What Does The New Chinese Type 055 Destroyer Means For The Asia-Pacific Region?

Gregory BullAP

This Wednesday, the Navy of the People’s Republic of China has made yet another advancement in its ongoing expansion and modernization plans: it launched a new missile destroyer, capable of challenging its neighbors and international rivals alike. The Type 055, as the new class was designed, is a 10,000-ton behemoth armed with 64 vertical launch systems capable of firing up to 128 missiles of many types. This allows the vessel to engage targets on sea, air, and land.

As stated by Reuters, the Chinese Navy had already commissioned 18 ships of several types during the last year, and this year it also launched its first domestically-built aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, to complement the carrier it already has in operation, the Liaoning. Many of these new additions will only become operational during the next few years, but their inception shows just how serious the country is in expanding its military and solidifying its presence in world politics.

Interestingly enough, the new Type 055 destroyer is said to be the first of its kind to incorporate technology completely developed in China. It should be noted that other vessels, like the aforementioned Liaoning aircraft carrier, were adapted or based on foreign designs, particularly Russian ones. The design and strategical importance of the Type 055 have other implications, though.

Chinese frigates during trip to Poland in 2015.
[Image by Andrzej J. Gojke/AP Images]Featured image credit: Andrzej J. GojkeAP

Tactically, the Type 055 and its bounty of missiles fits what is described as the Chinese doctrine for any future engagements with possible enemies, namely what is known in the military circles as “saturation.” This means that the goal of Chinese weapons systems is to launch as many warheads as possible into any target with the aim that at least one will hit.

This is because of American warfighting doctrines and the fact that the U.S. or any of its allies are expected to be the main opponents in any possible conflict, at least from China’s point of view. American ships are heavily defended with missile interception weaponry and advanced electronic counter-measures. Such a defensive wall will certainly destroy many missiles and shells before they hit or send them astray.

The counter to this strategy was understood by the Russians some years ago. The massive Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jets and their descendants were built with the idea of being heavily armed and capable of sending volleys of missiles into American aircraft in order to destroy them. Because of advancements in the area of stealth and countermeasures, this was deemed as the correct approach by Russian strategists.

Chinese Su-27 fighter preparing for takeoff.
[Image by Ng Han Guan/AP Images]Featured image credit: Ng Han GuanAP

In naval warfare, there is a similar logic, although the scale is much larger. In general terms, the logic behind Chinese future warfighting doctrine could be seen as “everyone against the carrier,” with ships like the Type 055, aircraft like the new J-20, or even coastal batteries being all heavily armed with missiles. This is so because the core of any hypothetical American task force aimed at striking China would have to be an aircraft carrier. The idea would be to hurl gigantic volleys of missiles into the fleet, knowing very well that most would be destroyed and hoping that at least one would sink or damage the said carrier.

Politically, the new ship also has great importance. Although the U.S. is seen as the major international rival of Beijing, local rivals are viewed with perhaps even greater concern. Japan and South Korea have been fielding new equipment and showing uneasiness regarding China’s ambitions. Let’s not forget about China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea, which even incorporate airbases from which military aircraft can operate.

But it is India, the economic and military giant that it is, that more worries Beijing. New Delhi sees itself as the proper ruler of the Indian Ocean, but Chinese efforts have been aimed at expanding influence in that region too. As the geopolitical analyst Robert Kaplan declared a few years ago, the Chinese aim to control the nautical routes that go along the Southern Indian coast.

Beijing already has a strong alliance with Pakistan, the traditional rival of India, meaning it has access to ports in the Indian Ocean that circumvent New Delhi’s zone of influence, and this concerns the Indian government. Moreover, the newest Indian destroyers are lighter and less well-equipped that the Type 055, meaning India is at a disadvantage when both navies are compared on a ship-to-ship basis, as reported by CNN.

The fact that China is building such a behemoth of a destroyer, with four vessels of the Type 055 class planned, does not mean it intends to wage war anytime soon. It does mean that the country intends to show just how powerful it has become and is determined to enforce its geopolitical ambitions. China is a giant in the world stage and is demanding respect.

[Featured Image by Gregory Bull/AP Images]