The 052D class DDG has been described by Chinese and western defence media as a “Chinese aegis”. Such a term is not wholly inaccurate, because 052D may indeed be compared to the Burke class DDG and other Burke derived DDGs equipped with the Aegis combat system, because the CN VLS is a true multi-role VLS peer to the Mk-41 VLS which equips the various Aegis destroyers of the world, whereas the 052C class lacked a multirole VLS. That said, there is a meaningful variation of armament load for the various ships: 052D is armed with only 64 VLS cells compared to 96 cells for the US Navy Burke class and JMSDF Kongo and Atago classes, while 128 VLS cells equip the ROKN Sejong class, and only 48 VLS cells equip the Spanish F100 class and the Australian Hobart class.
A further distinction remains where the 052D is equipped with an active phased array radar in its Type 346A, while current Burkes and other Aegis destroyers are equipped with passive phased array SPY-1 variants. The forthcoming Burke Flight III will finally equip the US Navy with an S band APAR aboard their primary air defence surface combatants, via the Air Missile Defence Radar-S, designated SPY-6. Until then, 052D may appear to lack a truly accurate peer in the international domain, although it could conceivably be described similar to a “two thirds” Burke Flight III class DDG, where 052D is approximately two thirds the full displacement of the Burke Flight III’s estimated 10,000 tons full displacement and equipped with only two thirds the number of VLS of a Burke Flight III (Flight III retains the same 96 VLS count as its preceding Flight IIA, II and I variants).
A word on aegis:
However, despite calling 052D a “Chinese aegis,” the 052C class was actually the Chinese Navy’s first true ship with air defence characteristics traditionally associated with the Aegis combat system. Furthermore, it is difficult to truly quantify how capable the 052D is compared with other aegis type and Aegis equipped ships, especially given the vast differing increments in software and hardware upgrades of both aegis type as well as Aegis ships.
Therefore, it is important to note the difference in capitalization of the word “Aegis” and “aegis type”. The Aegis combat system is a Lockheed Martin produced combat system which includes the SPY-1 radar and associated weapons and other subsystems, however “aegis type” ships are surface combatants equipped with a combat system which features similar core characteristics to the Aegis system but are unrelated to the Lockheed Martin Aegis system. One way to consider the difference between Aegis ships and aegis type ships, is that aegis type ships are equipped with many core capabilities first pioneered by the Aegis combat system, while Aegis ships are equipped with the specific product produced by the specific company.
Therefore, the best way to rationalize the difference between “aegis type” surface combatants compared to “Aegis” surface combatants, is to cast one’s memory back to the early 20th century, where the pioneering HMS Dreadnought of the Royal Navy revolutionized the design of battleships and other large surface combatants by fielding an “all large gun” armament which dramatically increased a battleship’s offensive capability as well as employing a substantially more capable steam turbine propulsion compared to previous warships. Other navies followed the design cues of HMS Dreadnought, and an entire generation of battleships were thus simply dubbed “dreadnoughts” due to the revolutionary nature of the original ship.
In the same way, one can conceive the development of the Aegis combat system aboard the Ticonderoga class cruiser and the Arleigh Burke class destroyer as pioneers of certain key capabilities, including a fixed or very-high-refresh rate 360 degree multifunction phased array radar system, introducing an integrated combat management system to include a ship’s own weapons and sensors and embarked aviation as well as cooperative engagement capability with friendly ships, and also a rapid firing missile capability in the form of VLS.
But this analogy is also subject to significant nuance. For instance, the initial five Ticonderoga class CGs were equipped with Mk-26 arm launchers rather than Mk-41 VLS, yet could still validly be considered aegis type ships as well as Aegis ships. A further nuance in this analogy, is that the Aegis combat system will be continuously refined and upgraded in coming years and will exist for many decades aboard many ships, whereas the original HMS Dreadnought was scrapped after two decades of its commissioning. Finally, classifying all ships as “aegis type” may lead to confusion that all ships of the type are of equal capability, when in reality there will be significant variation in the capabilities of sensors, armament, processing, datalinking (all dependent on differing hardware and software), and thus cause great variation in the combat capability of each ship as well as each ship class.
But despite these reservations, the persistent trend for common defence media to to circulate the capabilities of the Aegis system as unique to only Aegis ships mean it is probably better to describe ships as “aegis type” or possibly “aegis like”. This way, instead of assuming that the most distinctive and unique characteristics of the Aegis combat system are only present aboard Aegis equipped warships, the “aegis type” descriptor will more accurately describe the reality that many other international navies field warships with similar core characteristics to that of the Aegis combat system.