China celebrated the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Liberation Army-Navy on Tuesday by showing off its latest naval advancement, the Type 055 destroyer. This new naval platform boasts far more firepower than America’s Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, and represents the most potent element of China’s growing naval prowess in the Pacific.
The parade was beset by fog, making visibility limited, but the hulking structure of the 10,000-ton stealth destroyer Nanchang remained a foreboding presence nonetheless. While America’s best-equipped destroyers boast an impressive 96 vertical launch cells capable of firing surface to air, anti-ship, and land-attack platforms, the Type 055 boasts a whopping 112. At 590 feet long and displacing 12,000-13,000 tons when fully loaded, the Type 055 is far larger than its 509-foot long, 9,800-ton American counterpart. In fact, the ship is technically large enough to be designated a cruiser, rather than a destroyer. The Type 055 falls somewhere between America’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and Ticonderoga-class cruisers in terms of size and armaments.
The ship also carries a 130mm dual purpose naval gun and a variety of “close-in” weapons systems, along with a pair of anti-submarine helicopters.
In the Pentagon’s annual China military power report released earlier this year, the Department of Defense actually classified China’s new destroyer as a cruiser, traditionally seen as the second largest surface vessel in a nation’s military following aircraft carriers.
This new class of destroyer also boasts a stealthy profile, making it more fitting competition for America’s troubled Zumwalt-class destroyers. The Zumwalt has faced a number of developmental hurdles, including a primary weapons system that had to be canceled due to the exorbitant cost of ammunition.
A total of five Chinese Type 055 destroyers have already been launched, though China has recently made a point not to heavily publicize new vessel launches, likely due to the large number of new military ships the nation has fielded in the past few years. With at least four more Type 055s currently under construction, these powerful new warships will eventually serve as the defensive backbone of China’s forthcoming carrier strike groups.
Currently, the People’s Liberation Army-Navy lacks nuclear propulsion in its carriers, though it is widely believed the nation intends to shift toward their production within the next few years. Once nuclear generators have been fitted to China’s large surface vessels, its navy will make the diplomatic shift away from conducting strictly “green water” operations to serving as a truly “blue water” navy. Blue water, in this case, denotes its ability to operate far away from friendly ports, where the depth of the ocean provides the water a bluer hue.