua manufactures the new Type 056/056A corvettes, Type 071 (Yuzhao-class) Amphibious Transport Docks and Type 075 Landing Helicopter Dock as well as Pakistan’s Zulfiquar-class (F-22P or Sword-class) frigates. Huangpu Shipbuilding builds smaller surface combatants such as the Type 054A (Jiangkai II) frigate and Type 056 corvettes.
Meanwhile CSIC’s leading shipyards focus mainly on aircraft carriers and submarines. This includes Dalian Shipbuilding that built the PLAN’s first new carriers and Type 055 and Type 052D destroyers. Wuchang Shipyard in Wuhan province builds the Type 039/041 SSK submarines and has secured exports to the Nigerian and Bangladesh Navy for the Type 056 frigates. Bohai Shipbuilding Heavy Industry Company builds nuclear submarines including the Type 094 Jin-class SSBN, Type 093 Shang-class SSN and the new Type 095 Sui class SSN. A new Type 096 SSBN is expected to follow.
According to Richard Bitzinger, visiting senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, China’s shipyards are becoming much better at producing all types of vessels in higher quality and in larger numbers.
He said that this has been possible due to the expansion of the national shipbuilding industrial base, the growth of its commercial shipbuilding output and government investment in military research and development (R&D). However, he added that although China’s naval shipbuilding industry has reduced reliance on overseas technology for some key components such as gas turbines, radar, fire-control, weapons and helicopters, it still needs to source items such as underwater production systems and dynamic positioning systems.
Tom Waldwyn, research associate for Defence Procurement at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), told AMR: “China’s modernisation will continue to be based around the replacement of legacy platforms by larger and more capable ships as well as the production of large power-projection vessels like aircraft carriers, LHDs [landing helicopter dock], LPDs [landing platform dock] and fleet replenishment tankers.”
The only other country in the region that can build nuclear-powered submarines is India, which saw its first nuclear-powered submarine enter service in 2016. India’s naval shipyards have been developing their capabilities since the 1960s and are also building aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates, corvettes and conventionally powered submarines for the Indian Navy (IN).
India’s main capabilities are centred around a few state-owned shipyards. These include Mazagon Docks (MDL) in Mumbai, which builds the Project 75 Kalvari-class SSKs [hunter killer submarines], and the majority of the major surface combatants including the Kolkata-class (Project 15A) destroyers, Visakhapatnam class (Project 15B) destroyers, Project 17A frigates, Godaravi-class (Project 16) frigates, and Shivalik-class (Project 17) frigates. Garden Reach Shipbuilding and Engineering (GRSE) in Kolkata also builds Project 17A frigates, Bhramaputra-class (Project 16A) guided missile frigates, Project 28 Kamorta-class corvettes, and is working on the new Anti-Submarine Warfare Shallow Water Craft (ASWSWC) project. Goa Shipyard is building Talwar-class (Project 11356) frigates and Sankalp-class offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) for the coast guard. Elsewhere the Naval Dockyard at Visakhapatnam is India’s centre for nuclear expertise and the facility has produced the Arihant-class SSBN. Cochin Shipyard is building the IN’s first domestically produced aircraft carrier and is also involved in the ASWSWC programme. Other notable yards include the publicly owned Hindustan Shipyards in Visakhapatnam which is building fleet support vessels for Turkey, and private shipyards such as Reliance Naval and Engineering (RNEL) and the Larsen & Toubro (L&T) shipyard in Gujarat that are building Offshore Patrol Vessels for the IN and ABG Shipyard Ltd in Mumbai.
However, despite these headline capabilities almost all of its major shipbuilding programmes have faced considerable delays and cost overruns that are severely limiting its ability to provide the IN with modern platforms on time. Budgetary shortfalls have not helped this situation, but the problems of excessive bureaucratic interference, changes in design and construction, adapting to modular build strategies, insufficient logistical support and testing are systemic and require significant investment and reform to fix.
Before the rise of China it was the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) that had Asia’s largest and strongest fleet. Japan has shipyards that can construct powerful air defence destroyers, modern SSKs and more recently the Hyuga- and Izumo-class helicopter carriers.
The main Japanese yards include Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI), and Japan Marine United (JMU). MHI in Nagasaki is responsible for building the Soryu-class (16SS) SSKs, the new Asahi-class destroyers, and the new 30DX frigate. Mitsui Shipyards in Tamano also has a share of construction 30DX and KHI also builds Soryu-class SSKs. JMU in Yokohama – created in 2013 following a merger between Universal Shipbuilding and IHI Marine has been building the new Maya-class (improved Atago-class 27DDG) destroyers and was responsible for the construction of the helicopter carriers.
Bitzinger told AMR that Japan has the most advanced defence industrial base in the region and is largely self-reliant. However, he said that this comes at a cost. Japan’s constitution prevents it from exporting military equipment therefore its platforms are some of the most expensive to produce. It is also supporting a broader industrial infrastructure than is required by sharing out its major platform contracts between its main shipyards. As a result it is not clear how long the Japanese industrial model can continue to operate. Bitzinger added that despite its self-reliance, it still has some dependency on overseas suppliers for some components such as the Aegis CMS, Stirling AIP systems for submarines and weapons like Harpoon anti-ship missiles and SeaRAM self-defence system.
Designed in South Korea
Like Japan, neighbouring South Korea, has been building modern destroyers and frigates for some time as well as its own amphibious ships. It has also been developing its capability to design and build SSKs with its range of KSS-I, -II and -III boats. Meanwhile in South Korea’s recent Defense Mid-Term Plan for 2021–25 the Ministry of National Defense outlined plans for the construction of a new 40,000t aircraft carrier that will further enhance industrial capabilities. Over the past decade Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME) shipyard in Okpo Bay has built two batches of European-designed boats – the German Type 209 (KSS-I) and Type 214 (KSS-II) – but has now progressed to build its own designs for its KSS-3 fleet. It is already exporting three boats to the KSS-I design to Indonesia.
DSME is also responsible for the construction of the new Daegu-class (FFX-II) frigates, the Aegis-capable King Seijong the Great (KDX-III) destroyers and Thailand’s DW3000F frigate. The naval construction effort is shared between DSME and Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) in Ulsan, which also builds the KSS-III, Daegu- and Sejong-class and completed two Jose Rizal-class (HDF-3000) frigates for the Philippines.
Bitzinger said that despite South Korean strengths based on its commercial shipbuilding power, successful exports and the ability to build sophisticated and complex warships, there are still significant weaknesses. He explained that there is still a reliance on imports of key components such as propulsion systems and sensors but more seriously the commercial shipbuilding sector has come under pressure as a result of overcapacity and competition from India and Vietnam. This pressure almost caused South Korea’s shipbuilders to collapse in recent years after orders dropped away. DSME required a rescue effort from the state-owned Korean Development Bank (KDB) and other investors. HHI is buying the shares owned by KDB and this acquisition, due to be completed in 2021, will consolidate the main naval shipbuilders in the country.
Elsewhere Hanjin Heavy Industries has built the Dokdo-class amphibious assault ship and Cheon Wang Bong-class landing tank ships and is currently building the Mulgae-class landing craft utility vessels and Gundoksori-class patrol boats. STX Offshore and Shipbuilding has smaller facilities but has been involved in the production of the Gundoksori-class PBs and the earlier FFX-I Incheon-class frigates. Another yard, Daesun Shipbuilding and Engineering, has exported an LPD to Indonesia and the Philippines.
These countries have the advantage of possessing long-established naval shipyards and a large commercial shipbuilding industry providing a level of expertise, facilities and skilled engineers to build the most high-end platforms. Most other countries have to develop alternative solutions.
Waldwyn said that a number of countries are locally building foreign designs with technology transfer agreements in order to further develop naval shipbuilding capability. “Australia does this on the largest scale with large amphibious vessels and destroyers in service and submarines and frigates to come over the next couple of decades,” he said, “Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan have also built foreign-design warships. Most countries in the region are able to build small patrol vessels, however a desire for greater blue water presence requires larger vessels. The design capability, as well as the more complex subsystems, typically need to be imported.”
As Australia cannot rely on a large commercial shipbuilding industry it is trying to develop its naval shipbuilding industry independently, in a similar fashion to most Western European countries. To achieve this Canberra is investing record sums of money through to the 2050s in a Continuous Naval Shipbuilding programme. This will give Australia the shipyards to build complex warships and the facilities to train the engineers, project managers and other personnel. In the long term, Australia wants to achieve a steady construction drumbeat of new frigates and submarines for its navy through a sovereign naval shipbuilding capability.
On 21 January 2021, Australia’s Defence Minister Linda Reynolds stated that as a result of the government’s $183 billion Naval Shipbuilding Plan, both Henderson and Osborne shipyard in South Australia would substantially benefit.
Australia’s naval shipbuilding centre is built around two new shipyards that are being established at Osborne, near Adelaide in the state of South Australia. A new shipyard at ASC South is endowed with all the facilities needed to turn steel into major surface combatants up to the size of a 10,000t destroyer. The yard has been handed over to BAE Systems for the design and construction of nine new Hunter-class frigates built to the company’s Type 26 design. Meanwhile at ASC North a new submarine yard is still under construction that is specifically designed by French shipbuilder Naval Group for the build of the new class of 12 Attack-class submarines to the company’s new Shortfin Barracuda design.
However, Australia has significant challenges ahead. Bitzinger said that the cost of shipbuilding is putting increased pressure on the affordability of the programmes and because the frigate and submarine builds are concentrated on the two new yards there are not enough shipbuilding projects to support the rest of Australia’s industry. Although companies like Lurssen Australia have secured a contract to build 12 new Offshore Patrol Vessels others like Austal or BAE’s facility in Williamtown have no major shipbuilding contracts.
“Certainly naval shipbuilding is expensive to maintain and even more expensive to establish. However, for a country to have a naval shipbuilding sector depends mostly on the consistency of local demand for its products,” Waldwyn said. “It is all well and good to have a local shipyard license-build a couple of submarines, frigates or OPVs as part of a wider order, but the key question is what will the yard be working on in the years and decades after? How will those jobs and those skills be maintained? Local demand will be of increasing importance going forward if more countries seek to also gain the capability to build these types of platforms thus decreasing the opportunity for exports.”
Both Malaysia and Indonesia are gradually building more sophisticated warships through technology transfer with overseas companies thus enhancing their shipyard capabilities. Malaysia has based its naval shipbuilding around Boustead Naval Shipbuilding, which is building the Maharaja Lela-class frigates based on Naval Group’s Gowind 2500 design and the Littoral Mission Ship corvette with China’s CSIC. Indonesia uses PT Pal as the focus for its naval programmes and its latest project is the construction of modules for its new Martadinata-class (PKR) frigates built to the SIGMA 10514 design from Dutch shipbuilder Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding. However, neither government in Kuala Lumpur or Jakarta can generate enough orders for warships to sustain an expanded industrial base long term. But what they do have is cheaper manufacturing costs and they could be successful in the export market for smaller warships in the region and beyond.
Neighbouring Singapore has the most advanced capabilities in the SE Asia sub-region. ST Engineering Marine has gained valuable experience building the French-designed Formidable-class frigates, Swedish-designed Littoral Mission Vessel and Endurance-class landing ship tanks for the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN. It is now building a Joint Multi-Mission Ship and Multi-Role Combat Vessel for the RSN and has design proposals for a larger 160m-long LHD variant of the Endurance-class.
Meanwhile Thailand is building new OPVs at its Bangkok Dock facility to a 90m design from BAE Systems and intends to develop the design further. Myanmar has built two Kyansitthar-class frigates at its Thanlyin Naval Dockyard with plans for a further six based on the two Jianghu-class frigates it had bought from China in 2012. It also built its own Anawratha-class missile corvettes and Fast Attack Craft as it moves away from reliance on second hand overseas vessels. This is largely a response to the expansion of the naval forces of neighbouring Bangladesh and Thailand.
Elsewhere Taiwan has a well-developed naval shipbuilding sector centred around CSBC Shipbuilding that has built multipurpose frigates and LPDs and Lung The that has manufactured the Tuo Chiang-class stealth multi-mission corvette.
Looking ahead, Waldwyn expects the capability of navies and coast guards will continue to grow. “Tension between countries, particularly between China and its neighbours in the East and South China Seas, will likely drive investment into maritime surveillance platforms such as OPVs, frigates and fixed-wing ISR and/or ASW aircraft,” he said.
by Tim Fish