China's powerful Type 055 destroyer joined its aircraft carrier group for first time

  • Chinese stealth guided-missile destroyer Nanchang joined the Liaoning carrier group in a sea trial this month.
  • The addition of the powerful Type 055 destroyer could boost the carrier group’s combat capabilities, analysts say.
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China has sent a Type 055 destroyer to accompany its aircraft carrier group for the first time during a sea trial over the weekend, a move analysts have said could lead to a significant boost to the strike group’s lethality.

According to media reports, the Nanchang, a Type 055 Renhai class stealth guided-missile destroyer, has joined the Liaoning aircraft carrier group, which was spotted passing the waterway between Okinawa and Miyako Island and heading toward the Pacific on Saturday morning.

The movement of China’s aircraft carrier strike group has prompted Japan to send destroyer and maritime patrol aircraft to gather information and monitor the movements, while the United States also sent aircraft carrier the USS Theodore Roosevelt into the disputed South China Sea.

The Chinese movement was confirmed by the defence ministry, which issued a statement late on Monday saying a Chinese aircraft carrier group was exercising near Taiwan and such drills would become regular.

Chinese navy Type 055 guided-missile destroyer Nanchang.Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force

While the aircraft carrier itself was eye-catching in asserting China’s stance amid renewed regional tensions, the first mission of Type 055 destroyer Nanchang accompanying the Liaoning aircraft carrier was equally noticeable.

With a displacement of more than 12,000 tons, the Type 055 is the world’s second-most powerful destroyer after the US Navy’s DDG-1000, or Zumwalt class.

About 180 metres (590 feet) long and 22 metres wide, it has 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 other two Luyang III class destroyers, or Type 052D destroyers, are smaller and have 64 vertical launch missile cells, making them less powerful against enemy vessels.

Collin Koh, a research fellow from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the Type 055 was by far the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s most capable surface combatant, and having it integrated into China’s aircraft carrier group would help boost its combat capabilities.

“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,” Koh said.

“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 defence and its main offensive punch besides the carrier’s own combat air wing.”

Sailors aboard Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Type 055 guided-missile destroyer Nanchang during a naval parade near Qingdao, April 23, 2019.MARK SCHIEFELBEIN/AFP via Getty Images

Gabriel Dominguez, senior Asia Pacific defence analyst at Janes, said the addition of the Type 055 destroyer class could also boost China’s deterrence.

“Besides bolstering the combat capabilities of the carrier groups, the Type 055 can enhance the country’s deterrence and power projection capabilities, especially amid heightened tensions in the region over the status of Taiwan and territorial disputes in the East China and South China seas,” Dominguez said.

But Dominguez doubted the Nanchang had reached its full operational capability, given “it is unlikely to have embarked the two Z-20 naval helicopters it is capable of carrying.”

Song Zhongping, a former PLA instructor, said: “An aircraft carrier group will take months to train in the open sea and it needs a battleship with a large navigational capability. In this case, the Type 055’s more enduring combat capability will make the whole group stronger.”

The Nanchang is one of China’s two Type 055 destroyers in active service, with the other, the Lhasa, having entered service in March, according to state television. The PLA has six more that are being fitted out or are in sea trials.

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