China’s Navy Deploys
Three-Tier Defensive Weapons
New vertical launch systems are built for multiple missile uses.
By JAmES C. BUSSEr T
China is adopting a multitier ship- borne weapon system approach that flies in the face of the approach usually taken by mod-
ern navies. Instead of building a sin-
gle design for weapons systems that is
adapted for different ships, the Chinese
Navy has developed specialized systems
that perform similar functions on dif-
Traditionally, nations that sell naval
weapon systems field a given design
applicable to a wide variety of ships.
For the U.S. Navy, the Mk 41 vertical
launching system (VLS) has been the
standard missile launcher for U.S. sur-
face combatants and for foreign mili-
tary sales. Originally, three sizes of Mk
41 modules were developed: the large
“strike” size—commonly referred to
by the overall designation Mk 41—
that holds Tomahawk cruise missiles
installed on cruisers and destroyers;
a middle “tactical” size; and a “self-
defense” quad pack for foreign cus-
tomers with smaller ships.
In addition to these three types, four
variants of the topside shorter-celled
Mk 48 VLS have been exported to
six foreign navies but are not used by
the U.S. Navy. The six-barrel 20-mil-
limeter Phalanx Gatling gun close-
in weapon system (CIWS) is fitted to
a majority of U.S. Navy ships and is
exported widely to allied nations. A
third defensive system is the multina-
tional Mk 116 rolling airframe missile
(RAM) design, which is deployed in
the Mk 49 21-cell launchers used by
six nations, including the U.S. Navy.
A smaller SeaRAM with an 11-cell
launcher in a Phalanx frame is replac-
ing the 20-millimeter Gatling gun.
Hobby Shanghai (HSH)
An indigenous design 11-barrel Gatling gun serves as a close-in weapon system aboard
a Chinese aircraft carrier. The People’s Liberation Army Navy has developed and
adapted a variety of shipboard defense systems to suit different vessels.
Recently, the People’s Liberation
Army Navy (PLAN) not only devel-
oped its own versions of VLS, CIWS
and RAM, but it also has fielded three
different versions of each. This hints
at a unique multitier weapon system
design philosophy. No other nation has
expended the monetary and engineer-
ing resources to field three different
variations of a given weapon system for
one service. Nor can most other nations
afford to do so, considering the mone-
tary, development and production costs.
And, logistical support and training
costs must be considered as well.
The RAM point-defense missile is
the most obvious and least complicat-
ed example of shipborne standardiza-
tion. The original RAM design has been
developed jointly by the United States
and Germany since 1976. The Block 0
RAM missile is 2. 8 meters long, uses
radio frequency (RF) midcourse guid-
ance and infrared (IR) terminal engage-
ment and has a 9-kilometer range.