In the early 21st century, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) launched a large-scale naval expansion plan aimed at increasing its maritime power. This was in the context of its long-term strategic goals of conquering Taiwan, of countering the security challenges posed by the United States and its allies, and of expanding its global interests.
One of the key types of warships in this naval expansion plan is the Type 055 destroyer, which is an amphibious assault ship with a displacement of 13,000 tons and stealth missile capabilities. The Type 055 also reflects an important achievement in the modernization of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy's military construction. This article will evaluate the historical, strategic, and technological role played by the PLA Navy's Type 055 destroyer.
Screenshot from MEMRI TV Clip No. 10235 - Chinese Navy's Type 055 Destroyer Wuxi Passes Three-Day Combat Assessment Exercise Involving Air Defense, Anti-Submarine, And Electronic Warfare Operations , March 27, 2023.
In February 1968, according to the report "Suggestions on Building Ocean-Going Escort Ships" submitted by the PLA Navy to the CCP's Central Military Commission, the Seventh Research Institute of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation assigned relevant units the task of designing a large missile-capable destroyer designated Type 055.
Over two years later, in June 1970, when the Chinese navy was still a weak "yellow water navy," Chinese premiere Zhou Enlai ordered the development of a large guided-missile destroyer. Zhou wrote at the time: "Agree [with the project]. If the combat mission of the large guided-missile destroyer (055) is only in the near sea, it can focus on sea-to-sea and sea-to-air operations and give consideration to anti-submarine tasks. If there is an overseas mission (ocean-going voyage), more consideration should be given to anti-submarine weapons. Please consider this carefully."
The development of the Type 055 was officially launched in March 1976. In the early 1980s, due to a shortage of funds, technology, manpower, and development resources, its development was suspended.
In the 1990s, China's shipbuilding industry department designed and built the Type 051B destroyer Shenzhen, which took the lead in the application of many new technological achievements and in testing them on far-sea voyages. Later, two Type 052B type destroyers, Guangzhou and Wuhan, were designed and constructed, and then commissioned in 2004. In October and December 2005, the first two Type 052C destroyers, Lanzhou and Haikou, which were equipped with large active phased array radars and vertical launch systems for shipborne air defense missiles, were delivered to the PLA Navy for service, completing China's ability to use ship formations for air defense purposes. Subsequently, the Type 052D destroyers were upgraded and constructed based on the Type 052C. This progress in Chinese shipbuilding laid a foundation for the restart of research and development of new large destroyers.
This process is a reflection of the CCP's military technology development doctrine, which dictates that every time a new generation of technology enters service, the subsequent generations are already in development, in the pre-research phase, and in the exploratory research phase.
Construction of Nanchang, China's first Type 055 guided-missile destroyer, began at Jiangnan Shipyard in December 2014, and was the ship launched on June 28, 2017. It was officially unveiled to the public on April 23, 2019 when it participated in the naval parade. On January 12, 2020, Nanchang was officially commissioned with the hull number 101.
To date, the first batch consisting of eight Type 055 large guided-missile destroyers have been manufactured and have entered service, and it is remarkable to note that all eight 13,000-ton destroyers entered service in just three years. It has been reported that the second batch of eight Type 055 destroyers is currently under construction and is expected to be delivered in 8 to 10 years.
The successful and rapid development of the Type 055 destroyers demonstrates Beijing's unabashed ambitions for global expansion. Indeed, as noted above, the CCP had been quietly preparing for its future global expansion for over 50 years. This reflects the traditional Chinese habit of strategic thinking, which is to "think long term" and make long-term plans. At the same time, it also shows that the Type 055 destroyer has been positioned from its very inception as a strategic long-range weapon.
At present, the PLA East Sea Fleet has not been equipped with a Type 055 destroyer. It is slated to receive the ninth Type 055 destroyer, which is under construction.
Capabilities of the Type 055 Destroyer
The Type 055 marks a series of key technological breakthroughs in the fields of design, information integration, assembly, large ship construction, automation, weaponry, and radar. According to CCP media outlets, the Type 055 is an "epoch-making and iconic" warship allowing the PLA Navy to realize a strategic transformation from offshore waters defense and open seas protection.
With the exception of aircraft carriers, the Type 055 destroyer is the most powerful warship in the PLA Navy's operational sequence, and it has been designated a "Renhai-class cruiser" by NATO, indicating that NATO views it as a cruiser and not as a destroyer (cruisers are capable of being deployed alone, while destroyers typically escort larger ships).
CCP media has reported that the Type 055 guided-missile destroyer has surpassed 99% of the world's destroyers in tonnage and is the largest-surface combat ship built by an Asian country since World War II, with the exception of aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships.
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Radar and Information Integration Systems
According to Chinese media reports, the Type 055 is the first destroyer in the world to be equipped with dual-band active phased array radar, and also the first to be equipped with a comprehensive radio mast, making the stealth design far ahead of other large destroyers and far ahead of the U.S. Navy's Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, which were designed decades ago. The Arleigh Burke class is equipped with a phased-array mono-radar, the S-band radar of SPY-1. By contrast, the Type 055 has H/LJG-346B dual-module active phased array radar, which not only has S-band phased array radar, but also is equipped with X-band radar, giving the destroyer greater detection ranger and stronger processing capacities.
Although the U.S. Navy's Zumwalt-class destroyers had good stealth performance compared to the Type 055, they had many defects and problems with combat effectiveness, to the extent that the U.S. only produced three of them and they are retired them from the combat sequence.
Air Defense Capabilities
The Type 055 is an enhanced version of China Aegis (052C/D). It has eight groups of eight-cell vertical launching system (VLS) in the B cannon position of the bow and six groups of eight-cell vertical launching system (VLS) in the midship, for 112 cells in total. The 112 vertical launch cells are designed with the latest standard design of the Chinese Navy and are capable of hot and cold launches using concentric canisters. Its missiles for regional air defense operations mainly include HaiHongQi-9B (HQ-9B) long-range air defense missiles and Hongqi-16B (HQ-16B) medium-range air defense missiles. In addition, the ship may also be equipped with medium-range ship-to-air missiles developed from the DK-10 missiles.
The Type 055 has an 1130 close-in weapon system (CIWS) on the weapon platform in front of the bridge, which can fire at a rate of more than 10,000 rounds per minute and has strong interception capability, mainly responsible for the terminal defense of the front of the ship. A 24-unit Haihongqi-10 short-range anti-missile system mounted on the top of the helicopter hangar is responsible for the ship's rear terminal defense, which can effectively intercept all types of missiles, including supersonic anti-ship missiles.
The main gun of the Type 055 is an improved version of the H/PJ45A-130-1 single-barrel 130mm gun used in the 052D, which is capable of land attacks. The 055's main gun is said to have a range of up to 30 kilometers with ordinary shells and a burst rate of 40 rounds per minute. It can also fire rocket-propelled extended-range guided glide shells, coupled with advanced Beidou satellite terminal guidance technology, enabling the Type 055 to strike targets accurately at a long distance. Hence, the Type 055 can strike land targets in coastal areas effectively, as well as support ground forces in combat.
Type 055 is equipped with the YJ-18 anti-ship missiles, which are launched vertically. The biggest advantage of the missile is its "dual-speed" design, which means it flies at high subsonic speeds for most of the time after launch and then "sprints" at Mach 2.5 ~ 3 as it approaches its target. This not only keeps the missile light, long range, and versatile, but also greatly reduces the time left for the target to defend against the missile. The YJ-18 anti-ship missile has a range of nearly 250 kilometers, and with the massive kinetic energy generated in the terminal sprint phase, combined with the explosive energy of a warhead of nearly 300 kilograms, a single missile could disable a 10,000-ton warship.
Type 055 is equipped with comprehensive submarine search and anti-submarine warfare equipment. Although anti-submarine warfare is not the main task of Type 055 destroyer, it is equipped with large and medium-sized anti-submarine helicopters, equipped with a complete sonar system, and equipped with Yu-8 anti-submarine missiles/torpedoes, so as to form a long-range, medium-range, and short-range three-tier anti-submarine system composed of anti-submarine helicopters, anti-submarine missiles, and anti-submarine torpedoes. It can detect and strike advanced nuclear submarines that pose an underwater threat to aircraft carrier battle groups.
The Type 055 is equipped with anti-missile capabilities and can also launch attacks against satellites. In addition, the millimeter wave radar that the Type 055 is equipped with has been upgraded, and its performance is even more accurate and powerful than the radar mounted on early warning aircraft.
CCP media has reported that the Type 055 destroyer is also advanced in terms of its propulsion and range. The Americans' Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, with a standard displacement of 8,000 tons, uses four LM-2500 gas turbine engines to achieve 100,000 horsepower. It has a top speed of 30.7 knots and a range of approximately 5,300 nautical miles at 18 knots. China's larger Type 055 destroyer has a standard displacement of more than 11,000 tons and uses four domestically produced QC280 gas turbines with a total power of more than 150,000 horsepower, which allows it to reach a speed of 30 knots and a range of 7,000 nautical miles at 18 knots. This means that the 055 is well ahead of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in range and tonnage.
It is worth noting that the Type 055 uses several new technologies, such as integrated RF technology and Combined Gas Turbine And Gas Turbine (COGAG).
Maritime Command Center
Type 055 has the capability to act as a maritime air defense command center, similar to the role of the U.S. military's Ticonderoga-class cruiser, which can serve as the air defense core of the entire fleet. The Type 055 has advanced communications equipment, giving it battlefield coordination capabilities.
In summary, Type 055 destroyers can escort aircraft carriers and carry out air defense, anti-ship, anti-submarine, and land attack operations. At the same time, they can function as the core of a surface ship battle group, making them highly versatile arsenal ships.
Beijing Is Ramping Up Production Of Type 055 Destroyers In Order to Deter the West, Prepare for Conquest of Taiwan
Beijing is working at full speed to build a large number of Type 055 13,000-ton class destroyers, aimed primarily at deterring the U.S. military. Interestingly, the Chinese destroyer was listed as the "Most Deadly Naval Surface Ship on Planet Earth" by National Interest magazine in 2018.
An October 2017 article in the CCP's China Youth Daily said: "The powerful Type 055 guided-missile destroyer not only represents the highest level of modern naval technology and can be equipped with new concept weapons, but also leads the development trend of surface ships in the world and becomes the symbol of a strong people's navy... It will provide strong support for us to manage the oceans, safeguard sea power and build a powerful navy."
According to a report published on April 3, 2023 by the CCP outlet Ta Kung Pao, the Type 055 guided-missile destroyer is the "chief killer" among Chinese Navy surface ships in terms of ship-borne weapons, scale, and firepower. The report also revealed that the Yingji-21 (YJ-21) missile, which was first launched by the Type 055 destroyer in April 2022, is the most advanced "carrier killer" and the world's first ship-based hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile put into service. The official Weibo account of the PLA Strategic Support Force has confirmed that the Yingji-21 has a cruise speed of Mach 6 and an attack speed of Mach 10 at the terminal phase, enabling it to break through defenses and avoid interception.
It is also clear that the Beijing authorities have stepped up production of the Type 055 13,000-ton class stealth guided missile destroyer with the purpose of creating substantive psychological pressure on the U.S. and its military allies such as Japan and Australia in order to prevent military intervention in the affairs surrounding China and in order to prepare for the conquest of Taiwan.
According to a report published by Sohu.com on January 29, 2023, titled "The Second Batch of 055 Destroyers Will Be Delivered Within 10 Years, Its Six Major Weapon Systems Will Be Fully Updated, And The Performance of Its Electromagnetic Gun Will Exceed That of the United States," Beijing's second batch of 055 destroyers is being upgraded in terms of weapons and power systems, including: a more advanced integrated electric propulsion system that will increase the performance of the ship's propulsion system and high-energy weapons; upgraded shipborne weapons, including an electromagnetic gun, new terminal close-in weapon systems, hypersonic anti-ship missiles, and medium-range ship-to-air missiles in quad-pack canisters; and sea-based missile defense capabilities.
The most conservative estimate is that the PLA Navy will have at least three carrier battle groups and three amphibious assault groups within the next decade, according to analysis by CCP media outlets. Based on the deployment of one or two Type 055s per battle group, the Chinese military would need 6-12 Type 055 destroyers just to meet the needs of battle groups, and additional 055s to further strengthen its naval capabilities.
*Chris King is Senior Research Fellow for the MEMRI Chinese Media Studies Project.