In early 2013, rumours in the Chinese military watching community began to speak of a new large surface combatant under development for the Chinese Navy, with a tentative designation of 055. General descriptions flitted to and fro, describing a ship with over a hundred VLS with a displacement over 10,000 tons. However such rumours were initially treated with substantial caution if not outright disdain by some individuals in Chinese military watching circles. After all, the 052D class destroyer had only just arrived on the scene, and the lead ship had yet to enter service. A new cruiser sized ship seemed like fantasy.
However, in late 2013 more rumours from more reliable sources began to trickle in, with greater detail that looked plausible. Then in early 2014, pictures emerged of a mock up under construction, for what was clearly a large surface combatant, and Chinese state and military media began acknowledging the existence of a new surface combatant and even the 055 designation.
Thus the 055 class “large destroyer” (as described in Chinese parlance) was confirmed as the next upcoming major surface combatant for the Chinese Navy.
The “055 class” as a designation was once proposed by the Chinese Navy in the 1970s for an ocean going large surface combatant capable of air defence missions, however the technological foundations and industrial capabilities of the time, as well as the lack of economic funding meant a competitive warship of the intended capabilities simply could not be realistically developed. Later studies of the 055 envisioned use of some British subsystems in propulsion and weapons, when China’s relationship with western nations warmed, however transfer of the technology could not be realized, and the project was cancelled in the early 1980s.
The modern “055 class” large destroyer reuses the older “055 class” designation, and may also fulfil similar roles to what the original ship was envisioned for, however the modern ship likely has no direct relationship to the subsystems, design or capabilities intended in the 1970s-era 055 class.
Around 2013, several CGIs and renditions emerged online at the Chinese military watching sphere, driven by initial rumours of the 055 class. However, many of these were speculative and not based on reliable rumours and despite the artistic merit in these drawings, the actual accuracy was likely quite far from what the real 055 class would look like.
Emergence of the 055 class mock up at Wuhan drove another series of CGIs, some of which would likely turn out somewhat similar to what the final ship will appear as, but small inaccuracies and some inconsistent assumptions about sensor arrangement, armament, and overall ship configuration means observers should exercise great caution when viewing online CGIs of the 055 class destroyer.
055 mock up:
The mock up for the 055 class large destroyer lies in a facility at the southern boundaries of the city of Wuhan (coordinates, here: 30.420664, 114.262230). The 055 mock up sits atop a raised platform with a building underneath in a single large structure, and it shares the same facility with some other naval test rigs including a full sized flight deck and island mock up of the Liaoning carrier as well as an integrated mast suspected for the next generation frigate. Collectively, these mock ups are under the jurisdiction of the 701st Institute of the Chinese Shipbuilding Industry Corporation.
The role of the 055 mock up is likely to validate certain sensors and electronics aboard an integrated testbed, likely similar to other facilities around the world such as the US Navy’s “cruiser in a cornfield” or the Type 45 mock up.
However, some additional features such as a fully accurate bridge and superstructure, and accurate depictions of the main gun and CIWS are also present, which are helpful for observers to gauge the potential weaponry of the 055 class and compare its size with other ships using a common metric, but seem unnecessary for a testbed whose function will mostly revolve around telemetry and signals assessment. Therefore some features may be purely cosmetic (despite being potentially accurate and representative of the final ship layout).
For observers, the usefulness of the 055 mock up is in providing a physical baseline to extrapolate potential dimensions, armament, sensors and other specifications of the final real ship.
The physical configuration of the mock up shows the ship’s deckhouse/main superstructure will share a configuration not dissimilar to that of the 052D or Burke class destroyers featuring four expected large radar arrays mounted on the “cheeks”. However, the ship also appears to field a small integrated mast atop the deckhouse, a feature not present on earlier generations of Chinese Navy ships.
A feature also not seen on earlier Chinese Navy ships, is the presence of the ship’s smoke stack fully integrated to the forward superstructure, which would likely help to reduce radar cross section and provide greater internal volume around the exhausts for reducing infrared signatures.
The aft of the mock up includes the top half of the ship’s helicopter hangar structure. The hangar structure also appears to feature the base of a mast which is expected to host a radar system, however as of yet no radar has been fitted on the location.
The hull of the ship is expected to be a conventional flared hull, rather than the stealthier (but also riskier) tumblehome hull of the USN’s Zumwalt class, however the 055 class is expected to incorporate significant signature reduction in radar cross section and infrared measures as well.
Measurement using open source satellite imagery indicates the mock up at Wuhan is slightly over 141 meters long (including the “incomplete” helipad), and nearly 20 meters wide, accounting for a degree of error.
It goes without saying that the final ship will likely be substantially longer than the mock up, given the mock up does not include most of the bow of the ship, and the aft of the ship is also truncated due to the reduced length helipad. Considering the position of the ship’s main gun and the truncated aft, the actual ship may be anywhere between 30 to 40 meters longer than the mock up.
However, the final ship will also likely be somewhat wider (i.e.: have a greater beam) than the mock up as well, because the mock up sits atop a raised platform which is almost certainly not representative of the height of the actual ship’s main deck. In reality, the actual ship will likely feature a lower main deck (indicated on the mock up by the incomplete helipad structure), which would thus allow the sides of the ship’s superstructure and hull to both further flare outwards, increasing beam, thus the beam of the ship may be anywhere up to 3 meters greater than what the mock up currently represents.
Therefore, the overall dimensions of the ship may reach somewhere in the ballpark of 180 meters in length and 23 meters in beam.
Rumours of 055’s displacement seem to have settled on a ship with 12,000 ton standard displacement, with a 10,000 ton empty displacement and a full displacement in excess of 13,500 tons. The projected dimensions of 180 meters by 23 meters (or lower) could quite comfortably attain such a displacement.
It is worth noting that Chinese state and military media have even gone to lengths to pour cold water regarding the capability of the 055 class, even going to publish that the ship will “merely” have a displacement of 10,000 tons. However, this information may not be reliable, as it has been suspected that Chinese state and military media may have understated the displacement of some Chinese Navy ship classes in the past, and it would fit their high operational security nature to deliberately and vaguely understate the true full displacement of a new warship, especially one as potentially influential as the 055 class large destroyer.
A consensus exists among the Chinese military watching community that the 055 class large destroyer will be powered by four QC-280 (4 x 28 MW) gas turbines, in a Combined Gas and Gas (COGAG) configuration. Such a propulsion arrangement will be the first of its kind for a Chinese Navy surface combatant. Four QC-280s would likely be quite capable of propelling the 055 class to a top speed required for typical large surface combatant, in excess of 30 knots.
However, there also exist substantial rumours that the “second batch” of 055 class large destroyers will feature an Integrated Electric Propulsion System (IEPS), similar to what is present aboard the Zumwalt class destroyer and the Type 45 class destroyer. Such notions are not unrealistic, as Chinese Navy research into IEPS (as well as other cutting edge technology) has been well known, and are expected to be implemented aboard several future ship classes in the near future.
With IEPS, the four QC-280 gas turbines would power electrical generators rather than mechanical shafts as in traditional propulsion arrangements. Electrical generators and motors in turn can provide substantial electrical power to the ship’s subsystems, including anything from propulsion, to radar arrays to even rail guns. Indeed, one major potential for ships with IEPS is to be equipped with under-development rail guns or directed energy weapons (such as lasers) which would require substantially more electrical power than what traditional ship propulsion can generate.
However, is unknown how large the “first batch” of 055 class destroyers will be, but it has been speculated it may be four ships. If an 055 class with IEPS does emerge, it would likely also field other modifications, such as improved radars, improved stealth shaping, and possibly even rail guns and laser weapons as standard weapons fit, thus would be well justified in being given a new class designation, such as “055A class”. Such a ship would only likely emerge in the early 2020s.
The 055 mock up is equipped with rather obvious renditions of the PJ-38 130mm gun on the bow, as a well as a PJ-11 11 barrel 30mm CIWS forward of the main superstructure (similar to the configuration of 052D), and a 24 round HQ-10 CIWS SAM on the hangar superstructure.
The 055 class is virtually guaranteed to be equipped with the new CN VLS which was first fitted aboard the 052D class, however the exact number is a matter of some confusion. The ship will likely feature two VLS banks, one on the bow between the main gun and the main superstructure, and one aft between the hangar structure and the rear of the smoke stack. However, the mock up also displays a strange rectangular “platform” extending from the aft of the smoke stack, which would seemingly limit the amount of deck space available for the aft VLS bank.
Curiously, the “platform” is painted in a distinctive white colour, similar to the lower “decks” of the 055 class mock up, as well as the top part of where the aft radar mast is expected to be, whereas the rest of the mock up is in grey. Therefore, some speculation exists as to whether the white painted portions of the mock up may be “non representative” of the final ship, and may instead be additional structures on the mock up to hold testing equipment. If this were the case, then the actual 055 class ship would have substantially more available deck space aft for an aft VLS bank.
In either case, current rumours suggest a CN VLS count above 100, with often cited numbers being between 112 and 128 cells.
A future 055A class with IEPS may likely be equipped with a rail gun replacing the PJ-38, and laser CIWS replacing or supplementing the PJ-11 and HQ-10 CIWS.
Additionally, the 055 class mock up displays a pair of what seems to be standard Chinese Navy 18 barrel decoy/flare/ASW rocket launchers on the port side of the hangar. Four such launchers would likely be deployed with two on either side of the hangar, which would be a similar configuration to that of the 052D class.
Other standard armament expected aboard the 055 class will be a pair of triple 324mm lightweight torpedo launchers for ASW self defence roles.
Sensors and electronics:
The 055 class is expected to be equipped with a potent sensor suite. Its radar suite is expected to comprise of an X band APAR (likely to be mounted on the ship’s integrated mast), as well as an S band APAR (the Type 346A on 052D, or a variant of the Type 346A), and a longer band radar mounted atop the hangar, though it does not appear to be fitted upon the 055 mock up. Together, such a radar suite would fulfil a comprehensive air and surface search, detection, tracking and fire control capability for short range, long range as well as for very low observable targets.
The 055 class is also expected to be equipped with a passive sensor suite including ESM, EO/IR sensors, and would also feature an integrated ECM suite. The integrated mast on the mock up currently features three sets of openings for separate sensor suites. Assuming one is reserved for the X band APAR, which leaves two sets of openings for ESM, ECM or EO/IR arrays. Atop the integrated mast is also a more exposed, strange looking sensor mast which has been speculated to have an ESM function.
The 055 class is also rumoured and expected to be equipped with a new generation ASW suite, which likely includes onboard sonar systems, but would also include its embarked ASW helicopters. Two helicopter hangars are rumoured to be present aboard the 055 class, each capable of hosting a Z-18 sized helicopter, and could thus host a pair of very capable Z-18F ASW helicopters, in the same weight class as the Royal Navy’s AW101 family of ASW helicopters.
Finally, the 055 class is also expected to field a new generation combat system, to make effectively and more efficiently make use of the ship’s greater sensor suite and armaments. The ship class is also field significantly more capable command capabilities than current surface combatants. If the 055 class does emerge with a full displacement of around 13,500 tons, then it would be logical for the Chinese Navy to see it to have a fitting role as a ship capable of commanding the large flotilla or even a task group and would thus equip the ship with the necessary facilities for such a role. This may include having an enhanced “secondary” combat information centre as a flag bridge for a flag officer and their staff to exercise command, as well as the facilities to accommodate the additional personnel.
The 055 class is also likely to field greater automation technology, as well as more spacious and comfortable crew lodgings compared to current generation surface combatants, as has been the trend in the development of new surface combatants in other navies. However, this is not to say current crew accommodation and amenities aboard existing recently built Chinese ships are Spartan or lacking, as photos of the internal facilities of Chinese ships built since the 1990s appear to feature competent and decently furnished lodgings for their ship’s crews.
The 055 class is expected to be built initially at Jiangnan shipyard at Changxing Island at Shanghai, the same shipyard where 052Cs were built and most 052Ds are currently being built. In December, 2014, rumours emerged that the first 055 may have begun steel cutting. If true, the first 055 may emerge in late 2016 or early 2017, given assembly of its modules would likely have occurred under the physical cover of one of Jiangnan’s building halls, protecting it from view until the ship is almost ready for launch.
Dalian shipyard, which currently is building some 052D class destroyers, is also expected to build the 055 class. However, Hudong shipyard, a shipyard which does not have a history of building surface combatants larger than frigates, has also recently been rumoured as an additional 055 construction yard.
The final build count of the 055 class is unknown, but estimates have ranged from 8 ships, to 12 ships, to even 24 ships. The final build count will depend on many factors in the future, including China’s security environment, as well as the nation’s overall economic performance, but it is very likely that many more than three (looking at you, Zumwalt class) 055 class destroyers will be built, assuming no dramatic turn of events occur such as a collapse of the Chinese economy or eruption of a conflict in the region.
This initial projection of the 055 class has been an overview of the likely key specifications, characteristics and parameters of the ship.
A separate entry will discuss the potential role of the 055 class as well as how it may compare with the roles and capabilities of other large surface combatants in the world.
Preliminary projected 055 class parameters:
-Dimensions: ~180 meters long, ~23 meters beam
-Displacement: ~13,500 tons full, ~12,000 tons standard, ~10,000 tons empty
-Production run: unknown, with estimates varying greatly between 8 ships, 12 ships, and 24 ships
-Propulsion: 4 x QC-280 gas turbines (28 MW output each), COGAG configuration for initial batch, possibly IEPS for later batches
-Armament: 112-128 CN VLS, 1 x PJ-38 130mm gun, 1 x PJ-11 11 barrel 30mm CIWS, 1 x 24 cell HQ-10 CIWS SAM, 2 x triple 324mm lightweight torpedo launchers, 4 x 18 barrel multirole decoy/flare/ASW rocket launchers [potential for fielding rail guns and laser weapons in future variants with IEPS]
-Primary radars: Type 346A S band APAR, X band APAR, long wave (possibly L band) APAR
-Additional sensors and arrays: ECM suite, ESM suite, EO/IR sensors, ASW suite (likely to include bow sonar, towed array sonar, variable depth sonar, as well as towed torpedo decoy)
-Crew size: unknown, will be dependent on degree of automation of ship