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China's Much Anticipated Type 055 Destroyer Class Nears Completion; Could the PLA Soon Field the Most Powerful Warship in the Pacific?

February 06th - 2018

China's next generation battleship, the Type 055, is currently in the final stages of development with Shanghai’s Jiangnan Shipyard Group. The 13,000 ton destroyers will field advanced active phased array radar systems with 600km coverage and a dual band radar system similar to that of the U.S. Zumwalt Class warships. The Type 055 destroyer is to be equipped with some of China's most capable anti aircraft, anti missile, anti ship and anti submarine weapons systems - including HQ-19 SAM systems capable of targeting both ballistic missiles and low flying satellites (dubbed Chinese Aegis in the U.S.) as well as HQ-9 anti aircraft SAM systems - a highly capable weapon derived from Russia's S-300. The warship will also among other weapons systems be equipped with the highly capable YJ-18 anti ship cruise missiles, Mach 3 platforms with 300kg warheads and a 540km range which can also be used against land based targets.

The Type 055 integrates limited stealth capabilities into its design, including reduced radar cross section and reduced noise, infrared and electromagnetic radiation to make the warship more difficult to detect and target at long ranges. The construction of the new destroyer has involved several new technologies, such as new more complex soldering techniques to construct an aluminium alloy superstructure. The platform is designed to be able to easily integrate newer weapons systems as they are developed, including hypersonic scramjet missiles and potentially even electromagnetic railguns.

Developed alongside China's Type 001 carrier, the first wholly indigenous aircraft carrier ever built by the country, the launch of the destroyers is set to coincide with the carrier's commissioning. According to a Chinese military source: “China now is building four Type 055 destroyers, with two designed to be ‘imperial bodyguards’ to the first home-grown carrier in high seas. But China is going to build more of the destroyers to meet the navy’s increasing demand for modern warships.” With China set to field four carrier battle groups by 2025 fielding the country's most capable destroyer warships, the Navy will require at last eight Type 055 ships by that time. It is likely that further Type 055 warships will be commission for operations outside the country's carrier groups a potentially to replace some of the country's older destroyers.

China appears to have had far greater success in developing modern destroyers than rival naval powers, with the United States and to a lesser extent Russia both struggling with their own programs. The Type 055 is rivalled in its sophistication only the American Zumwalt Class destroyer, but the former program is likely to be a far greater success and a more cost effective weapons program compared to the latter. The Zumwalt Class destroyer program has been terminated with only 9% of initial orders met due to severe performance shortcomings and cost overruns, leaving the U.S. Navy with just three of the notoriously unreliable next generation platforms. The Zumwalt's cost of over $7 billion per unit (including R&D costs) and flaws including breakdowns at sea and underperforming weapons mean even the three ships which were not cancelled are unlikely to prove capable enough to match the Type 055. With Chinese Naval armaments program advancing far faster than those of its American rival, it is unlikely once the U.S. loses qualitative supremacy at sea that it will be able to regain this advantage. The Type 055 is therefore set to be the first of many Chinese destroyers with a distinct technological and qualitative advantage over U.S. rivals.

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