China has now already built eight new Type 055 stealthy destroyers, a class of next-generation destroyers likely intended to rival the U.S. Navy’s emerging Arleigh Burke-class DDG 51 Flight III destroyers or even Zumwalt-class warships.
Three of these new Type 055 destroyers are already operational.
While the weapons, technologies, and stealth characteristics of these ships are likely to be of interest to Pentagon officials, the sheer pace of Chinese shipbuilding continues to be a cause of concern. China’s industrial apparatus and ability to rapidly build ships enable the People's Republic of China (PRC) to continue its large-scale Naval expansion at a pace that is tough for the United States to match. Multiple reports say China is on pace to double its fleet of destroyers within just the next five years. The concern, however, is by no means restricted to pure numbers but also grounded in uncertainties related to the relative sophistication and capability of China’s new destroyers. Having more destroyers does not necessarily equate to any kind of maritime superiority if they cannot compete with the range, precision, networking, and overall capability of U.S. destroyers.
Furthermore, the U.S. Navy has as many as ten DDG Flight III destroyers under contract and is moving quickly to modernize their sensors, radar systems, computing, and ship-integrated weapons.
The Chinese Communist party-backed newspaper the Global Times reported that the Type 055 destroyers are engineered for multi-mission operations to include land-attack, open water maritime warfare, and anti-submarine missions. The new Chinese ships are armed with rocket-propelled torpedoes, operate sub-hunting helicopters and advanced sonar systems.
The first Type 055 Chinese destroyer, the Nanchang, looks a bit like a hybrid between the U.S. Zumwalt-class and Arleigh Burke DDG 51 class destroyers. It does have what appear to be some stealthy attributes such as a rounded front hull and smooth exterior with fewer protruding structures, but there are mounted antennas and what look like masts on the back end as well. The helicopter landing area on the back of the Nanchang also looks like that of a U.S. DDG 51.
Perhaps of greatest consequence is the question of whether these Type 055 destroyers have any kind of Aegis-radar-like ballistic missile defense technology. Does it have the ability to link fire-control, air and cruise missile defense, ballistic missile defense, and interceptor missiles capable of firing from deck-mounted Vertical Launch Systems?
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.