ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Navies have flirted with exotic hull forms for decades, and the US Navy is producing Independence-class littoral combat ships with a wave-piercing trimaran hull form. Now the Chinese Navy seems to be preparing a trimaran design that could enter production as a frigate for the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and for export.

"We are in the development and design phase of the project," said You Yue, China Shipbuilding Trading Company's deputy director for business development for Western Asia and Africa. "The plan form is fixed but many details remain," he said.

The plan form – the trimaran hull – allows the frigate to have a far greater beam than the more conventional monohull configuration. You also noted the ship will feature hull and superstructure shaping to reduce its radar signature.

A model displayed this week at the IDEX show here in Abu Dhabi combined, You said, many features which could be included in the PLAN's version or in an export variant and did not necessarily depict a ship now under construction. Final decisions on the power plant, armament, sensor and combat system have yet to be made, he cautioned.

Data displayed with the model gave a displacement of about 2,450 tons; dimensions of 142 meters in length, 32 meters in beam and a draft of 6.2 meters. The power plant was given as a "marine electric propulsion system" with a speed of 25 knots and endurance of 5,000 nautical miles at 16 knots and 30 days.

Those figures could change for a production ship, You said, with a speed probably somewhere above 30 knots. He said an all-MTU diesel propulsion plant was being considered, driving three waterjets.

The model displayed the range of weapons typical for a small warship: a gun in the 76mm or 100mm range; a vertical launch system for surface-to-air missiles behind the gun and forward of the superstructure; surface-to-surface missiles in canister launchers amidships; close-in weapon systems and chaff launchers. The sensor suite was sized for a light frigate.

The model featured a double hangar and side doors along the hangar to launch small boats. There is no mission bay as in the American LCS, and no stern doors below the flight deck, which sits relatively low and close to the water. A bow sonar is depicted.

With the design still to be finalized, You said he didn’t expect construction of the first PLAN trimaran frigate to begin before 2018.

Along with the trimaran, CSSC – a consortium of more than a dozen Chinese shipbuilders formed to promote the industry -- displayed a number of designs available for export, most based on existing PLAN or Chinese Coast Guard designs. The largest was a 25,000-ton variant of the Chinese Navy’s Type 071 LPD landing ship dock. Shen Yue, CSSC’s project manager for Africa and West Asia, noted customers could choose different features than those fitted in PLAN LPDs, including a different power plant, modified flight deck and weapons fit, and a different combat management system.

Other designs on display included several frigate and corvette designs, ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 tons; a 22,000-ton replenishment ship similar to those built for the PLAN; and a number of smaller Coast Guard vessels.

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