China’s new-generation class of guided missile frigate, the Type 054B, will feature a longer operational range, more functions and stronger combat capability, according to Chinese military observers.

The Type 054B is an upgraded variant of the Type 054A, the most deployed frigate class in the People’s Liberation Army Navy. About 30 Type 054As are in service with the Navy.

According to images taken and published online by Chinese weapons enthusiasts, the lead ship in the Type 054B class was recently launched at a China State Shipbuilding Corp shipyard in Shanghai, marking its first public appearance.

The launch is one of the most important stages in a ship’s construction because once a ship is launched, it means that its major structures have been readied and the major work of the entire construction project has been completed.

Cao Weidong, a retired senior researcher from the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said the Type 054B is larger, heavier and more advanced than its predecessor.

“The Type 054A has a full-load displacement of about 4,000 metric tons, while Type 054B will displace about 6,000 tons, which means the new model will be able to sail farther, carry more weapons and munitions, and perform more kinds of tasks,” he said.

“Based on public information, the new frigate may be capable of carrying land-attack cruise missiles that will enable it to hit ground targets, a capability that previous Chinese frigates do not have,” the researcher said.

He noted that the new ship will also boast better information-processing capacity and stealth design, which will give it better agility and situational awareness as well as higher survivability in combat.

Cao added that these advantages will make Type 054B an attractive, competitive option on the international arms market and will be likely to attract many foreign navies seeking powerful and affordable frigates.

Song Zhongping, a military affairs commentator and retired PLA officer, said after nearly two decades of service for the Type 054A, it is natural for the Navy to acquire and deploy a new type of frigate incorporating the latest technology and tactics.

“The Type 054B will be more suitable for ocean operations, those far from Chinese coasts, and will better fit an escort role in an aircraft carrier battle group. It can hunt hostile submarines on the periphery of the carrier group and can also conduct anti-aircraft and anti-missile operations to assist the air defense network formed by destroyers,” he said.

Thanks to its larger aviation area, Song said, the new vessel will be able to carry a Z-20 helicopter to conduct reconnaissance and hunt submarines. By contrast, the Type 054A can only carry a smaller Z-9 helicopter that has shorter airborne time and fewer weapons.

At a news conference in Beijing last week, Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian confirmed the frigate model’s construction in the first official statement about the vessel.

Wu described the development of this new ship and other combat vessels by the PLA Navy as a “normal arrangement “based on the country’s national security and the overall buildup plan of the Navy, adding that this new hardware will be used to “safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and development interests” and to “better protect global and regional peace and stability”.

According to analyses from Western weapons observers, the Type 054B will be equipped with a 32-cell vertical launch system capable of firing various types of missiles and rocket-assisted torpedoes, a 100-millimeter-caliber main gun, and a rotating active electronically scanned array radar.

Official graphic