Chinese Cruiser or Destroyer ? Full Details on PLAN's First Type 055

Focus - PLAN Type 055 Destroyer
Chinese Cruiser or Destroyer ? Full Details on PLAN's First Type 055
Translation from Eastpendulum's article

Seven and a half years after the start of the project, the first Chinese destroyer displacing more than 12,000 tons at full load was launched, yesterday June 28th at the Jiangnan Changxing Shipyard in Shanghai. This new Type 055 class of first line surface combattant is in the process of becoming the new flagship of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN or Chinese Navy).

Until we see this new class of Chinese destroyer sailing the seven seas, let us review what we already know about it.
Type 055 1The first Type 055 during the launch ceremony
Type 055, an almost invisible revolution ...
Institutional communication bodies have been both low profile and open about the launch of the first Type 055, an event which made millions of enthusiasts rejoiced in China: Low profile as usual on the specifications and the overall performance of the ship, but relatively reactive and open for having published official images of the ceremony just two hours after it took place.

What can be drawn from the official press release published by the Chinese Army Journal at first, is two sentences that summarize very well what represents this largest destroyer ever built in China for the development of the PLAN.

The first sentence is "Fully designed in China" (我国完全自主研制), which implies that all of the ship's key components, including its propulsion (which is still a weak point of the Chinese naval industry today) are designed and built in China.

This "crusade" for technological independence is not recent, however. It dates back to the founding of Communist China, nearly 70 years ago. Few are the projects that receive this mention in the institutional communication. It was the case for Type 055.

"A symbolic warship in the strategic transformation of the PLAN" (海军实现战略转型发展的标志性战舰) is the second qualitative sentence used by Chinese state media and it attracted our attention. Indeed, this is the first time that the word "symbolic" is used by the Chinese military to qualify a class of vessel.

But in what way is the Type 055 so "symbolic" for the Chinese Navy, while physically, it is just another large destroyer like the others, with a stealthy shape, some phased array radars and one hundred or so vertical launch silos ?
Type 055 2The first Type 055 and its crew
According to a retired technical officer of the Chinese Navy, this project which was started on 20 December 2009 is the first in the industry to apply a new top-down design process.

Unlike the former vertical design framework - that is, each business unit independently carries out its development part and the general integration takes place only at the end, leading to interface issues showing up also very late - the Chinese Navy and the industry have agreed on a new way of carrying out the projects, where integration is placed at the heart of the concerns from the beginning of the project, and the precise specifications go into the smallest details down to the individual equipment level.

The aim is to break down the "partitions" between all the stakeholders, reduce the number of subsystems, eliminate over-redundancies linked to the segmentations of organizations, and thus increase the volume utilization ... etc.

The gain in this new design process is immediate - the displacement of the Type 055 is optimized: From more than 20,000 tonnes initially proposed by manufacturers, actual displacement of the class is only 12,000 tonnes at project launch.

The unit cost per ship, including tests and armaments, is reduced by one third to 6 billion yuan (775 million euros), compared with 9 billion yuan (1.16 billion euros) previously.

Snce design goes hand in hand with production, significant upstream changes inevitably involve downstream modifications. As a consequence, Type 055 are being built with large pre-equipped block: The ship is separated into three large blocks of less than 8,000 tons, and the modules that make up these blocks are already pre-equipped (with equipment pre-installed, wires, cables and pipping already connected...) at the maximum, which considerably reduces post-launch fitting time.

Here are some photos taken by ship spotters in Shanghai that show us the different stages of construction of the first Type 055, as well as the incredibly fast pace of its construction:
Type 055 3April 2016, the central section takes shape
Type 055 4May 2016, two central sections are assembled
Type 055 5June 2016, a third central section is added
Type 055 6The block of the bow, in September 2016
Type 055 7The prow taking shape in October 2016
Type 055 8The hull assembly is completed in November 2016
Type 055 9First superstructure module shows up in February 2017
Type 055 10March 2017, the superstructure takes shape
Type 055 11April 2017, installation of the integrated mast
Type 055 12June 2017, the main gun is fitted
Type 055 13On 26 June 2017, the vessel is fully painted
Type 055 14Type 055 ready for launch. All pics via HSH
Another step forward in sensors integration
The other invisible part of the progress achieved with the new Type 055 lies in its level of data management and integration (信息集成).

According to the same source close to the Chinese navy, the electromagnetic frequency management of the ship is highly integrated, "a level much higher than Type 052D".

The number of new sensors, which now support a wider spectrum of frequencies, is significantly reduced and most of the functions are provided by software and not by hardware, making future upgrades easier and cheaper.

There is also an integrated main mast with several openings for radars and sensors, in addition to the new Type 346B (name to be confirmed) S-band planar array radar.
Type 055 15Detailed view of the integrated mast aboard Type 055
The ship would also be fitted with a metric warning radars, replacing the former Type 517B, and a dedicated X-band fire control radar.

The main combat systems of the Type 055, for their part, have been completely redesigned. Ship command and fire control are now integrated, and standardization of the equipment is practically possible at all levels, ranging from trans-armed databases up to the smallest chiller, computers, simulators and Systems for example.

Sources indicate that systems can integrate all sorts of data from other platforms, such as satellites, planes, ships, submarines and ground units. And, equipped with a fleet command system, Type 055 would be able to directly use the weapons of other vessels under its command (in a similar fashion to CEC - Cooperative Engagement Capability of the US Navy).

The level of automation was also another goal of the Type 055 designers, but there is as yet no metric data to qualify it correctly at this stage.

However, the images broadcast by the Chinese Navy seem to suggest that the Type 055 crew is composed of about 380 officers and sailors, 100 more than a Type 052D (+ 35.7%), while its displacement is more than double (+ 100%), which gives us a notional idea about the Type 055 level of automation.
Video: Official launch of Type 055
Type 055, anti-missile ?
As far as weapon systems are concerned, the wet dream of the Chinese enthusiasts has often associated the Type 055 with all possible weapons imaginable, such as railgun, laser, anti-ballistic missile ... etc.

The official statement seems to at least confirm the presence of the latter, indicating that the ship is equipped with new anti-aircraft, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine capability (新型防空、反导、反舰、反潜武器).

Now, does the anti-missile mentioned here correspond to the anti-ballistic missile, similar to some US Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyers with their Aegis combat system upgraded to Baseline 9 ?

In reality the anti-missile mentionned in the official statement is limited to "anti cruise missiles" such as anti-ship missiles for example. And the reason is relatively simple: China does not (yet) need this kind of capability even though some developments in this field have started.

The fact that China does not have military bases overseas (or territories outside the continent) to protect makes a naval-based ballistic missile shield totally useless. For the main short-range and medium-range ballistic missile threats that the country faces - notably from India and North Korea - ground-based means are much more effective today.
Type 055 16Detailed view 64x forward VLS, H/PJ-38 main gun and H/PJ-11 CIWS fitted aboard Type 055
Type 055 weapon systems
The current Type 055's weapons fit is fairly "classic", as can be seen in part in the television report (above): The 130 mm H/PJ-38 main gun capable of firing several types of rounds including guided ones, the H/PJ-11 CIWS with a fire rate of 10,000 rd/min, the HQ-10 short-range missiles, decoy launchers and torpedoes. All other offensive and defensive missiles are found in the 112 silos of the universal VLS.

These silos are distributed in two places - 64x forward and 48x aft, just in front of the ship's double hangar. They are of the same model as those used on Type 052D, compatible with both hot and cold launch thanks to the Concentric Canister Launcher (CCL) concept.

Theoretically, all Chinese missiles whose size does not exceed 9 meters in length and 0.85 meters in diameter can be launched from those VLS cells, provided that the combat system is compatible.

To date, the Chinese navy plans to equip their first Type 055 with HQ-9B anti-aircraft missiles with a range of 200 km, YJ-18A anti-ship missiles, a new type of medium range anti-aircraft missile and land attack cruise missiles based on the YJ-18 family, ie, practically the same as those already found on Type 052D destroyers. It is also likely that the new anti-submarine missile Yu-8A is among the ship's arsenal.
Type 055 17Detailed view 64x forward VLS, H/PJ-38 main gun and H/PJ-11 CIWS fitted aboard Type 055
Global presence
One can of course be surprised by the "low" variety and number of weapons for a ship that is approximately 180 meters long and 20 meters in beam, while the South Korean destroyer Sejong the Great-class for example is fitted with 128x silos for 11,000 tons of full load displacement.

But in reality there has never been any question of building "larger and heavier" vessels for the Chinese, quite the contrary - otherwise we would already be facing a "destroyer" of more than 20,000 tons and not 12,000 tons. Instead, the Chinese navy is focused on how to better use their existing means to meet their specific needs.

The development of Type 055 is probably the result of this "just-right" philosophy and is part of the long-term expansion strategy of the PLAN, which aims to protect first and foremost the interests of China all over the globe and not limited only within the two chains of islands in the Pacific Ocean. The plan wants to achieve this with modular, standardized and evolutive platforms.

The large size of Type 055 (close to a cruiser class) is therefore more the result of the need to have a ship with sufficient endurance for global non-stop presence (remember that China does not have a single naval bases operational other than on its coasts). It is also a direct consequence of the good scalability of the platform.

With the Type 055, the Chinese Navy just completed its first line surface combattant reorganization, now restricted to only 4 major categories - 1,000, 4,000, 6,000 and 12,000 tons - a scheme that is also in line with the development of all new programs - Type 056 (1 000 tons), Type 054A and Type 054B (4 000 tons), and Type 052D (6 000 tons).
Type 055 18The two Type 055s under constraction at Dalian shipyard. Picture: DDLG
Type 055: A destroyer according to the PLAN
It should be noted that NATO has already classified Type 055 in the category of cruiser (CG). The classification of the vessel defined by the Chinese Navy is clear and unambiguous however: A destroyer, and that is how it should be considered.

In addition to protecting the country's interests against all malicious acts, the other main role of the Type 055 is to escort PLAN carrier strike groups (CSG) that are used to project force, now limited to one with aircraft carrier Liaoning, But it will soon be expanded with the arrival of a new STOBAR carrier and also a conventional CATOBAR carrier in the next 10 years.

Due to its relatively high cost - 6 times that of LPD Type 071 of 20,000 tonnes - and also in relation to its current missions, the number of Type 055 should not exceed that of Type 052D. 26x Type 052D have reportedly been ordered.

Apart from the first Type 055 which was launched this week, there is another vessel under construction in Shanghai and two more in Dalian. All four should be delivered to the Chinese Navy before the end of the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020).

Knowing that according to the PLAN standards, all equipment chosen in a new vessel project must be available (therefore fully developed at the time of vessel launch), what we see today aboard the first four Type 055s should is likely to represent the level of maturity achieved at least three years ago.

It is therefore more than likely that the Type 055 platform will continue to evolve, perhaps starting with on-board propulsion and energy management. For now, Type 055 is fitted with a classic combined gas turbine and gas turbine (COGAG) type of propulsion system with 4 gas turbines and no integrated electrical management system.