In recent years, China has unveiled the J20, a fourth-generation fighter jet that was based off of stolen American designs for the F-22, as well as the J31, which bears a striking resemblance to the F-35… because its design was stolen as well.  Now, China’s People’s Liberation Army has unveiled a design for their latest naval vessel, a frigate that, once again, looks awfully familiar.

The ship design was on display at the IDEX 2017 arms show in Abu Dhabi, and is set for construction through the China Shipbuilding Trading Company.  Its three-hull trimaran design bears a striking resemblance to the United States’ littoral combat ship, our Independence-class frigates.  China, however, has made some modifications to the design, stretching it fifty additional feet, increasing the crew, and adding more heavy weapons.  The trade off in size and weight does come at a price however; the data accompanying the design display indicated that China’s new ship would be capable of sustaining a cruising speed of 25 knots, with short sprints reaching up to 35.  American Independence-class littoral frigates can reach maximum speeds of better than 45 knots.

China’s iteration of the ship design is set to carry a 76-millimeter gun inside the bow, with as many as 16 or 32 vertical launch missile silos behind it, depending on the individual design of the vessel.  It will be equipped with eight anti-ship missiles divided into two box launchers, with two 30-millimeter close-in weapon systems and at least two decoy rocket launchers intended to deflect incoming anti-ship missiles.

By comparison, the American ship is relatively undergunned, carrying only one smaller 57-millimeter gun in the bow and two 30-millimeter guns elsewhere.  Newer designed will also come equipped with Hellfire anti-surface missiles and a new over-the-horizon anti-ship missile that is set to go into construction sometime next year.

America’s Littoral Combat Ship, courtesy of the US Navy

Because China already has production underway in a different frigate design, the monohull Type 054A Jiangkai II, it’s unclear why China would choose to shift production toward a new ship.  While the trimaran hulls offered by the American copy-cat frigate can prove to be more stable in heavy seas, their existing ship production has already produced twenty-three frigates – each of which are at least fifty percent larger than the design unveiled in Abu Dhabi.

A likely reason for the transition could be that the wider platform afforded by the new trimaran design allows for side-by-side aircraft hangars, indicating that the Chinese military could be transitioning their strategy to employ more manned and unmanned aircraft in the future.  The design unveiled last week included two hangars, a large helicopter landing pad, and two helicopters.

In 2014, a Chinese entrepreneur, Su Bin, was arrested in Canada on behalf of the American FBI for hacking into the networks of a number of American defense contractors and handing over secrets regarding at least thirty-two ongoing military projects, including the F-22 and F-35.  At the time, Bin reportedly told his co-conspirators that his efforts were intended to help China “stand easily on the giant’s shoulder’s.”  With the unveiling of this new ship, it seems likely that this design may have been a part of that, or a similar breach, as it was certainly not the only time someone was caught red-handed selling military secrets to the Chinese.