While there was much fanfare and attention given to the July 3rd launch of two Type 055 guided missile destroyers at the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Co. (DISC) shipyard in Dalian, very little mention has been made of the many other warships that the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has launched or commissioned since the beginning of the year.
Although the Type 055 DDG is the PLAN’s most powerful surface combatant, and the largest such vessel constructed by an Asian nation since World War II, they are one component in a steadily growing naval force structure. While the addition of three Type 055 DDGs this year, added to the first vessel in class which rolled into the water from Dalian just over a year ago in June of 2017, showcase China’s growing capabilities not only in producing powerful and modern warships, they also illustrate the maturity and stunning capacity of the Chinese ship building industry. This industry has launched and/or commissioned 15 modern warships in just the first seven months of 2018.
Three More Type 055 Destroyers
This year is proving to be a big year for the PLAN. Of the fifteen vessels built so far in 2018, three have been the newest and most powerful surface warfare vessel in the Chinese arsenal, the Type 055 DDG. The world was stunned when China was able to complete the first of this new class in June of 2017. Sections of a second in this class were clearly visible in satellite imagery at the time. That vessel was launched in May of this year, but two more Type 055 destroyers were launched simultaneously on July 3rd, just two months later. The 5th and 6th vessels in class are already in varying stages of construction.
Although initial reports had suggested that a total of six vessels had been ordered, it has been hinted that this number has been increased to eight. This number will most likely grow to at least 12 vessels by 2025, when the PLAN will be looking to expand its aircraft carrier program with the introduction of at least one carrier of the Type 002 class. It has yet to be determined if this new carrier (CV-18) will employ steam or electromagnetic catapults, but it will definitely be a CATOBAR carrier. PLAN aviators continue to practice CATOBAR take-off and landings at the Huangdicun Airbase in southern China. Chinese naval engineers have had a great deal of success in developing an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS) that requires much less energy than the system currently utilized aboard the U.S. Navy’s Gerald Ford Class carrier. It remains to be decided if the Type 002 will be conventionally powered, or will make use of a nuclear reactor.
Regardless of the next generation carrier’s specific design specifications and capabilities, powerful surface warfare ships will be required to escort them in a larger aircraft carrier battle group formation. The Type 055 DDG will likely serve a similar role as the Ticonderoga Class CG of the U.S. Navy within the carrier strike groups (CSG), and will also be utilized as a command ship or heavy AAW and ASW platform in PLAN naval task forces or while supporting amphibious ready groups (ARG). The Type 055’s significant weapons payload, multifaceted offensive and defensive capabilities, and great range and endurance will aid Chinese efforts to protect and expand its maritime territories, protect its shipping lanes, and maintain its naval lines of communication.
From 2001 to the present, the United States military has morphed into a force obsessed with counterinsurgency and occupation, leaving it woefully unprepared for a conventional conflict with peer adversaries, such as Russia or China. The U.S. Navy has transformed into a global police force meant to be used as a stick to bludgeon any small nation that dares to disobey the diktats of Washington. Its powerful aircraft carrier strike groups (CSG) lack the air wing capable of striking the shores of powerful adversaries, rendering these great symbols of U.S. power impotent against any capable foe in a major conflict. The U.S. Navy is powerless to change the strategic situation in the South China Sea through military means, as China has already “crossed the Rubicon”. Imperial hubris, corruption and arrogance have done greater damage to the U.S. military than any foreign adversary has over the past 17 years.
The year 2025 will witness a PLAN in ascent and a U.S. Navy in decline. This is not to say that the U.S. Navy will not still be the preeminent naval power globally, but it will continue to be mired in a lack of strategic direction, focus and budgetary crisis. The PLAN will be guided by a clear strategic focus, increasing capabilities, and a robust shipbuilding and weapons acquisition program. There is no doubt that the PLAN will emerge as the second most powerful navy in the world, and will exert significant influence in both military and geostrategic terms.