Work on main battleship for China’s new-generation aircraft carrier enters home stretch

The fit-out of the Type 055 destroyer has started at a Shanghai shipyard, with many more of the warships to come

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 January, 2018, 8:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 January, 2018, 4:52pm

Shanghai ship workers have started fitting out Asia’s most advanced and biggest destroyer as China assembles a battle fleet for its first home-grown aircraft carrier.

The PLA Daily reported on Friday that workers from Shanghai’s Jiangnan Shipyard Group were installing equipment in the Type 055 destroyer.

The huge vessel, which was launched in June, will become the main battleship for the Type 001A aircraft carrier.

Military sources said the destroyer’s construction was running in parallel with that of the aircraft carrier, which was launched in April and has started sea trials. The carrier could go into service by the end of this year, according to state media reports.

“China now is building four Type 055 destroyers, with two designed to be ‘imperial bodyguards’ to the first home-grown carrier in high seas,” a military source said. “But China is going to build more of the destroyers to meet the navy’s increasing demand for modern warships.”

China has been trying to build up a blue-water navy that can operate globally and safeguard its maritime interests. Some observers say Beijing plans to have four aircraft carrier battle groups in service by 2030, requiring at least eight of the destroyers.

Without specifying the materials used, the report said the destroyer’s construction had led to breakthroughs in soldering technology at the Jiangnan shipyard.

The miliary source said the materials included aluminium, titanium and nickel alloys.

“At least 60 per cent of the ... superstructure of the Type 055 is made from an aluminium alloy, which is very difficult to solder,” the source said.

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The destroyer has a similar size and configuration as the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, which has a steel hull and a lighter aluminium superstructure.

But the lighter metal is vulnerable to cracking and less fire-resistant than steel, according to Macau-based military commentator Antony Wong Dong.

He said those weaknesses were painfully apparent in a 1975 fire aboard the USS Belknap and battle damage to Britain’s Royal Navy ships during the 1982 Falklands war.

“Those painful lessons led to many navy ships be built with steel hulls rather than aluminium alloys,” Wong said. “The propulsion system of the Type 055 is supposed to be about as powerful as the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, which is enough to power a superstructure of steel alloy.”

However, the military source said the Type 055’s propulsion system was not as strong as the US rival.

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“The Type 055 and Arleigh Burke class have different roles. The Type 055 doesn’t need to go as fast as a cruiser. Its mission is to protect China’s aircraft carrier,” the source said. “That’s why the weapons and radar systems on the ship are more advanced than the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.”

The source said China had designed complete damage control systems to prevent emergencies such as fires.

The Type 055 destroyer is equipped with air ­defence, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons, and is generally regarded as the world’s second-most powerful destroyer, after the United States’ DDG-1000, or Zumwalt class.