The PLAN launched the first Type 055 Guided Missile Destroyer (DDG) today, June 28th, 2017. The launching was accompanied by a full military band, colorful streamers and fireworks. The Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has much to celebrate, in that the vessel represents a major technological step forward for China’s navy. The Type 055 meets and likely exceeds the capabilities of the U.S. Arleigh Burke Class DDG, the Japanese Atago Class DDG, and just about any other DDG in service in the world today.
Built to supplement the smaller, yet very formidable Type 052 Class DDG, which is already fielded in significant numbers in both the South and East Sea Fleets, the new vessel will provide the PLAN with a larger, more capable surface combatant than ever before seen in the ranks of the PLAN. Envisioned as a fleet or task force command ship, a powerful ASW/AAW platform for aircraft carrier strike group escort duty, or as a powerful stand-alone naval power presence asset, the Type 055 will add one more powerful tool to the PLANs toolkit.
The first Type 055 DDG launched today will most likely be the first of at least six vessels in class. Although there is a second vessel currently under construction at the Jiangnan Shipyard, the vessel now launched must undergo lengthy sea trials and will not be commissioned until early 2018. These sea trials should reveal any design flaws or shortcomings that need to be rectified in follow-on vessels. If the PLAN intends to equip future aircraft carrier strike groups (CSG) with one Type 055 each, six vessels will be required at a minimum, with one vessel active while another is ashore for repairs/refit or training. The second PLAN aircraft carrier, and the first 100% indigenously built, the CV-17 Shandong, should be commissioned at the beginning of 2018, with a third and totally new design to follow. The third aircraft carrier will most likely be of an entirely new design, of larger dimensions and displacement, and will be a catapult assisted take off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) design. If the Type 055 DDGs serve a similar function in the CSG as the U.S. Ticonderoga Class CGs, six vessels will be required to support three PLAN CSGs (1 active, 1 ashore). With the first PLAN aircraft carrier, the CV-16 Liaoning, serving as a training platform for the foreseeable future, the most likely date of the PLAN fielding three combat capable CSGs is 2025 at the earliest, unless a major global conflict occurring before that time necessitates an expedited aircraft carrier construction program.