While the US dithers over funding its navy, China is churning out new ships at a record pace, closing the gap. Credit: AFP.

The gap between the US and China is closing … rapidly.

Case in point — China launched an additional Type 055 destroyer and a Type 052D destroyer before year’s end, a move experts say is an ambitious achievement in shipbuilding.

Fully dressed, the two ships left a flooded dockyard and moored in nearby berths under the assistance of tug boats on Friday morning at the Dalian Shipyard, Northeast China’s Liaoning Province, as they wrapped up their successful launches, news website wenweipo.com reported on Friday.

The launched ships are China’s sixth Type 055 guided missile destroyer and the 23rd Type 052D guided missile destroyer, the report said.

“China’s rapid shipbuilding speed is a reflection of its industrial capability and its determination to build a strong navy,” a military expert who asked not to be named told the Global Times on Sunday, calling the shipyard a powerhouse for China’s naval equipment.

Meanwhile, according to Defense News, a sweeping series of proposed cuts to the US Navy’s shipbuilding programs and force structure could herald a new strategy for a slimmed-down fleet, or could fizzle out in the budgetary process.

But the fact that such a proposal is on the table in the first place shows the pressures the Defense Department is working under with an anticipated flat budget and a stack of modernization bills to pay, experts say.

A memo obtained by Defense News from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to the Department of Defense outlined dramatic cuts to the Navy’s Arleigh Burke destroyer program, cutting five out of the 12 proposed over the five-year future year defense program.

The Type 055 is China’s first 10,000 ton-class guided missile destroyer with a 112-cell vertical launch system, and the smaller Type 052D has 64 vertical launch cells. Credit: TASS.

It also pushed a Block V Virginia-class attack submarine out of the 2021 budget, dropping down to one from the planned two. And it slowed down the buy for the planned 20-ship FFG(X) program, ordering just one in 2021 and 2022, instead of the planned two each year.

The cuts to force structure were even more dramatic. The Navy accelerated the decommissioning of four cruisers. When combined with FY2020 accelerated cruiser retirements would shed 13 out of 22 of the current inventory out of the force structure by the end of the FYDP. The service is also planning to retire the first four littoral combat ships as many as 17 years early, and is planning to retire three dock landing ships early.

If everything goes well, the two Chinese destroyers launched on Friday could enter naval service in about two years, the expert said.

After launch, a destroyer will usually take about a year to undergo outfitting procedures to install all kinds of additional equipment to get the ship ready to sail and make it combat-capable. Another year might be needed for it to conduct sea trials to see if everything works properly and make the necessary adjustments.

The Type 055 is China’s first 10,000 ton-class guided missile destroyer with a 112-cell vertical launch system, and the smaller Type 052D has 64 vertical launch cells. Both types are considered world-class and have outstanding detection, air defense and anti-ship capabilities.

This is the second time in 2019 the Dalian Shipyard has launched two destroyers on the same day, wenweipo.com reported.

The shipyard reportedly launched China’s 19th and 20th Type 052D destroyers on May 10. In July 2018, the third and fourth Type 055 destroyers were also launched there.

Shanghai-based Jiangnan Shipyard also builds these two types of destroyers. Shipyards around China also build other types of warships including frigates, amphibious landing docks and amphibious assault ships.

Following the same regular pattern of ship construction, these ships that have been launched in the past two years will likely join the Chinese Navy one by one in the coming one to three years, the expert said, noting that by 2021, the Navy will become significantly more powerful and capable of safeguarding China’s sovereignty and overseas interests thanks to the new ships.

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