30 March 2010

“A Thoroughbred Ship-Killer”–Proceedings Article on Type 022 Houbei Guided-Missile Fast-Attack Catamaran

Cdr. John Patch, U.S. Navy (Ret.),A Thoroughbred Ship-Killer,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 136, No. 4 (April 2010), pp. 48-53.

Small, fast, stealthy, and lethal, China’s new class of fast-attack craft receives little attention. Yet the hull represents a potential success story on how to field small combatants.

Even with its striking design and blue camouflage paint scheme, the Chinese Houbei-class guided-missile fast-attack craft (Type 022) remains unknown to most defense analysts. While at first glance the ship appears to be relatively small (225 tons)—at least when compared to U.S. warships—the Houbei packs a lethal punch in the form of long-range, fourth-generation Chinese antiship cruise missiles (ASCMs).

One has only to imagine a Taiwan defense scenario, with U.S. strike groups closing on the region, to appreciate the potential Houbei threat: stealth and speed allow the positioning of a coordinated, dispersed attack group hundreds of miles off the Chinese coast, suddenly presenting American warships with a fusillade of supersonic ASCMs from multiple axes. Beijing’s decision to build large numbers of the Houbei likely reflects the logic that small, cheap, single-mission combatants can be decisive weapon systems when used collectively. …

The goal to extend Chinese offensive naval capability into blue waters beyond Taiwan is now well documented. … In 2007 congressional testimony, Naval War College Professor Andrew Erickson assessed that China’s emerging naval capabilities provided power projection beyond the littorals, into the South China Sea, and to a limited degree, the Western Pacific. …

For further details on Type 022 exercises and capabilities, see “Chinese Anti-Ship Cruise Missile Firing as Part of Combined Arms Anti-Carrier Exercises in East China Sea, 30 June-5 July.”