A Type 055 guided-missile destroyer commissioned by the People’s Liberation Army last weekend has wrestled the title of the largest surface warship other than an aircraft carrier across Asian navies.
The 10,000-ton Nanchang, named after the provincial capital of Jiangxi, sailed into the Yellow Sea from Qingdao in northern China on Sunday as the flagship of the Type 055 series, with five more taking shape in Shanghai and Dalian and another eight already planned.
The debut of the Nanchang, however, predated its commissioning by more than half a year when she stretched her legs for the first time during the Chinese Navy’s 70th anniversary parade off Qingdao in April last year.
The Type 055, China’s most advanced destroyers almost on a par with the US Navy’s large surface vessels, are set to complete the strike groups of the Liaoning and Shandong, the two PLA carriers in service, and extend Beijing’s naval reach further afield into the western Pacific.
The Global Times also noted that the versatile warship with a range of 9,300 kilometers could also lead a flotilla without a carrier on a wide range of missions from high-profile expeditionary patrols along China’s major sea lines of communication in the South China Sea and other international waters to escorting Chinese convoys in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.
The known arsenal of the 180-meter-long, 20-meter-wide destroyer includes a legion of 112 vertical-launch missile cells capable of firing a formidable assortment of surface-to-air, land-attack, anti-ship as well as anti-submarine missiles, aided by the Type 346 active electronically scanned array radar system. Its size also dwarfs peers in neighboring navies and is categorized by the Pentagon as a cruiser.
The arrival of the Nanchang came on the heels of the commissioning of the Shandong as China’s first homemade aircraft carrier in December.
The speed with which Beijing has added new assets to its navy has an intended audience – Taiwan. However, the mainland’s renewed military menacing has boomeranged and instead galvanized many voters into backing the incumbent, independence-leaning leader Tsai Ing-wen.
“The first Type 055 Nanchang destroyers … could be useful to blockade Taiwan,” Oriana Skylar Mastro, a China scholar with the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute think tank, told a congressional US-China Economic and Security Review Commission hearing in September.
And, analysts say compared with the Shandong, largely a Chinese copycat of the antiquated carrier design from the Soviet era, the Type 055 armada packing powerful missiles may pose more threats to potential adversaries including Japan and US forces in the region and even tip the balance of Asia’s naval arms race in favor of the Chinese navy.
Many say that while the PLA has been slow to launch modernized flattop carriers, more Type 055s are set to sail one after another in the next three to five years as construction is revved up.
It has also been suggested that future variants may be powered by an integrated electric propulsion system and armed with lasers or even electromagnetic railguns.