LIMA 23: China displays naval power at Langkawi Expo

The Type 052D destroyer Zhanjiang of the PLAN appeared at LIMA 2023, the first time this warship type has visited Langkawi. (Gordon Arthur)

China’s presence at LIMA 2023 – whether via military platforms or commercial entities exhibiting at the Langkawi show – illustrated how the Asian superpower has expanded its footprint in Southeast Asia.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) dispatched a Type 052D destroyer, while anchored nearby was the Pakistan Navy’s brand new Type 054A/P frigate PNS Shah Jahan. The latter was on its delivery voyage from China.

China built four Type 054A/P Tughril-class frigates for Pakistan via two contracts signed in 2017 and 2018, with the final two 4,000-tonne vessels turned over in a ceremony in Shanghai on 10 May.

Also nearby were two Littoral Mission Ships (LMS) – KD Keris and KD Rencong – of the Royal Malaysian Navy. These 68m-long vessels were constructed by China and commissioned from 2020 to 2022. This represented the first time Malaysia had turned to China for warships.

The second pair of LMS were supposed to be constructed in Malaysia by Boustead Naval Shipyard, but that plan was changed due to the domestic shipbuilder’s woes in constructing six frigates.

As for the Type 052D destroyer, Zhanjiang was commissioned in March 2022. It features a lengthened flight deck, with the variant unofficially called the Type 052DL. Since the first was commissioned in 2014, a total of 22 Type 052Ds have been produced.

Meanwhile, on the apron at Langkawi International Airport were eight J-10A/C fighters of the PLA Air Force’s August 1st aerobatic team. LIMA represented the team’s first overseas performance with their new aircraft. The PLAAF started operating the J-10C in April 2018.
Inside the exhibition halls, state-owned entities such as Norinco, CETC, CSSC and CPMIEC showed their wares. Most products on display have been seen before, but new was the WP20 robotic dog from Norinco.

CSSC showed models of various vessel designs, including a 20,000-tonne Type 071E landing platform dock of the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) that arrived home on 25 April. However, things are not so straightforward for the S26T submarine that China is building for the RTN.

When Asian Military Review asked a company representative the status of the S26T programme, it was told “everything is going well”. On the contrary, China is unable to fit German-built MTU diesel engines in the submarine, after Germany vetoed the transfer of such equipment. China is now scrambling to offer indigenous engines, but the RTN is leery of this untested solution. More than 50 percent of the 1,850-tonne S26T has been completed, after steel was first cut on 4 September 2018.

Because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, countries like Germany have belatedly started cracking down on the transfer of military technologies to countries like Russia and China.

by Gordon Arthur, Langkawi