For the first time, the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) deployed a Type 055 destroyer with an aircraft carrier group during a sea trial earlier this month.
The Nanchang, a Type 055 Renhai-class stealth-guided-missile destroyer, reportedly joined the Liaoning aircraft carrier group and sailed through the Miyako Strait south of Okinawa and into the Pacific Ocean.
The carrier group then began regularly scheduled exercises near the island of Taiwan.
According to Janes, the aircraft and a destroyer from the Japan Self-Defense Force identified the other Chinese warships in the group as the Type 052D (Luyang III)-class destroyers Chengdu (120) and Taiyuan (131), the Type 054A (Jiangkai II)-class frigate Huanggang (577), and the Type 901 (Fuyu)-class fast replenishment ship Hulunhu (965).
Senior Captain Gao Xiucheng, a spokesperson for the PLAN, said the group was conducting "routine" training exercises. The PLAN's exercises followed the U.S. Navy's deployment of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TRCSG) to the South China Sea.
This also marked the first mission of the Type 055 destroyer Nanchang. With a displacement of more than 12,000 tons, the PLAN's new class of warship is considered the world's second most powerful destroyer after the U.S. Navy's DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class. Nanchang is the second of sixteen planned Type 055 destroyers.
The first of the class, Lhasa, entered service in March. Six more are now being fitted out or taking part in sea trials.
The Chinese vessels feature a multi-mission design with a combination of senators and weapons that suggests that the destroyers could be employed in area air defense as well as providing anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities. The warships will also be a primary escort for Chinese aircraft carriers, which is likely why Nanchang was deployed in this recent mission.
The Nanchang is about 590 feet long and displaces 12 to 13,000 tonnes under full load. It is equipped with 112 vertical launch missile cells and is capable of launching a combination of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), anti-ship missiles, land-attack missiles, and anti-submarine missiles. Its weapons-loadout reportedly includes HHQ-9 surface-to-air missiles and YJ-18 and CJ-10 cruise missiles. The YJ-18 has a range of around 300 miles, while the CJ-10, a copy of Russia's Kh-55, reportedly can travel as far as 800 miles.
"The Type 055 has a significant improvement over the preceding classes of destroyers, in particular the Type 052D, boasting a much larger weapons payload that gives unprecedented defensive and offensive capabilities to the PLA Navy," Collin Koh, a research fellow from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told South China Morning Post. "In a carrier task force, the Type 055 would probably be the primary escort for the carrier, serving as a key node for fleet air defense and its main offensive punch besides the carrier’s own combat air wing."
While classified by the PLAN as a destroyer, the United States Navy would classify the warship as a cruiser, and analysts have suggested the Type 055 would fill a similar role as the Ticonderoga-class cruiser. It is likely that the PLAN would follow the American model of force-generation, whereby it would assign a single Type 055 to each carrier battle group. The Type 055 would then function as the air-defense commander for the group, coordinating air- and missile defense on behalf of the carrier and other escort ships.
The remaining Type 055s that aren't assigned to carrier groups could instead function as the lead vessels in powerful surface action groups.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.