Following its commissioning in March 2021, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s second Type 055 Class destroyer the Lhasa has been declared ready for combat. This came after months of training for a range of missions which included practicing missile strikes, anti submarine warfare, defence against weapons of mass destruction and damage control among other operations. The ship saw its final test in the Yellow Sea, and is based in Qingdao in Shandong province. At 13,000 tons, the Type 055 is the largest class of surface combatant in the PLA and is widely considered the most capable destroyer in the world. A 2020 report by the British defence think tank IISS indicated that the ship represented “a step change in PLAN [PLA Navy] abilities to mount independent long-range deployments or task-group operations,” and “may be the most capable multi-role surface combatant currently at sea,” surpassing even heavier cruiser sized ships such as the 27,000 ton Russian Kirov Class in performance. Each ship boasts a large arsenal of 112 vertical launch cells, allowing them to outgun the most heavily armed American and Japanese AEGIS destroyers such as the Arleigh Burke Class and Maya Class which have just 96 missiles each, as well as comfortably overpowering leading European destroyers such as the British Type 45 and French Lafayette which carried just 48 launch cells.
Beyond its firepower, the Type 055 stands out for its advanced stealth capabilities and its sensor suite. The ships use dual band radar systems similar to those the U.S. Navy had intended but failed to integrate onto its Zumwalt Class destroyers, providing a situational awareness advantage over Western, Japanese and Russian ships. While eight Type 055 destroyers were initially reportedly planned, the last of which was launched in August 2020, unverified reports indicate are set to join the fleet. U.S. naval analyst H.I. Sutton, for one, highlighted: “new intelligence suggests that at least two more are under construction in Dalian, China,” indicating that the fleet size could be brought up to ten. It has long been speculated what could succeed the Type 055 in production, with the possibility of an improved ‘Type 055A’ variant, an entirely new stealthier ship, or even a larger cruiser sized platform, all being speculated. The Type 055’s lighter counterpart the Type 052D, which uses many of the same technologies, has remained in production alongside it. Returning the Type 055 Class to production with some improvements would reflect satisfaction in the PLA Navy with the design’s performance so far, after the first destroyer in the class the Nanchang was commissioned in January 2020. The Type 055 is expected to play a central role in the escort of Chinese carrier strike groups, including upcoming supercarriers with advanced electromagnetic catapult systems currently under construction, and has served as a symbol of China’s emergence as a world leading naval power.