The entry into service of the new Type 055 destroyer is unlikely to provide a major boost in capability to the Chinese Navy (the PLA-N), instead representing a continuing evolutionary approach to surface combatant design focused on improving China’s naval air defence and at-sea endurance.
It does, however, provide a useful reminder of the overall modernisation program underway across the PLA-N to achieve Beijing’s aim of deploying a fleet of more capable, and lethal, vessels. In late June 2017, the first of China’s new Type 055 destroyers was launched at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai.
Construction of the vessel had been underway since at least 2014. When it is likely commissioned into service next year this destroyer – the class of which has been named Renhai by the U.S. military – will be the largest surface combatant ever constructed by China, and is indeed the largest surface combatant built in Asia since the end of the Second World War. With an estimated displacement of 12,000 tonnes it is about 50 per cent larger than its predecessor, the Type 052D (Luyang III-class), and has been classified by some analysts as more akin in size to a cruiser.
Although the PLA-N’s plans for the eventual number of Type 055s in its fleet are unknown – some sources claim that 12 will be built – there are currently at least three other Type 055s under construction, split between shipyards in Jiangnan and Dalian, in northern China. This parallel production likely indicates confidence on the part of the PLA-N’s shipbuilders and will bring the ships online sooner. But it will also mean that any lessons learned from the first-in-class’ initial sea trials will need to be quickly passed on to the builders of the follow-on vessels.
While the Type 055 is a large ship, some attempts have been made to reduce the radar cross section of the vessel’s hull and superstructure. The above-water hull is made up of angled flat planes and the main mast of the ship has enclosed antennas.