The United States Navy is extremely strong. But they’re not invincible. What you need are complacency, incompetency and arrogance of power (the US and Japan prefer to call it “professional negligence”) and voila, you would see a tragedy like the collision between guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald and a much larger ACX Crystal container ship, leaving 7 sailors dead.
But China isn’t waiting and praying for negligence to hit the United States so that the Chinese could one day defeat the Yankees. As one of the wealthiest nation and the world’s second largest economy, China needs to keep spending on its defence. History has taught China that it would be a matter of time before the nation is invaded again if their military is weak.
Morning today, China’s powerful navy has gotten mightier when it launched its most advanced domestically produced destroyer at Shanghai’s Jiangnan Shipyard. The Chinese Navy shows off its first 10,000-ton Type 055 destroyer (NATO codename: Renhai) which is equipped with the latest air, missile, ship and submarine defence systems. The country plans to launch four of the ships.
The Type 055 is significantly larger than China’s other modern destroyer, the Type 052. When fully armed, the Chinese destroyer is estimated to weight more than 12,000 tonnes, heavier than India’s latest destroyer which would weight 8,200 tonnes full armed. India’s latest Project-15B “Visakhapatnam” class destroyers have still not been commissioned though.
Even if India could launch its latest destroyer tomorrow, the “Visakhapatnam” was designed to carry a mix of about 50 surface-to-air, anti-ship and land attack missiles. In contrast, China’s Type 055 guided missile destroyers, which will serve as escorts to aircraft carriers, has a combination of nearly 120 missiles, making it one of the most heavily-armed ships in the world.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy Surface Force (PLANSF) has claimed the Type 055 has “outstanding stealth capabilities,” and carries anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, anti-submarine missiles and long-range land-attack cruise missiles. This mix of missiles allows the Type 055 destroyer to attack targets as far away as 2,000-km.
In fact, the type 055 is the world’s second-largest and second most powerful warship after the 15,000-ton USS Zumwalt-class destroyer. However, the U.S. could only afford 3 Zumwalt destroyers due to excessive cost – US$7.5 billion a pop. Initially, the U.S. Navy planned to have 32 ships, before reduced to 24, then to 7, and finally to 3, thanks to cost overrun.
In terms of displacement, the Chinese latest destroyer is roughly equivalent to the Arleigh Burke class of destroyer, the U.S. Navy’s only destroyer class in commission since 2005. However, the Arleigh Burke class’s weaponry including 96 missiles, 25% less than what the Type 055 carries. Of course, the U.S. Navy possesses over 66 of such destroyers.
But numbers is the least of China’s worries. China’s navy is undergoing an ambitious expansion and is projected to have a total of 265-273 warships, submarines and logistics vessels by 2020, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Naval Analysis. That compares with 275 deployable battle force ships presently in the U.S. Navy, China’s primary rival in the Asia Pacific.
Beijing says it needs a powerful navy to defend its 14,500 kilometres (9,010 miles) of coastline, as well as its crucial maritime shipping routes. In reality, of course, China is getting ready to challenge the U.S. dominance, whose presence and provocation under the pretext of “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea has given the Chinese sleepless nights.
Strengthening its navy to challenge the U.S. isn’t the only reason why China has been spending top dollars. The Chinese still couldn’t forget Japan’s past invasion of China, not to mention their dispute over a group of tiny, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. The presence of U.S. in Japan and South Korea was enough to justify deep spending in its military.
Beijing’s close alliance with New Delhi’s arch rival Pakistan is putting India on a collision course with China. Border dispute and India’s close alliance with the U.S. are two major problems that China and India do not trust each other. In the last 5 years, China Navy has constantly deployed submarines (including nuclear submarines), warships and support vessels in the Indian Ocean.
Like the race to develop and produce destroyers, the Indians and the Chinese also compete on aircraft carriers. However, unlike China who launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier in April (similar to the Soviet-built Liaoning), India’s home-grown aircraft carrier – the Vikrant – is still in development since 2009.
Development of the Chinese new carrier began in 2013 and construction in late 2015. It is expected to be formally commissioned before 2020. China plans to build at least two and possibly up to four additional carriers, with designs similar to U.S. Nimitz-class ships. In contrast, Indian-made Vikrant is unlikely to be completed before 2023 due to technical difficulties.
Still, China’s speed in ships production is jaw-dropping fast. In 2016 alone, its navy commissioned 18 ships, including destroyers, corvettes and guided-missile frigates. The Chinese builds their ships so fast that the U.S. Navy is dusting off retired ships, such as Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, to reach Trump’s goal of having 355 ships, cutting 10 to 15 years in the process.
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