The new Chinese Fast Attack Craft took the world by surprise. In 2004, Western naval observers spotted an unusual, catamaran warship in Qiuxin Shipyard in Shanghai. Over the next six years, as many as 40 identical vessels emerged from Chinese yards. The FACs, dubbed the Type 022 or Houbei class, began participating in People’s Liberation Army Navy training events.
Today, the U.S. Navy is mulling how to defeat the new vessel.
One hundred and forty feet long and displacing around 225 tons, the Type 022s are capable of at least 36 knots. Armament includes eight, 135-mile-range C803 Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles plus a Gatling gun for point defense. The crew is small: just a dozen sailors. The Type 022 is based on a ferry design produced by AMD Marine Consulting in Australia.
The Type 022 appears to be faster, more heavily armed and stealthier than previous Chinese FACs. “The quantum leap Houbei-class improvements surprised many,” John Patch, an associate professor at the U.S. Army War College, noted in an article in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings.
Patch believes the Type 022 is meant to operate in large groups called “swarms,” volleying its missiles to overwhelm and destroy U.S. Navy carrier groups. “Just a single C803 is a serious potential to a U.S. carrier or expeditionary strike group, but Chinese naval tactics almost certainly do not envision single-missile strikes against adversary capital ships.”
“This craft is a pure-bred ship-killer,” Patch wrote. It would play a largely defensive role, denying China’s near-shore waters to American and allied warships. But that doesn’t mean the Type 022 would be strictly passive and reactive during a shooting war. “The Houbei class provides a distinctly offensive capability within an ‘active defense’ strategy,” Patch asserted. In other words, the Type 022 would be aggressive within its defensive zone, attacking approaching enemy ships in order to prevent an effective blockade.
Another analyst has drawn a comparison between the Type 022 and a theoretical American ship design. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, U.S. Navy Admiral Art Cebrowski advocated building a large number of small, heavily-armed warships for littoral operations. The so-called “Streetfighter,” no more than 500 tons displacement apiece, would hunt in packs near enemy shores.