Addressing misconceptions about China’s latest surface combatant, the Type 055 guided-missile destroyer.
Approximately one year ago in June 2017, the lead Type 055 large destroyer was launched from Jiangnan shipyard.
With the recent launch of the second Type 055 from Jiangnan and two subsequent Type 055s at Dalian shipyard likely to launch in coming months, it is an instructive time for a proper analysis into this class of warship.
This piece will examine the general characteristics of the Type 055 destroyer informed by the latest open source information and imagery available, and address some mistakes and incorrect interpretations of the ship that has been reported over the last year.
One of the more common errors surrounding the Type 055 is the ship’s size, namely its displacement. Multiple articles from multiple outlets have described the 055 as a “10,000 ton” destroyer. This was likely sourced from the original Chinese state media reports describing the Type 055 as a “10,000 ton destroyer” surrounding its launch. Unfortunately, this figure seems to have been interpreted as the ship’s full displacement.
However, even a cursory glance at the 055’s dimensions and its configuration reveals a 10,000 ton full displacement is unlikely. From satellite imagery, it is possible to see that the Type 055’s length is between 178 to 180 meters, with a beam of 20 to 21 meters. By comparison, the full displacement of a Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is about 9,100 tons (with a much smaller length of 155 meters and a beam of 20 meters), and a Ticonderoga-class cruiser displaces about 9,600 tons (with a smaller length of 173 meters with a much smaller beam of 16.8 meters). Therefore it is very unlikely for a Type 055 to only displace a few hundred tons greater than a Flight IIA Arleigh Burke or Ticonderoga despite boasting a significantly greater length and/or beam than both classes.
The Type 055 also has more integrated topside superstructures (smoke stack and amidships structures), therefore the ship’s overall volume and thus its displacement should be significantly greater than that of a Flight IIA Arleigh Burke or Ticonderoga, perhaps up to a third. A 13,000 ton full displacement was suggested by an official PLA affiliated website in 2017, and this ballpark figure has also been suggested by some credible insiders in the Chinese-language defense watching community.
For the sake of brief comparison, at 13,000 tons full displacement, the Type 055 is smaller than the 15,000 ton Zumwalt class destroyer, but a good 2,000 tons larger than the next largest modern “Aegis type” surface combatant, the 11,000 ton South Korean Sejong-class destroyer.
As an aside, the reason why Chinese state media described the 055 as a “10,000 ton destroyer” is likely less a reflection of the ship’s actual technical displacement (whether it be full, standard or empty), and more related to the linguistic shorthand and cultural appreciation of the number “ten thousand” in Chinese culture. Ten thousand is considered a number of triumph. For example, Chinese emperors in antiquity were often hailed by their subjects to live for 10,000 years, and even in the modern age, the Forbidden City’s gates are emblazoned with characters hailing the People’s Republic of China to last for 10,000 years.
The Type 055 adopts a conventional flared hull with distinctive stealthy features including an enclosed bow, where mooring points, anchor chains and other equipment are hidden belowdecks. The bow armament adopts a similar configuration to the 052C/D, with the main gun located most anterior, followed by a 64 cell block of VLS, and the eleven barrel H/PJ-11 30mm close in weapons system (CIWS).
The main deckhouse is similar to the proven configuration that the preceding 052D adopts, with fixed four face phased array radars (PARs) arranged for overlapping 360 degree coverage. However, the mast atop the deckhouse is a more advanced integrated mast, with sensors and datalinks integrated into a single structure.
Similarly, the amidships area and the smoke stack is a continuous single structure extending from the main deckhouse. A continuous integrated structure not only provides additional volume for various uses (such as amidships RHIB davits), but also reduces deck clutter and the ship’s associated radar cross section. The single integrated smoke stack is notable, as it appears to shield the exhausts from the ship’s gas turbines to a greater degree, likely to reduce infrared signatures and radar cross section.
Moving posteriorly, there is a 48 cell block of VLS, leading to the aft helicopter hangar structure featuring two helicopter hangars. A step structure atop this hangar was once suspected to possibly accommodate a volume search radar, but instead will likely be equipped with a small dome or other electronics. A 24 cell HHQ-10 missile CIWS and four decoy turrets are equipped atop the hangar. A large stern helipad, greater in size than that on the 052C/D destroyers, accommodates the ship’s organic helicopter complement.
There have been some reports that the Type 055 may involve aluminium in its construction, however at this stage there are no credible indicators for this suggestion.
The bulk of the Type 055’s firepower – as in all modern surface combatants – resides in its missile armament that can be judged in its VLS.
The Type 055 uses the same universal VLS on the Type 052D, but with a larger total cell count of 112. As written elsewhere, the Chinese Navy’s universal VLS can fire missiles in a cold launch method, or a hot launch using concentric canister launch. Each individual square VLS cell has a diameter of 0.85 meters, significantly greater than that of the Mk-41 VLS at 0.635 meters or even the Zumwalt class’ Mk-57 PVLS at 0.71 meters. The universal VLS comes in three lengths, the greatest being 9 meters, which is longer than the Mk-41’s largest strike length variant at 7.7 meters or the Mk-57’s 7.81 meters. The Type 055’s beam and draft is likely sufficient for all 112 VLS to accommodate the largest 9 meter variant.
What this means in practice, is that an individual Chinese universal VLS cell can accommodate larger missiles than other international equivalents. In the case of Type 055, its 112 VLS count is lower than the Ticonderoga-class’ 122 or Sejong-class’ 128, but each cell has a larger internal volume, with the potential to carry a larger missile.
The Type 055’s VLS will likely field existing weapons that have been integrated into the Type 052D, such as the YJ-18 anti ship missile, and current variants of HHQ-9 naval SAMs (thought to be the B variant). But the nature of the universal VLS, means any future payloads could be potentially integrated into the system, such as future SAMs, AShMs, LACMs, ASROCs or even ballistic missile defense payloads.
Aside from VLS, the H/PJ-38 130mm main gun is the same type which equips the Type 052D, but curiously lacks a muzzle brake as opposed to the Type 052D. The aforementioned H/PJ-11 and HHQ-10 CIWS and decoy launchers provide last ditch air defense, and panels on the sides of the amidships region likely hide standard triple 324mm torpedo tubes for short range last ditch ASW.
Future Type 055 variants may alter the VLS count and adopt more exotic armament such as rail guns or directed energy weapons.
The Type 055’s integrated mast is suspected to likely mount a type of X band active phased array radar in four fixed panels.
The Type 055 is equipped with a further evolution of the Type 346 active phased array radar, dubbed Type 346B. The original Type 346 was a dual band radar in the S and C bands, however it is unknown if the Type 055 retains the C band radar given the likely presence of an X band radar. There are some suggestions Type 346B may use Gallium Nitride technology, which would likely be within China’s current industrial capabilities.
Some publications have mentioned the low placement of the 055’s main Type 346B arrays as a limitation or flaw in its design, which warrants some consideration. Warships such as the Royal Navy’s Type 45 and Indian Kolkata-class mount S band arrays atop a high mast, to provide greater radar horizon detection range against low flying targets. However, mounting arrays in a higher position also limits the size of the array, meaning the absolute power of the radar system is also reduced.
The Type 055, Type 052C/D, and Burke class adopt a “lower mounted” configuration. Some ships such as the Japanese Kongo/Atago-class, and the Spanish F100 and Australian Hobart-classes mount their main radar arrays at a slightly higher level than Burkes, Type 052C/D or Type 055 but lower than Type 45 or Indian Kolkata-class destroyers.
For the Type 055, the limitations of mounting their Type 346B at the level of the main deckhouse does not inherently compromise the ship’s overall radar horizon range, as the integrated mast above the deckhouse will likely mount the aforementioned X band radar. X band radars are better suited for horizon search and discrimination of low flying targets compared to S band radars, and having a dedicated high mounted X band radar allows the benefits of a larger and more powerful S band radar in the form of the Type 346B. Overall, the radar configuration of any warship is a compromise between various competing requirements, and each configuration has different advantages and disadvantages.
Outside of radars, other arrays and mounts for ESM, ECM and EO sensors and datalinks have also been identified around the ship, but the designation of these systems are not known. Based on the external mounts that can be identified they are likely a newer generation than what was present on existing ships like Type 052D.
In terms of subsurface sensors, an opening in the Type 055’s similar to that of Type 052D and Type 054A suggests it contains a variable depth sonar, with a linear towed array sonar expected as well. Images during the launch of the first Type 055 also demonstrate a large bulbous bow indicate of a large bow sonar, significantly greater than what existing Chinese surface combatants have been equipped with.
The Type 055 does not field an integrated electric propulsion system.
For propulsion, the Type 055 is equipped with four QC-280 gas turbines, each rated at 28 MW, in a COGAG arrangement. For generating electricity, a brief view of a CAD image in 2017 indicated it is equipped with two pairs of three generators, likely small gas turbines, for a total of six generators. It has been suggested that these gas turbines may be QD50s rated at 5 MW, which would provide a total of 30 MW to the ship. By comparison, the Flight III Burke is equipped with three 4MW gas turbine generators for a total of 12 MW.
The greater power generating capacity is likely to supply the variety of new generation sensors aboard the ship, which are likely to consume substantial amounts of power. Future variants of 055 are expected to field IEPS, which would enable the ship to field even more powerful sensors and weapons such as rail guns and DEWs.
Total production run
A total of six Type 055s have been visually identified up to this point. Two Type 055s have been launched and are being fitting out at Jiangnan (the first likely to start sea trials later this year), with modules for another Type 055 identified at Jiangnan as well. Two Type055s in late stages of assembly at Dalian will likely be launched later this year, and modules for another Type 055 have been identified at Dalian.
Credible rumors over the years have put the first batch of 055s at greater than 8 ships, so in the foreseeable future it is likely that we will see additional 055 modules at both Jiangnan and Dalian.
We have no indications for the total number of Type 055s the Chinese Navy may seek, but some rumors have suggested the South Sea Fleet’s 9th Destroyer Flotilla may receive the first four Type 055s, followed by the North Sea Fleet’s 1st Destroyer Flotilla. Based on this pattern, it may suggest that the Navy either intends to equip one Destroyer Flotilla of each of their three fleets with four Type 055s, which would indicate a 12 strong Type 055 fleet. However, the Navy may also intend each of the Navy’s six Destroyer Flotillas to be equipped with four Type 055s, which would indicate a 24 strong Type 055 fleet.