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China and Iran’s Newest Weapon: Vertical Launch Systems

Michael Peck

China and Iran are deploying more warships with Vertical Launching Systems to fire missiles.  

The VLS is the closet organizer of warship design, a way to pack more missiles launchers on a vessel. Instead of the Cold War rotating-arm launchers that fired one or two missiles at a time, VLS comprises dozens of launch tubes – or “cells” -- that pockmark a ship’s deck. They are found on many U.S.,  Russian, European and Japanese ships, as well as newer Chinese warships such as the Type 055-class destroyers.  

Now, China is displaying a 32-tube VLS on a modernized older destroyer, the Type 051B Shenzhen, which has just returned from refit. “The Shenzhen is now equipped with a vertical launch system, which consists of four sets of eight units, allowing it to host 32 ship-to-air missiles that can shoot down incoming hostile aircraft and missiles,” the destroyer’s deputy captain announced on Chinese television.  

The 3,250-ton Type 051 Luda-class destroyers are based on 1950s Soviet destroyers such as the Kotlin-class ships. The People’s Liberation Army Navy built 17 between 1970 and 1990, of which most have been decommissioned, including four mothballed in May 2019. They were superseded by the larger Type 052 destroyers.  

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