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China will launch the eighth destroyer from Project 055. Mass production or problems?

This post was published in Defence24. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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WARSAW, (BM) – The Chinese are preparing to launch the eighth Type 055 anti-aircraft destroyer this year. Thus, there are as many as seven such units to be handed over at the shipyards at the same time, which is such a risky action that the first prototype ship, commissioned to the Chinese Navy in January 2020 year, still not fully operational and tested.

Local Chinese media reports that the newest Type 055 anti-aircraft destroyer (according to NATO’s Renhai type) has begun to be painted at the Dalian shipyard in preparation for a planned launch later this year. The Chinese will therefore have seven inoperative ships of this type on the water, at various stages of equipment, and no destroyer that would be able to finally confirm the correctness of the concept and the combat value of the entire structure.

The only Type 055 destroyer – “Nanchang” – which was handed over to the People’s Liberation Navy of China in January 2020 is a prototype unit, which, in addition, is probably not yet fully equipped with all target devices. Thus, the process of crew training and system integration is underway, which, according to conservative estimates, may continue for up to two years.

A similar preparation time will be for six units already launched, or for the eight – just before the launching ceremony. So far it is known (based on the construction schedule of the prototype ship) that between the launching and the transfer of the Type 055 to the naval forces, about 2-2.5 years must pass. And it is by this time that another two years should be added to the teamwork and integration of on-board systems before introducing the new destroyers to the operational service.

The most complicated destroyer in the world

The several-year period needed to integrate and integrate the already built Type 055 ships should come as no surprise to anyone. The Chinese built very technologically difficult vessels, theoretically corresponding to the class of the American Aegis cruisers and destroyers. Formally, the Chinese navy did not start from scratch, unscrupulously copying the solutions obtained in various ways in the United States and then testing them on its ships – mainly on missile destroyers type 052C (according to NATO type Luyang II) and type 052D (according to NATO type Luyang III).

These vessels, produced since 2000, have already been equipped with vertical launch rocket launchers for various types of ammunition and the characteristic 346A type radars, with longwall antennas placed on superstructures. On the other hand, they are displacement ships one third smaller (7,000 tons in the “C” version and 7,200 tons in the “D” version) than the similar class of the American Aegis type Arleigh Burke and Japanese type Kongo (with a displacement of about 10,000 tons). ). So they can take less weapons and less on-board systems, and, what is worse for the Chinese government, they have a weaker propaganda tone.

Therefore, the authorities in Beijing decided to build almost twice as large destroyers, which not only in terms of equipment, but also in size would exceed their possible opponents. In this way, the Type 055 ships with a displacement of about 13,000 tons, a length of 180 m and a width of 20 m were designed, which in terms of the amount of armaments taken at a given size are to be second only to the latest, futuristic destroyers of the Zumwalt type (with a displacement of about 16,000 tons) used by the Navy war of the United States.

It is different, however, when comparing the on-board equipment of the American Zumvals and the Chinese “055”. In this case, Chinese ships can be considered the most complex ships in the world. Some naval analysts even believe (greatly exaggerating) that the introduction of the Type 055 destroyers in January 2020 is the same breakthrough as the commissioning of the battleship HMS Dreadnought in 1906 and the battleship Bismarck in 1939.

And this is why it may shock the confidence of Chinese decision-makers who ordered to build eight identical prototypes of a ship that cannot be found anywhere else – accepting that each of them may reproduce the same conceptual, design and system errors. Or worse, these more than $ 1 billion worth of destroyers each will not live up to expectations because they were simply poorly designed.

Zumwalt versus Type 055 – weapon system

Comparing the Zumwalt and the Type 055 destroyers is not easy, because now you should not count the number of barrels and rockets and the size of the hull, but above all the quality of solutions – and this in the case of the Chinese cannot be assessed in any way due to the lack of data. However, it is impossible to rely only on the commonly held opinion about the low value of Chinese products, because this value depends on the quality control system, which in the case of military equipment in China is beginning to meet Western standards.

When comparing the Aegis and the Type 055 destroyer, the only real resemblance is in the method of installing the weapons that you take. On the American and Chinese destroyers, it is stored in similar VLS (Vertical Launch System) launchers, which in their standardized silos (in terms of size and connection installation) can contain various types of missiles.

The Americans have an advantage here in two “categories.” First of all, the vertical launch launchers in the Zumvalts along the hull, while the Chinese used a solution typical of Aegis ships on their destroyers – two complexes of launchers located in the fore part (eight VLS blocks with eight launch positions each) and amidships (six VLS blocks with eight positions each). startup). The American solution seems to be better, because a possible hit on their ship will cause damage, but not such as hitting a uniform block of vertical take-off launchers located in the ship’s axis, and additionally in two places. Of course, access to such deployed launchers is protected by the sides and side shields, but in the case of an attack from above, e.g. with the use of guided air bombs, individual silos are practically unprotected.

Additionally, the new American way of arranging the weapons along the sides allowed for the reduction of the width of the deck and the use of a very revolutionary shape of the hull. After combining this with the appropriate cross-section of superstructures, the Americans managed to significantly reduce the physical fields of the ship, making it difficult not so much to detect it, but above all by making it easier to “cover” it from attacking missiles using various types of electronic warfare systems: passive and active.

The Chinese also advertise their Type 055 destroyers as stealth units – invisible to radars and thermal systems, but the innovative shape of the mast and superstructures alone will not be enough in this case. Specialists point out, for example, that the launch of several rockets from one block of the vertical launch launcher automatically increases the thermal signature of the ship at this point, which facilitates the operation of missiles with an infrared guidance system (such as the NSM anti-ship missile used in the Polish Naval Missile Unit) ).

However, there are no major differences in terms of the type of armament taken, except that the Chinese have supersonic anti-ship missiles at their disposal, as well as the ability to fire their rocket launchers with a “cold start”. This type of ammunition can be quite easily distinguished from the outside, because their transport and launch containers – inserted into the silos of the VLS launchers have a circular cross-section (similar to those used in the Russian S-300, S-400 and S-500 systems). In the case of “hot” missiles, the containers already have the shape of an elongated cuboid – just like the Americans.

Like the American Aegis ships, also their Chinese counterparts are armed with various types of anti-aircraft missiles: including the long-range HQ-9B (“cold” launch), the medium-range HQ-16B (“hot” launch) and the short-range DK- 10 (“hot” start), which are the smallest and are installed four in a single silo of the VLS launchers. As you can see, the Chinese have the equivalent of the American ESSM missiles, but they do not have such a variety of medium and long-range missiles.

It can therefore be assumed that, so far, Chinese ships without SM-3 and SM-6 missile counterparts will not be able to act as an element of the anti-missile shield (despite some analysts claiming so). This does not mean, however, that this situation will not change in the near future, which is supported by the Chinese adherence to the standards of VLS launchers and the open (as the Chinese media claim) architecture of the ship’s command and control system.

The vertical launch launchers on the Type 055 destroyers can also be loaded with:

  • YJ-18A supersonic anti-ship missiles (“cold” launch);
  • YJ-83 subsonic anti-ship missiles (“hot” launch);
  • CY-2 missile-torpedoes carrying Yu-8 anti-submarine torpedoes (“hot” launch);
  • maneuvering missiles against CJ-10 land targets (“cold” launch).

What positively distinguishes the Chinese destroyers from the Zumvalts is the use of automated, remotely controlled artillery systems (Type 1130 – an eleven-barrel 30 mm caliber cannon) and rocket systems (type FL-3000N with MANPADS HQ-10 missiles) of direct protection, which are also suitable for Arleigh Burke-class destroyers (Vulcan Phalanx). These kits are very useful for combating asymmetric surface threats (e.g. fast motor boats) as well as cheap air drones, for which it is a pity to use large anti-aircraft missiles.

The anti-submarine anti-submarine system is a complete unknown. Therefore, the composition of the sonar complex is not officially known, except that it is to work with missile torpedoes, torpedo tubes and two helicopters, for which a landing strip in the stern and two spacious hangars have been secured.

All these weapon systems require data about targets: provided by own and external observation systems and properly developed in the ship’s command and control system. And in this case, at least in terms of quantity, the Chinese might have surpassed the Americans.

Zumwalt versus Type 055 – electronic systems

Observing the successive “Aegis” class ships being introduced to the Chinese Navy, it is clear that their radar stations are constantly undergoing a technological and operational metamorphosis. The fact that these changes went very far is evidenced by the fact that while the Chinese clearly stood out from the Americans in this area, now their Type 055 destroyers probably have much richer electronic equipment than the American Zumwalty, and certainly more diverse than those – used on the latest version of Arleigh Burke destroyers.

This allows the Chinese to boast that their newest Type 055 ships can now be used as a command center for air operations. For this, however, two things are needed. First of all, an appropriate IT system of command and control is necessary, which, unfortunately, no one except the Chinese themselves can objectively assess (just as it is difficult to assess the Aegis system from the outside). Secondly, an appropriate set of sensors, communication and data transmission devices is necessary, which will provide this IT system with the necessary data on the external situation in the right time and in the right amount. And in this area, the Chinese did a lot.

Chinese engineers created a system in which they theoretically managed to integrate many more radio-electronic devices than the Americans. And while the Arleigh Burke destroyers use “only” four longwall antennas for the AN / SPY-1 radar station (in Flight I, Flight II and Flight IIa versions) or AN / SPY-6 ( in Flight III version), the Chinese probably installed longwall antennas from three radars, each of which works in a different band.

It was possible because, apart from the use of superstructures for mounting eight (!) Longwall radar antennas, the Type 055 destroyers also had an integrated mast with four additional radar antennas and most of the communications, reconnaissance, navigation and electronic warfare antennas. What exactly these devices are and where exactly they fit, it is not known exactly yet. The Chinese, as they can, hide the details of building their new destroyers. Even during the flag hoisting ceremony on the first Type 055 “Nanchang”, the crew in formation had a propaganda banner behind them so tall that it was impossible to film close up amidships.

However, during the interview with the ship’s commander standing in the bow, it was clear that four smaller flat wall antennas were incorporated into the walls of the quadrangular mast, apart from the four larger main radar antennas, which were placed on the superstructures as standard. Other photos also show four more large rectangular antennas – located under the bridge and on the side walls of the helicopter hangar. However, what exactly these radars are, the Chinese have not revealed so far.

The simplest situation is with four large square antenna arrays located on the four sloping sides of the front superstructure. This is because it is a typical location for Aegis-class ships’ antennas of the main air target detection and tracking radar. In the case of the Chinese, it is probably a new version of the radar previously used on the Type 052C and 052D destroyers. This station, designated as type 346B, is, according to some specialists, to work in two frequency bands C and S. However, most likely these are active AESA radar antennas for S-band, built according to Chinese media – in gallium nitride technology.

It is noted that the Type 055 destroyers’ longwall radar antennas have an aperture area of ​​40% larger than that of the Type 052D destroyers. According to preliminary estimates, this may allow the standard detection range of airborne targets (officially around 300 km – in fact, certainly less) to be increased by even 60%.

What immediately catches the eye of the Type 055 destroyers is the lack of longwave early warning radar, as previously used on the Type 052C and 052D ships. However, it is assumed that the role of this radar was taken over by a completely new L-band radar, with four longwall antennas placed on both sides: under the bridge and on the side walls of the helicopter hangar. However, there is also an opinion that it may be an antenna system from a completely new, unidentified device – e.g. electronic warfare.

Proponents of this theory point out that all four antennas were placed too low for radars and parallel to the ship’s axis. The height of the location of the antenna system itself is of little importance, as low-flying targets are not detected here, but air objects located very far, at relatively high altitudes. Sticking the antennas parallel to the axis of the destroyer is really a problem, because then there is no physical possibility that even by very strongly moving the antenna beam, it is possible to observe the fore and stern zones, i.e. sectors from which the attack comes very often in offensive operations.

In addition, the 346B (and other radar in its class) generally uses four of the same antennas on the sides. Meanwhile, the antenna arrays located under the bridge and on the hangar walls clearly differ in size and shape. Therefore, they may be interference antennas for electronic warfare systems that would protect the ship’s sides (which would not explain the specific arrangement of antennas and their diversified shape anyway).

It seems much simpler to identify the antenna arrays located in the walls of the integrated mast. The largest of them is to come from the X-band radar, which is the same frequency range as in the APAR radar station on NATO ships (e.g. the Dutch type De Zeven Provinciën). And the same is probably also the purpose of this unknown station. Due to the high frequency of operation, it has a shorter range, but the resolution is sufficient to guide missile targets (with an aperture of only 1/6 of the S-band antenna of the Type 346B radar).

The other two smaller types of longwall antennas integrated in the mast are most probably the receiving systems of the electronic warfare (radar reconnaissance) system. They are especially useful for the detection and targeting of low-flying anti-ship missiles with radar guidance. They cooperate with with RFI transmitters probably located just above the main column of the integrated mast or above the bridge.

Above the bridge, right at the base of the mast, there is a complex of five longitudinal antenna arrays, the purpose of which is not known yet. Four of them were positioned directly above the “glued” antenna arrays of the Type 346B main radar to the superstructures. Thus, they are most likely the “home-to-other” radar identification system antennas, most probably signal-integrated also with other air target detection stations. The fifth forward-facing beam antenna can be dedicated to a continuous-wave LPI navigation radar.

In the upper part of the integrated mast, in its thinnest part, the Chinese have integrated a complex of UHF / VHF radio antennas for radio stations, communication reconnaissance devices and locators. Additionally, from the mast towards the stern, the antenna cables of the HF shortwave communication system were “hung”.

According to the photos of the test, integrated mast built on land, its top should have an antenna that corresponds to the shape of the western, air navigation system TACAN (tactical air navigation system). The photos taken when the Type 055 prototype ship was handed over to the Chinese Navy clearly show that this antenna was not installed immediately. Therefore, such a ship system could not be verified during the destroyer’s hand-over tests.

Specialists also point out the lack of an optoelectronic observation system that would work with, for example, an artillery system. It is either hidden or it will be installed at a later date. The navigation radar is similarly invisible, but it is hard to suppose that the Chinese would give it up for good.

What are the prototype ships for?

As can be seen on the Type 055 destroyer, a lot of completely new electronic systems have been installed, which undoubtedly hinders the process of introducing these units to the operational service. An example is the X-band radar, the antenna of which has not been previously used on any other Chinese ship. Therefore, R&D programs for equipment had to be carried out in parallel with the construction of ships, which, as experience shows, very often does not go according to the schedule.

In addition, everything that was already installed on the destroyer, the Chinese had to integrate not only in terms of cooperation in the ship’s combat system, but also in terms of electromagnetic compatibility. Such a collision-free connection of many radio-electronic devices is of course checked beforehand, but after the ship is built, many previous calculations must be practically verified later. And it takes time.

An additional difficulty in system integration and crew training may be the fact that the Type 055 destroyers are being built simultaneously at two yards: Jiangan Shipyard in Shanghai and Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company in Dalian, Liaoning Province). So, despite the fact that it is the same design and technical documentation, the very way of working means that the ships are definitely not identical.

Despite these difficulties, the Chinese do not intend to slow down the implementation of their program, because their Type 055 ships are to be the basic element of defense of the new generation of Chinese Type 002 aircraft carriers. 075.

This is why the Chinese Type 055 destroyers are to be retrofitted with a completely new class of weapons in the future, such as electromagnetic cannons (useful for supporting troops operating in the coastal zone) or laser cannons (an agent effective in anti-aircraft defense). It is assumed that it is precisely for this type of equipment that very efficient turbogenerators with a capacity of 20 MW were used on the ship – more than the current demand for electricity required by the ship.

Why are the Chinese taking such risks?

The violent pressure from Beijing authorities to build ocean-going ships may be surprising and indeed alarming. Nobody in the world, except the Chinese, would take the risk of starting the construction of seven other identical units, each worth over a billion dollars, even before testing a prototype ship of unprecedented size and complexity. The risk is all the greater as subsequent destroyers will no longer be able to introduce changes resulting from the conclusions after the initial operation of the prototype. So China did something unprecedented – it built eight ships for over eight billion dollars, on which any errors of the prototype unit will be reproduced.

Worse still, these bugs are unknown, as the first destroyer probably does not yet have all the equipment assigned to it on board. In this case, problems may concern especially the integrated mast. The Chinese incorporated so many devices into its design that in order to check the whole (e.g. in terms of electromagnetic compatibility) they had to build one entire mast on land. It was there that individual solutions were tested, and it is likely that the first destroyer was not ready for use at the time.

The first photos of this ship clearly show that there is only one type of longwall antenna on the integrated mast, while ultimately there will be three of them – placed one below the other. It is also not known what effects the Chinese had to implement stealth technology. The ship undoubtedly has a reduced effective reflecting surface, but it is not as big as the American Zumwalt destroyers.

On the one hand, all openings in the hull were built up, hiding mainly the mooring points and anchor chains, and on the other hand, there was a suspended anchor and a 130 mm cannon with an uncovered barrel (unlike what the Swedes did, for example, on “invisible” ones) Visby corvettes). Specialists also point to the use of aluminum for the construction of the highest superstructures, which undoubtedly improved the stability of the ship, shifting its center of gravity lower, but on the other hand reduced the survivability in the event of a missile or bomb hit.

The Chinese, however, are completely unconcerned about this, believing that the changes resulting from any defects found will be possible to implement in the second series of Type 055 destroyers, the order of which is already announced (there are plans to build as many as 24 units of this type in total). The question is, therefore, why the authorities in Beijing are taking such a risk and expanding their navy so quickly, having no immediate threat or open enemies in their immediate vicinity. Except for American-backed Taiwan.

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