China boosts naval power with Asia’s most advanced warship

The Type 055 destroyer is similar in size to the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke class ships and is billed as a major step forward for Chinese sea power

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2017, 1:29pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 9:07am

China launched what it calls the most advanced and largest warship in Asia on Wednesday, billing it as a major step forward in the modernisation of its navy, according to the official military newspaper.

As the first of the new Type 055 guided-missile destroyers – which have a displacement of more than 12,000 tonnes – military experts said it was designed to accompany the country’s future aircraft carrier battle groups.

The destroyer was built at the Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai and was equipped with air ­defence, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons, PLA Daily newspaper reported.

The launch of the warship marks an important step towards China’s dream of having a strong and modern naval force, General Zhang Youxia, a member of the Central Military Commission who oversees the army’s equipment, was quoted as saying at the launch ceremony.

Military analysts said the Type 055 was in theory the world’s second most powerful destroyer – after the US Navy’s DDG-1000, or the Zumwalt class. The capabilities of the Type 055 surpass South Korea’s DDG-991 and Japan’s ­Atago class, which have a 10,000 tonne displacement.

“In some respects – such as the size, radar system, missile capacity and the multifunctionality in use – the Type 055 has now caught up, or at least it’s on the same level as the United States’ main ­destroyer,” Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, said.

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With its size far exceeding a standard destroyer, the launch of the Chinese-designed and built 055 was as significant as that of an aircraft carrier, affording the ­People’s Liberation Army Navy advanced sea capability and weaponry development, experts said.

The need to protect the country’s overseas interests and vital waterways used by oil tankers and cargo ships is expected to increase as the country’s ambitious belt and road trade initiative starts to take shape. But unlike the US Navy, which has a true global presence, PLA ships do not have many overseas ports for resupply, according to Beijing-based military ­analyst Zhou Chenming.

“A larger, better equipped and more advanced vessel will allow the Chinese navy to go further and better protect the country’s interests overseas,” Zhou said. “The Type 055 has filled a big gap.”

Li said the warship would play an important role escorting aircraft carriers or the new advanced Type 071 amphibious assault ships, and it could also lead a comprehensive combat group of smaller destroyers and frigates.

For these purposes the PLA Navy would need at least 10 Type 055 destroyers, and at the current capacity China could build one or two a year, Li said.

Meanwhile, the sheer size of the warship means there is space for more – and more powerful – weapons. Before the 055, the PLA Navy’s most advanced destroyer was the Type 052D, a 7,500-tonne vessel that squeezed in a flat-array radar, a 64-cell vertical launch system (VLS) and long-range anti-air missiles.

“It’s like a small boy carrying a huge bag that’s difficult to handle,” Zhou said of the 052D ­destroyer.

The Type 055, according to the Jane’s Defence Weekly, is over 180 metres long – more than 20 ­metres longer than 052D. It has a 128-cell VLS and missiles to attack planes, ships, submarines and missiles, making it the most powerful destroyer in Asia.

Given its size, it could also serve as a platform to develop the next generation of weapons, such as high-energy radio-frequency equipment, Zhou said.“When you have a bigger home, you can fit in different new furniture.”

But Macau-based military analyst Antony Wong Dong said the Type 055 had some “disappointing” design flaws. The relatively low positioning of its flat-array radar system would affect its range of detection, he said, while the use of light aluminium alloy in the upper decks would make it vulnerable to damage.

“Despite its very modern stealth shape, the damage control capability is a big concern,” Wong said. “The design follows the Chinese convention, probably due to a lack of experience ... in a combat situation.”

Next, the warship will undergo equipment and sea testing and it is due to enter service next year.