The Type 055 cruiser test rig in Wuhan is well on its way to opening for business. Built to test the Type 055’s sophisticated electronics and integrated stealth mast, the mockup now has major electronic sensors and systems installed, along with a coat of PLAN gray paint.

China Navy Type 055 Cruiser

Google Earth View

The Type 055 test rig shows signs of completion by January 2015 as seen from Google Earth. It’s a rough approximation of the actual cruiser, with enough physical similarity to help training crew for procedures like helicopter landings and layout familiarization.

The Type 055 cruiser test rig made its Internet debut in March 2014 on Chinese websites. With a projected length of 160 to 180 meters, judging from the test rig’s 140 to150 meter length (which does not include the entire helicopter landing pad nor bow forward of the turret), and a width of about 21 to 23 meters, it would displace about 12,000 to 14,000 tons. That would make the Type 055 cruiser the largest Asian surface warship since World War II’s Japanese Tone class heavy cruisers.

China Navy Type 055 Cruiser 052D Destroyer

Cruiser and Destroyer

This computer generated image compares the Type 055 cruiser and Type 052D destroyer side by side for scale. The Type 055 will display twice as much as the Type 052D, and probably carry about twice as many (128) large missiles.

The Type 055 cruiser is expected to command Chinese taskforces, act as the center of fleet air defenses against enemy air attacks, escort carrier groups and launch barrages of land attack and anti-ship missiles to project Chinese airpower. Judging from its 12,000 to 14,000 ton displacement, it could carry at least 112 to 128 vertical launch systems (VLS) cells for missiles. With that amount of firepower, the Type 055 cruiser could exceed the 122 VLS cells of the USN’s Ticonderoga class Aegis Cruisers.

China Navy Type 055 Cruiser

ESM Mast

The Type 055 leaves its ESM mast exposed, in order to increase its ability to hoover up enemy electronic signals and activity. Below it on the integrated mast are three panels on the front side for radars and other transmitters (likely for IFF or electronic warfare systems).

The most obvious addition is the electronics support measures (ESM) mast installed on top of the integrated mast. ESM is the practice of collecting, processing and analyzing electronic activity by the enemy, in order to improve the performance of one’s electronics, and to calibrate electronic warfare systems. The ESM mast is mounted at the highest point on the Type 055 cruiser, in order to maximize its line of sight to pick up enemy electronic activity such as radars, communications and jamming.

China Navy Type 055 Cruiser

Universal VLS

This fanmade CGI shows a variety of weapons that can launch from the Type 055’s VLS, 2.1 feet wide and 29.5 feet long, with nearly 60% more volume than the 2.3 feet wide and 25.9 feet long Mk 57 VLS, the largest US VLS system. This VLS can fire large Chinese surface to air, anti-ship and land-attack missiles like the HHQ-9, YJ-18 and CJ-10.

Located on top of the bridge superstructure, the integrated mast has three radar arrays. While the specific model of these radars is yet unclear, the radars are likely to be for purposes of fire control for surface to air missiles (SAMs), navigation and identification friend or foe (IFF) transmitter. While only the forward side of the integrated mast has the radar arrays installed, the Type 055 cruiser will have all three radars on each side of the integrated mast.

Type 052D Type 346 Radar

Type 346 radar

The Type 052D has four large multi-function Type 346 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars under its bridge. The Type 055 cruiser will have four such similar radars, though the Wuhan test rig has only two such radars installed (for financial reasons).

Type 346X radars may have been installed, though the available photos make it difficult to ascertain. The Type 346 family of radars have already been installed on the Type 052D Luyang III destroyers, and are large multipurpose, electronically scanned radars that are comparable to the U.S.’s SPY-1 radars on Aegis warships.

China Navy Type 055 Cruiser

055 Hangar

The test rig’s helicopter hangar has a landing pad, but since the pad’s floor is lower than the floor of the mock up hangar, the test rig does not accurately represent the actual Type 055 cruiser configuration. The Type 055 would carry Z-20 or Z-18 antisubmarine warfare helicopters, as well as UAVs.

The purpose of building such a mockup is to test electronic interaction/interference between the Type 055’s multiple radars, communications and other electronic equipment in the real world. Conducting such tests before launching the first Type 055 cruiser allows for modifications to the electronics set up to be more easily changed, as well as on site support from electronics laboratories. However, the test rig is not an accurate representative of actual Type 055 layout (the helicopter hangar in the rear has no door, and no anti-stealth radar has been installed over it, as is the case with the Type 052C and Type 052D destroyers).

Japan WWII Cruiser Tone

Tone Cruiser

The Imperial Japanese Navy’s Tone class heavy cruisers, with a standard displacement of 11,000 tons, were the largest non-battleship surface combatants built in Asia until the Type 055 cruiser enters service.

When the Type 055 cruiser test rig turns on, the airwaves in Wuhan will get a lot more crowded. Once the Chinese launch the first Type 055 cruiser, the waters in the western Pacific, and around the world, are also going to get pretty crowded too.

Edit: Thanks to Blitzo for pointing out the correct designation of the CJ-10 LACM.

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