Chinese Type 022 Missile Boat

Ten years ago, the U.S. Navy set about building a new class of small, cheap, numerous Littoral Combat Ships meant to dominate dangerous coastal waters. But after a decade of politics and design-by-committee, the LCS has turned out to be anything but small, cheap and numerous. LCS is the “wrong ship at the wrong time,” retired Navy Cmdr. John Patch wrote.
On the other side of the Pacific, the Navy’s biggest maritime rival, faced with the same requirement for small, cheap, numerous ships, quickly produced exactly that. The result is the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s triple-hull Type 022 missile boat, a “thoroughbred ship-killer,” according to Patch.
To some observers, the PLAN missile boat — or, more to the point, packs of these boats — poses yet another major Chinese threat to U.S. power in the Pacific. Eighty-three Type 022s firing more than 640 anti-ship missiles in quick salvos represent a “serious cause for concern,” according to retired Navy Cmdr. George Root.
To others, the diminutive Type 022s look like mere juicy targets for American helicopters and submarines. They cite the extremely poor combat record of small-missiles boats doing battle with larger vessels and aircraft.
One thing is indisputable. The Type 022 is “a potential success story on how to field small combatants,” Patch wrote. Its merits in combat remain to be seen, but at least the ship exists to perform a combat role. The same cannot be said of the huge fleet of LCSs the U.S. Navy thought it would have by now.

Seven-Year Sprint

In just seven years, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy has built 83 of the 400-ton Type 022s at an estimated cost of $40 million per ship. And production continues at a high rate in several shipyards. The U.S. Navy, by comparison, has finished just two LCS in the same span of time, each at a cost of more than $600 million.
The Chinese ships sport eight anti-ship missiles apiece plus defensive guns and surface-to-air missiles. The American vessels, lightly armed in their own right, are designed to accommodate “plug-and-play” weapons kits, none of which are complete.
To some critics, even 83 Type 022s are so much fodder for submarines and air power. Small missile-armed boats have fared very poorly in major naval battles — so poorly that the late naval historian Antony Preston said they were “among the world’s worst warship designs since 1860,” according to Navy Undersecretary Bob Work.
Work, back when he was a mere analyst at the Washington, D.C., Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, summarized the experiences of Iranian and Iraqi “Fast Attack Craft” in combat with U.S. and allied forces in 1988 and 1991. “U.S./coalition forces: 40 FACs destroyed, 2 disabled; enemy: 0 U.S. or friendly forces hit, much less sunk.”
“This data suggests the weakness in focusing in on a simple fleet-on-fleet salvo model in modern naval combat,” Work wrote, “primarily because the preferred method of engaging enemy surface targets is now through asymmetric attacks (e.g., aircraft and submarine attacks against surface vessels).”
In other words, it doesn’t matter how many missile boats you build, if your opponent can bring submarines and missile-armed aircraft to bear against them.