A Type 022 (NATO Houbei class) fast-attack missile catamaran has reportedly been involved in an incident with a boat chartered by a Philippine media company in the hotly contested waters of the South China Sea. The fast-attack missile catamaran appeared in the Second Thomas Shoal, a submerged reef located in the disputed Spratly Islands. The craft then apparently aggressively chased away the boat operated on behalf of the ABS-CBN news crew, which had been sailing in the area to monitor the movements of other Chinese vessels.
The incident comes after a succession of reported incidents of intimidation of Filipino fishermen by Chinese boats, as well as alleged illegal fishing by Chinese vessels in these waters. It is not clear where these fast-attack missile craft operated by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) fast-attack are operating from and whether any examples are now permanently or semi-permanently deployed at outposts in the South China Sea. Last year, multiple Type 022s took part in Chinese maritime maneuvers in the South China Sea, together with three Type 071 amphibious assault ships.
The Type 22 fast-attack missile catamaran is a ship class in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy. The first boat was launched in April 2004 by the Hudong-Zhonghua Shipyard at Shanghai. The boats incorporate stealth features and are based on Australian-designed wave-piercing catamaran hulls that are more stable than other fast missile craft in high sea conditions. 82 of these missile boats are currently in service with three flotillas having been produced over a span of seven years.
The Type 22 is designed to patrol China’s coastal areas and operate within its littoral zone. As each of the 83 ships is armed with eight anti-ship missiles, it is speculated by some observers that a large number of missile craft firing in salvos can potentially overwhelm an enemy fleet, including an aircraft carrier battle group. Although an offensive missile attack poses a threat to hostile surface ships, historically small missile boats have fared poorly in major naval confrontations against larger vessels and aircraft.