Written by Brian Kalman exclusively for SouthFront; Brian Kalman is a management professional in the marine transportation industry. He was an officer in the US Navy for eleven years. He currently resides and works in the Caribbean.
When the PLA Navy first eluded to its intention to build another class of guided missile destroyer (DDG) to follow the Type 052D, there was much speculation as to the dimensions, displacement, and intended role of such a vessel. In March of 2014, images began to circulate on the internet that clearly illustrated a test-bed mock-up of the new vessel’s superstructure at the PLA Navy’s testing center at Wuhan, in southern China. Military analysts and enthusiasts keep a watchful eye on the Wuhan facility, as mock-ups for China’s Liaoning CV-16 aircraft carrier, and now the follow-on CV-17 have provided a useful tool by which to extrapolate the eventual size and weapons and systems complement of the finished vessels. Comparing the Type 055 mock-up at Wuhan to the hull modules currently being constructed at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, gives a relatively accurate estimation of total size and displacement.
Initial estimates on size and displacement have narrowed as a result of new information and photographic evidence becoming available. Speculation of a displacement tonnage in excess of 14,000 tons and a Length Overall (LOA) of 187 meters have been revised down to a displacement of 12,000 tons at 180 meters LOA. This makes sense when one looks at the size of its most similar contemporary in the West, the Arleigh Burke class DDG. The latest Arleigh Burke Flight IIA weighs in at 9,200 tons, with an LOA of 155 meters. The proposed Flight III upgrade adds an estimated 600 tons displacement without any changes to LOA or beam dimensions.
Initial cost estimates for the first of the four planned Type 055 DDGs is in excess of $5 billion Yuan ($750 million USD). The GOA reported in 2016, that the per-unit cost of an Arleigh Burke Flight IIA is approximately $1.19 billion USD. If the Chinese estimate is correct, this denotes a significant cost savings per vessel for a platform that is at least as capable, if not superior to its U.S. counterpart in comparison. Its larger size suggests greater range, electrical power generation, and accommodation for both weapons, and sensory and electronic warfare systems than other DDGs in service.
Why Field a Larger DDG?
The PLAN has impressed both its admirers and detractors with the swift development and production of the Type 052D class DDG. The PLAN has built 12 of the vessels so far, with 4 already in active service. The remainder are in various stages of fitting-out or sea-trials. There is speculation that there may be an additional two units under construction at both the Dalian and Jiangnan shipyards. With the adoption of such a capable, high-tech DDG, why would the PLAN require an additional class of destroyer? There are a number of reasons why fielding the Type 055 alongside its smaller sibling makes perfect sense.
The Type 055 DDGs could serve in a multitude of roles. Similar to the U.S. Navy Ticonderoga Class CGs, they could offer longer range and greater Anti-submarine (ASW) and Anti-aircraft (AAW) defense for fleet task forces or aircraft carrier strike groups to be fielded by the PLAN in the near future. Type 052D and 055 destroyers could operate in conjunction with one another in a similar fashion as the Arleigh Burke DDG and Ticongeroda guided missile cruiser (CG), in providing a multilayered and robust fleet defense. With greater range and capability, they offer the PLAN the ability to increase the range and endurance of China’s naval power projection efforts, and further transform the PLAN into a true “Blue Water” navy. They will undoubtedly serve to showcase the growing military, political and economic power of China in broader diplomatic terms.
Current Construction Efforts
Two vessels have appeared in photographs and satellite imagery taken of the Jiangnan Shipyard. The hull of the first vessel in class is apparently completed. Two or three hull section modules of a second Type 055 can also clearly visible in satellite imagery of the shipyard, under construction alongside the lead-on vessel.
It turns out that a third Type 055 is under construction at the Dalian shipyard. Dalian is also currently building the CV-17 aircraft carrier, the first indigenously constructed aircraft carrier for the PLAN. Dalian has also been building the Type 052D class destroyers in conjunction with Jiangnan. Using both of the shipyards has allowed China to speed up its acquisition of these modern naval vessels.
The Type 055 is being fitted with either two 64 cell modular vertical launch systems (VLS) or one 64 cell and one 48 cell VLS. One VLS is mounted forward in the bow of the destroyer, between the deck gun and the superstructure, and one VLS between the main superstructure and the aft helicopter hangar. The modular VLS will most likely be the same system currently utilized by the Type 052D, and will be able to house and fire all current missiles in the PLAN inventory, including the YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missile and HQ-9 anti-aircraft missile.
The Type 055 mock-up at Wuhan gives clues as to the possible radar array planned for the vessel, as well as the electronic support measures (ESM) to be carried. It is assumed by most analysts that the Type 055 will make use of an updated Type 346A active phased array radar (APAR) as well an X-band radar. The Type 055 will most likely use 4 phased array radar panels, with two panels on the front of the superstructure and two aft. Where the Type 052 mounts four panels at the same height, both fore and aft, the Type 055 may align the panels at an offset height in an attempt to maximize radar coverage. The integrated mast on the Type 055 mock-up mounts 3 radar panels, most likely for friend-or-foe identification (IFF), fire-control and electronic countermeasures (ECM), on the forward face of the mast only, yet the actual vessels will carry these same panels on all four sides of the mast. The mock-up also sports an exposed ESM mast at the top of the integrated mast, but it is unclear whether the ESM mast will remain exposed or not on the actual vessel…..more here