China launches largest surface combatant yet; 4th-gen destroyer to protect carriers

By Jonathan Davis

The Chinese navy has launched its largest surface combatant warship to date, moving ahead with a fourth-generation destroyer that Beijing says will be used to protect the expanding carrier fleet.

Deemed the Type 055, the Pentagon has actually classified the ship as a cruiser-class vessel; China’s the only country building them currently, though the U.S. Navy has 22 active Ticonderoga-class cruisers in service.

Tribune News Service notes:

China’s navy commissioned its biggest and most advanced surface warship yet, the Nanchang guided-missile destroyer, on Sunday morning in the port city of Qingdao, state media reported.

Observers say the commissioning of China’s first 10,000-ton-class Type 055 destroyer, which is expected to accompany aircraft carriers in battle groups, is a step forward as Beijing seeks to operate farther from its shores and to punch farther into the western Pacific.

Launched in June 2017, its commissioning marks the navy’s leap from the third generation to the fourth generation of destroyers, the navy said in a statement.

Collin Koh, a research fellow and maritime security expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told The Japan Times that the warship is “by far the most powerful surface combatant” in China’s navy, outside of its aircraft carriers.

The ship carries 112 vertical-launch missile cells capable of launching a combination of surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship missiles, land-attack missiles and anti-submarine missiles, the state-run Global Times reported.

State media also quoted a Chinese navy expert who said the Nanchang is expected to accompany the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier.

Originally, the U.S. Navy was going to replace its aging fleet of Ticonderoga-class warships with another cruiser type, but due to budget constraints and the rising cost of the Zumwalt-class destroyers, the CGX program has been cancelled.

But overall, the Navy’s destroyers can handle escort duty, carrier protection duty, and offensive operations, despite being smaller vessels. Why China feels the need to build these larger ships says more about where its navy is in its development than practicality.

They may bring more firepower to the fight, but they are also larger targets and more expensive to build and maintain.

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