They are Asia’s largest and most advanced destroyers, designed to guard China’s first home-grown aircraft carrier and meet the navy’s demand for modern warships.
Moving at top speed to build up a global blue-water navy to safeguard its maritime interests, China has launched four Type 055 guided-missile destroyers in the past 13 months — two simultaneously in July — and is building four more.
The home-built warships — which analysts have called the second most powerful globally — are to serve as the primary escorts for People’s Liberation Army aircraft carrier strike groups.
The as-yet unnamed aircraft carrier that would provide the primary offensive firepower for a battle unit concluded its maiden sea trials in May.
Here are five things to know about the Type 055 destroyer:
1. Its size and armaments put it closer to a ‘cruiser’ than a ‘destroyer’
Type 055 is well equipped to be the primary escort in China’s aircraft carrier strike groups.
At more than 180 metres long and 20 metres wide with a full displacement of more than 12,000 tonnes, it is a fearsome piece of marine and military engineering, equipped with air-defence, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons.
Despite being officially classified by the PLA navy as a “destroyer”, the vessel’s size and capabilities exceed the traditional standards for the type of small, fast warship that typically plays a defensive role against submarines and aircraft.
In fact, in the US defence department’s annual China military power report, Type 055 is called a “cruiser”, which, by the US definition, is the largest and most powerful surface combatant after an aircraft carrier.
2. It is said to be the world’s second strongest destroyer
The type 055 has a larger vertical missile-launching system than most of the world’s destroyers. Its Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells are also bigger than those found on US naval ships.
The warship has a 112-cell VLS to fire HHQ-9 surface-to-air missiles, YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missiles, CJ-10 land-attack cruise missiles and missile-launched anti-submarine torpedoes.
It also has a 130mm dual-purpose naval gun and close-in weapon system and carries two anti-submarine helicopters.
The destroyer’s features include advanced X band radar in four active electronically scanned arrays and an integrated electronic system similar to the Aegis combat system on US naval ships.
Given its size, Type 055 could also serve as a platform for developing next-generation weapons such as high-energy laser equipment or rail guns, according to military analysts.
In theory, Type 055 is the world’s second most powerful destroyer after the US Navy’s DDG-1000, or Zumwalt class, the analysts said.
3. It still trails the US Zumwalt class
While China’s Type 055 destroyer raises comparisons with the US Navy’s Zumwalt class destroyer, the Chinese vessel still lags its US counterpart in important ways.
The Zumwalt is the world’s most technologically advanced destroyer, with 15,000 dominant tonnes of displacement.
Possessing a unique tumblehome hull design — where the sides slope inward — and an angular shape, the Zumwalt has a reduced radar return that can make it as stealthy as a fishing boat and quieter than a small submarine.
The Zumwalt also is equipped with a next-generation electronic system.
Designed primarily as a land attack vessel, the Zumwalt is fitted with powerful naval guns that include a 155mm advanced gun system and an 80-cell VLS distributed peripherally around its outer shell.
By contrast, Type 055 is designed to focus on air defence and anti-submarine missions and thus has more missile cells and a longer range than the Zumwalt class.
4. It can compete with other warships in Asia
Type 055 destroyers will probably play a role similar to that of US Ticonderoga class cruisers and Arleigh Burke class destroyers, even though the Chinese ship is larger than both of the US vessels, which have displacements of fewer than 10,000 tonnes.
Type 055’s radar, electronic and missile system also uses newer technology than the two US warships, which were developed in the 1980s and 1990s.
Type 055 also has been compared to other warships deployed in the region, notably South Korea’s Sejong the Great class (DDG-991) and Japan’s Atago class and its newly launched Maya subclass. Both the Sejong and Atago-class destroyers have full displacements of around 10,000 tonnes and Aegis combat systems, with the Sejong the Great class boasting a 128-cell VLS.
But analysts said they believe Type 055 surpasses the Korean and Japanese vessels in size, radar system performance, missile capacity and multifunctionality.
5. It will trigger a shortage of warship names
One of the Type 055 vessels under construction will be named “Lhasa”, after the capital of Tibet.
The names of the other seven Type 055 vessels remain unknown, but the Chinese navy’s vessel naming rules call for larger destroyers to be named after China’s regional central cities, in most cases provincial capitals.
However, amid the recent boom in naval shipbuilding, 25 provincial capitals have already been used for warship names. Just two mainland capitals remain available: Nanchang in Jiangxi and Nanning in Guangxi.