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China Just Launched The Biggest Warship In Asia

June 30, 2017

Via Xinhua/Chinese MND.

On June 28 the PLAN’s largest surface combatant was launched with more than the usual fanfare. The warship is designated a “guided missile destroyer” and, based on factoids shared by Chinese media, surpasses any other country’s naval vessel in mass and armament.

Except for the surviving nuclear-powered Kirov battlecruisers of the Russian navy, almost no other vessel measures and displaces more than the Type 055, being 180 meters long and 20 meters wide at the beam, with a gross weight of 10,000 tons. Its true displacement could reach anywhere between 12,000 and 14,ooo tons once it’s put to sea after being commissioned at a later date. By comparison, each of the US Navy’s impressive Tyconderoga-class cruisers displaces at just 9,960 tons fully loaded with 364 men and women for crew.

While the USS Zumwalt scales heavier (almost 15,000 tons) than the Type 055, both share so little in common and appear to be products of separate doctrines, hence direct comparisons aren’t helpful.

The three largest navies in Asia don’t have any ships matching the Type 055’s dimensions. Japan’s own Atago-class guided missile destroyer comes close, but falls short. Likewise with India’s own Kolkata-class destroyer. The best rival is South Korea’s impressive Sejong the Great-class destroyer, whose form and function is borrowed from the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class with their distinctive AEGIS-equipped superstructures.

Discerning the mission of the first Type 055 is a speculative effort. Judging by its size and appearance, however, it’s clear the PLAN moved away from the Russian concept of a missile ship built to fight carrier battle groups and settled for a serious force projecting vessel that accompanies Chinese carriers.

There’s substantial evidence the Type 055 is equipped with the its own active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and can perform three distinct roles. These are battle group escort, providing an air defense umbrella over PLAN flotillas and bases, and anti-submarine warfare. For the last function the Type 055 supports a hangar large enough for two helicopters.

According to Chinese media, the Type 055 launched at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai boasts a suite of armaments–cruise missiles, anti-air systems, and anti-submarine weapons–that are the most advanced in its class. The Type 055 reportedly carries two separate VLS modules for 128 missiles. This means if a Type 055 is ordered to strike inland targets with a barrage of precision-guided munitions like a US Navy destroyer, it could.

Its secondary armaments includes a 130mm gun and an unspecified number of close-in weapons. The Type 055’s arrival less than two months after the launch of the PLAN’s first genuine aircraft carrier is further proof that Beijing intends to police the world’s oceans and send its forces abroad.

The Type 055 might the first of at least a dozen missile destroyers. These are probably destined for accompanying the hypothetical six carrier battle groups China will try to deploy within the next 10 years. But the writers from Popular Mechanics’ Eastern Arsenal blog, Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer, suggests the PLAN is commissioning eight Type 055’s in the medium-term and perhaps 30 Type-055’s over many decades–an obvious attempt to outnumber the US Navy. It’s a worrisome assumption but China’s rivals and neighbors have no choice but to wait and see.

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