Written by Fakhrul Islam
Two 10,000-tonne Type 055 destroyers were launched simultaneously by the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company (DSIC) on 3 July in a move that reflects the rapid pace at which China is building this new class of warship. The latest ships are the third and fourth to be launched, with all four entering the water in a little over a year... ...
The first Type 055 was launched at the Jiangnan Changxingdao shipyard near Shanghai in June 2017 and the second one in April 2018.
The Type 055 destroyers are the largest surface combatants built for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and are an upscaled development of the Type 052D (Luyang III)-class destroyers. The class features an integrated mast in which a number of newly designed planar sensor arrays are installed.
The ships are 180 m long, 20 m wide and will be equipped with 112 vertical launch missile cells. These universal launchers are expected to be out loaded with a mix of HHQ-9 area defense surface-to-air missiles; YJ-18 long-range, anti-ship cruise missiles; CJ-10 land-attack cruise missiles; and torpedo-carrying anti-submarine missiles.
Although Chinese media have previously quoted the displacement as being 10,000 tons, it is likely that full-load displacement will be greater – in the region of 12–13,000 tons. While this is smaller than that of the US Navy’s Zumwalt-class destroyers, it is significantly larger than that of the Ticonderoga class.
When it comes to the People’s Liberation Army Navy, the Type 055 is very roughly analogous to something between the American Ticonderoga class cruiser and a Zumwalt class destroyer, in that it has similar capabilities and size to the Ticonderoga class, but it also packs new technologies that will impact the future of Chinese surface combatant design like the Zumwalt class does. The ship's stealthy exterior and its enclosed sensor mast are situated in between the latest Arleigh Burke class destroyers and the Zumwalt class developmentally speaking.
The Type 055 could just as easily be classified as a cruiser than as a destroyer. It's 590 feet long and displaces between 10,000 and 12,000 tons. That is 81 feet longer and up to nearly 2,500 tons greater than America's latest Arleigh Burke class destroyers, making it closer in size to the US Navy's Ticonderoga class cruisers than anything else. It also packs a Ticonderoga class's magazine size, with 128 vertical launch cells available. The Arleigh Burke class has 96. These cells will be stuffed with land attack (YJ-18), and anti-ship missiles (YJ-12), as well as anti-submarine rockets (CY series). Yet, just like America's Ticonderoga class cruisers, area air defense and slinging surface-to-air missiles will likely be this ship's overwhelming mission set and it's specially outfitted with a high-end sensor package that will exceed in this role.
The ship's anti-submarine warfare capabilities will also surpass the capacity of other Chinese warships, including space for two helicopters (eventually likely ASW variants of the Z-18) in its rear hangar and an expanded flight deck size. The ship will also likely use towed and variable depth sonar for hunting submarines and will have its own torpedoes and rocket assisted torpedoes to prosecute marauding underwater threats.
Regardless of the Type 055's multi-mission capabilities, these ships are being built to be the preeminent escort for the Chinese carrier battle group, acting in a similar role as the Ticonderoga class cruiser does today. This will include being the command and control hub for the battle group's anti-air warfare operations. In this role the Type 055 will fulfill something of a missing link within the People's Liberation Army Navy's order of battle, with the Type 052D destroyer being the most capable surface combatant before it—but one that is far more limited in capability and weapons capacity than the Type 055.
With the PLAN slated to field a fleet of at least four aircraft carriers in the coming decade, the reason for building four of these ships at this time is clear. There will be at least one for each carrier battle group, and when the carriers are not sailing, these ships will be able to show the flag by themselves far from home and bringing high-end multi-mission and command and control capabilities to smaller PLAN task forces. It is also likely that another four Type 055s will be built at some time following the initial batch, as China's aircraft carrier fleet expands.
China is presently locked in a war of words with the United States over its presence on artificially-created islands in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. India is an important maritime ally of the United States and shares deep concerns on the expansion of the Chinese Navy, particularly in the Indian Ocean. In the last five years, China has constantly deployed submarines (including nuclear submarines), warships and support vessels in the Indian Ocean.
In January this year, Admiral Harry Harris Jr., the Commander of the US Pacific Command said, "I believe India should be concerned about the increased Chinese influence. If you believe there is only a finite amount of influence in the region, then whatever influence that China has is influence that India doesn't have.''
[Source Jane’s Defence, SCMP]