Chinese Power Projection; A Role for Arsenal Ships?

Chinese Power Projection; A Role for Arsenal Ships?
AP Photo/Andy Wong

First considered by the U.S. in the 1990s, China is reported to be evaluating potential arsenal ship concepts. An arsenal ship is a large-capacity missile-armed vessel intended to provide a significantly greater volume of fire than more traditional surface combatants. The Arsenal Ship concept developed by the US in the 1990s, for example, was to be equipped with more than 500 missile cells, equivalent to more than five Arleigh Burke-class destroyers (96 cells per ship). Although the Arsenal Ship was not proceeded with, the US did introduce a similar capability in four converted Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarines, whilst in 2013, a concept for a ballistic missile defence ship was revealed by a leading US shipbuilder.

Chinese interest in an arsenal ship is unsurprising. The development of a robust precision strike capability is of central importance to China’s military development efforts, 1 whilst President Xi Jinping has called for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to become a ‘world-class naval force’.2 Toward this end, China is engaged in the comprehensive development of its navy and wider maritime strike capabilities, including building an aircraft carrier force potentially second only to that of the US. Moreover, Rear Admiral Ma Weiming, responsible for leading Chinese efforts to develop electromagnetic and integrated full electric propulsion technologies, has described what he terms the ‘all-round ship’, an advanced surface combatant, and potentially relevant to the discussion of a potential Chinese arsenal ship.

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