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Show boat: China's latest escort mission hints at wider export ambitions

China's Type 052D destroyer, Nanning , seen here, participating in NAVDEX 2023 in Abu Dhabi. (Source withheld)

In early February 2023, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) conducted a duty handover ceremony in the Gulf of Aden. The ceremony was carried out between ships of the service's 42nd and 43rd Chinese naval escort flotillas. It transfers duties associated with this recurring task group, which centre around anti-piracy missions, to the lead ship of the 43rd flottila, the Luyang III (Type 052D)-class destroyer, Nanning . Accompanying Nanning in the 43rd flotilla is the Jiangwei II (Type 053H3)-class frigate, Sanya , and the Fuchi (Type 903)-class replenishment ship, Weishanhu .

The PLAN has been dispatching its warships for anti-piracy escort duties to the Indian Ocean region since 2009. These missions aim to safeguard Chinese merchant ships as they sail across piracy hot spots, especially around the Gulf of Aden. The mission undertaken by Nanning would have been just the latest in this long-running series of escorts, if not for the fringe activities the ship has been conducting on the sidelines of its mission.

Since its arrival, Nanning has done more beyond just looking out for pirates in the Indian Ocean. The missile-armed destroyer has taken part in two defence exhibitions held in Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, respectively. The former, Pakistan International Maritime Expo and Conference (PIMEC), was held from 10 to 12 February in Karachi, while the latter, Naval Defence Exhibition and Conference (NAVDEX), was held in Abu Dhabi from 20 to 24 February.

Images provided to Janes indicate that Nanning

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