Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)European Port Call

By: Carlo Kuit& Paul Kievit/ Bronco Aviation

During 26-30 January 2015 the Port of Rotterdam hosted a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Task Force. This has been a historical visit and first visit to a port in the Netherlands. Heading the 18th escort task group fleet comprises three ships: the amphibious dock landing ship ‘Chang Bai Shan’, the guided missile frigate ‘Yuncheng’ and the supply ship ‘Chaohu’. In addition, there are three helicopters (Z-8J and Z-9), and the crews consist of nearly 100 special operations members and more than 800 officers and sailors.

The ships’ last port of call was Hamburg in Germany. Other visits took place to Salalah in Oman and Portsmouth (UK). After Rotterdam the ships are planning to visit France and Greece on their European tour. The Chinese Naval ships are visiting the ports after they have finished a counter-piracy escort mission in the waters of the Gulf of Adenfour month escort mission in the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters which ended late December 2014.

China has been involved in anti-piracy operations ever since 2008 with currently the 19th escort fleet deployed. China sent its first convoy fleet to the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters in December of 2008. A total of 19 fleets have escorted more than 6,000 Chinese and foreign vessels and rescued or aided more than 60 other ships. Till date the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy escort taskforce has fulfilled 800 escort tasks in the Gulf of Aden.

The PLAN has also conducted other missions, including searching for the Malaysian Airlines flight 370 that went missing last March 2014 and helping the Philippines and Indonesia with disaster relief.

As part of the task force three helicopters are deployed to support operations of which two Z-8Js. China acquired thirteen SA 321 ‘Super Frelon’ helicopters in 1977-1978. These helicopters came in two variants: anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and search and rescue (SAR) versions. The Super Frelon was the first helicopter of the PLAN to be capable of operating from the flight deck of surface vessels. China also produces the Super Frelon locally under the designation Z-8 (land- or-ship based ASW/SAR helicopter).

Since the 1980s, the Super Frelons have been frequently used by the PLAN for ship borneAnti Surface Warfare (ASW) and Search and Rescue (SAR) operations. For ASW missions, the Z-8 is equipped with surface search radar and a French HS-12 dipping sonar while carrying a Whitehead A244S torpedo under the starboard side of the fuselage. The aircraft are also used to ferry supplies from replenishment ship to surface combatants, and transport marines from a landing ship to shore. A naval SAR version called the Z-8S with upgraded avionics, searchlight, FLIR turret and a hoist flew in December 2004. Another rescue variant with dedicated medivac equipment on board was also developed for the Navy as the Z-8JH. It is believed around over a hundred of the type are in use.

Besides the Z-8Js a sole Harbin Z-9 (NATO reporting name "Haitun", Chinese:for Dolphin) is a Chinese military utility helicopter. It is a licensed variant of the FrenchEurocopter AS365 Dauphin, and is manufactured by Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation.First flight took place in 1981 with deliveries commencing as of 1994. Over two hundred Z-9s are believed to be in service today in various variants.

The naval version introduced in the 1990s is known as the Z-9C, Chinese license of the Eurocopter AS.565 Panther. As well as SAR and ASW duties, the Z-9C can be fitted with an X-band KLC-1 surface search radar to detect surface targets beyond the range of shipborne radar systems.


The following article was published in KrylyaRodiny 1-2/2015 in Russian translation