China recently reached a new milestone on its path toward military modernization. On June 28, the country launched the first Type 055 warship from the Jiangnan Shipyard on Shanghai's Changxing Island. The vessel is China's first heavy destroyer, and it is the largest surface combatant warship built by an Asian power since the end of World War II. With the Type 055, China shows how far it has come in its efforts to expand its maritime capabilities.
The Type 055 warship is a large and heavy vessel, with a full displacement — or weight — of more than 12,000 tons, a length of about 180 meters (590 feet) and a beam of roughly 20 meters. In fact, the U.S. military classifies the Type 055 as a cruiser, a class of warship larger than a destroyer. And despite its size, the new ship is sleek and modern in its design. For instance, it incorporates numerous features that reduce its visibility on radar, such as a fully enclosed foredeck and an integrated mast.
Compared with the previous Chinese destroyer class, the Type 052D, the Type 055 does not vastly improve on actual weaponry. The new warship largely carries the same type of missiles as the Type 052D and is equipped with a similar suite of close-in weapons systems. But the Type 055's larger size allows it to carry between 112 and 128 Vertical Launch System cells, compared with the 64 cells carried by the Type 052D. This expanded capability gives the new destroyer many more offensive and defensive options, as well as greater flexibility and staying power.
The Type 055 is also equipped with a bigger and more capable sensor set than the Type 052D. It has a dual-band radar system, an extensive electronic support and countermeasures suite, and advanced communication data links. Moreover, since it serves as a command ship and air defense escort for China's aircraft carriers and fleet squadrons, the Type 055 boasts extensive command and control and battle management systems.
Marking China's ascent to the upper echelons of naval technology, the Type 055 is an important accomplishment for the country. When it comes to destroyer-class vessels, only two countries' warships arguably supersede the Type 055 in technological advancement or combat capability: the United States' Zumwalt-class destroyers, and South Korea's Sejong the Great-class destroyers.
The new vessel is made all the more significant by the fact that it is being mass-produced. There are currently four Type 055 warships under construction in two Chinese shipyards, and many more are expected to follow. That capacity, combined with the ongoing production of the Type 052D, makes it clear that the Chinese navy is witnessing a major increase in both the quality and number of its surface combatants.
Of course, no amount of advancement can be fully leveraged if a navy's forces are not highly trained. The only way for China to sculpt its new maritime muscles will be to give them a workout; to that end, observers can expect the Chinese navy to more frequently foray into waters far from home. After all, Beijing is as keen as ever to catch up to the experience level of some of its greatest maritime adversaries, including the United States and Japan.