Learning More About China’s New Massive Warship Plan (055 Cruiser)

Just as the US did with the AEGIS and Zumwalt class cruisers and destroyers, modern naval engineering in China starts by first building full scale, land based mock ups of advanced warships. The rationale is that they provide a cheaper and less risky alternative to rushing directly into ship construction; it is far easier to measure, modify and fine tune a land based system as opposed to a seagoing prototype hull.

New photos of the work ongoing outside of Wuhan, China, show that the engineers and scientists of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) are making fast progress in completing the 055 guided missile cruiser’s (CG) electronics testing mockup that EasternArsenal explored a few weeks back. More recent photos show that the bridge has been added onto the superstructure. These photos also appear to show other features. The main feature of the 055 CG is its Type 346 series of radars, of which four are to be mounted on the forward superstructure around the bridge. Currently, only one opening has been cut for the forward port (left) Type 346 under the bridge; the other forward Type 346 will be mounted on the forward starboard (right). It is expected that the two rear Type 346 radars will be installed at a higher level, on the panels right behind the bridge. The Type 346 radar family operates in the S band to conduct 3D surveillance and fire control at long distance, which is ideal for missile defense and tracking stealthy targets. Once completed, this mockup will resemble the USS Rancocas, an onshore U.S. Navy test site for the Arleigh Burke class destroyers.

The newest photos also show that the integrated mast (the grey colored tower on top of the superstructure) is taking shape. The integrated mast above the bridge will hold smaller but equally important radar, in addition to communications and electronic jamming equipment. Compared to traditional masts, integrated masts are stealthier by enclosing all the antennas and supporting structures. While not as large as the Type 346 radars, the X band radar mounted in the middle of the integrated mast offers better resolution than the Type 346, which is important for target identification and discrimination (i.e. identifying fighter aircraft against decoys and jamming). Other openings in the integrated mast would likely house arrays for communication antennas and electronic jamming. These new photos reinforce the importance of the program. The 055 CG is expected to replace PLAN Type 052D destroyer as China’s main combatant surface, with at probably twice as many missile launchers (128 vs. 64). The 055 CG will play a major part in China’s naval strategy starting with a projected entry into service of 2017-2020. Its large size, formidable armament and powerful sensors will match or exceed that any current U.S. or allied AEGIS warship in the Pacific; just sailing a 055 CG in the waters of the South China Sea or Taiwan Straits would make a powerful statement. In wartime, the 055 CG could provide a surface escort for China’s growing carrier and amphibious forces, conduct long range cruise missile strikes, or play an air defense role, with its new systems designed to shoot down stealthy bombers and drones.

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