Recently, images of two Type 726-series defence launchers employed on various Chinese Army Navy boats and a strange Chinese barge wrapped in several radar reflectors and antennas have appeared on social media.
All signs point to the barge’s primary mission being to support electronic warfare and countermeasure activities and related test and training operations, which may also help develop new and better weapons, sensors, and countermeasures.
The photos’ exact contents are unclear, but they depict a catamaran-hulled barge with more than 30 masts topped with different-sized and-shaped radar reflectors. On the deck, mesh screens that may be used to separate different RF frequencies are seen hanging between various arrays of poles.
Additionally, the ship has two Type 726-series launchers, one on each side, capable of firing a range of countermeasures, including flares and small decoys with active radiofrequency jammers.
Additionally, dome-covered antennas are frequently used in conjunction with satellite communication systems. In the pictures, people can be seen on the barge’s deck. Additionally, there are racks for life raft canisters at one end; however, under specific test settings, it could be able to operate without personnel. A small pilothouse-style structure with windows on one end is also present.
It’s unclear whether this is the first instance of this kind of barge to be spotted, although the design has been around for a year. A model of a barge with a similar design was displayed at an exhibit connected to the state-run China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation at the 2021 Zhuhai Airshow (CASIC).
This barge is likely a testbed for electronic and defensive warfare, though we can’t say for sure. The model was on exhibit at the Zhuhai Airshow with a different model of a ship-sized test and training platform that was land-based, rail-mobile, and described as “a system for simulating Blue Army electronic warfare threats.”
Similar to the land-based platform, the barge can probably support the development and validation of new and improved Chinese naval countermeasures, including electronic warfare systems and payloads that can be launched from Type 726-series launchers.
Additionally, during training exercises and developmental missions, it would be utilised to test and assess various friendly and enemy capabilities, including testing new anti-ship missiles and sensors. In this role, it can act as a non-destructive target and countermeasures platform with a repositionable footprint.
The barge and rail-based system appear to be a component of a larger Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) push to acquire substantial countermeasures and electronic warfare-focused test and training assets to supplement the nation’s already impressive and expanding test and training infrastructure.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is growing in size and capabilities, including the capacity to conduct operations outside Chinese territory. As a result, the PLAN has dramatically increased its fleets of more advanced and frequently enormous ships, including aircraft carriers, broad deck amphibious assault ships, and multi-mission destroyers.
The barge or future vessels of a similar design may potentially serve operational needs.
Even as much as anything else, the radar-reflector-covered barge is an exciting indication of the PLA’s expanding range of countermeasures and electronic warfare-focused naval test capabilities, as well as the likelihood that the most recent systems displayed at the 2021 Zhuhai Airshow will be implemented.