Watch officers are on duty on missile frigate the Xuzhou. The Xuzhou was dispatched to escort ships evacuating Chinese nationals in Libya in February 2011, the first time that the Chinese navy went to a foreign country to help evacuate Chinese citizens. Photo: Wang Zhipeng
The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)'s East China Sea Fleet has drawn attention in recent years over its growing number of modern destroyers. The destroyer flotilla, as part of the frontline group guarding the East China Sea, conducts regular patrol missions and provides strategic support in political and diplomatic disputes in the area.
Can they adapt to new developments brought by the strategic shifts facing the Chinese navy? The Global Times reporter visited the flotilla recently to hear its stories.
"As a combat troop, the fundamental mission is our ability to win. There is no doubt about our fighting strength," Xu Haihua, the captain of the flotilla, told the Global Times.
Iron fist in the sea
The flotilla, established early this century, is a relatively young troop. Since its debut, it has guarded the East China Sea and has been dubbed the "iron fist in the sea."
The flotilla's equipment and crewmen have been the most elite the PLAN has to offer since its establishment. At that time, the flotilla was equipped with up-to-date destroyers including the Fuzhou and the Hangzhou. Those destroyers were at the cutting edge of PLAN technology in their overall size, firepower, seaworthiness, survivability, and especially in air defense and anti-ship capabilities.
Meanwhile, the founding crewmen were the cream of the crop, though even they faced challenges grasping all the needed operational skills in a short time.
Wang Hongmin, who was among the soldiers who collected the destroyers from Russia and is now the vice chief of staff of the flotilla, told the Global Times that everyone tried to seize each opportunity to communicate with their Russian coaches despite the language barrier and the sheer number of courses.
Xu said that introducing the vessels benefited the navy's development in many aspects. "First, it boosted our modernization and equipment development; second, we learned a whole new set of skills through operating the vessels; last, we cultivated lots of elite seamen," Xu said.
Meanwhile, the flotilla changed its commanding vessels from destroyers to frigates, as the new PLAN frigates are equipped with modern command and control information systems. The change reflects the trend that a modern navy should be more information-oriented than mechanization-oriented.