China’s Navy Commissions Two New Type 055 Destroyers After Class Demonstrates Hypersonic Strike Capability

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy has commissioned two more Type 055 Class destroyers into service, bringing the fleet size up to five with three more having been launched but not yet made operational. With no formal announcement of their commissioning having been made, the warships Anshan and Wuxi only had their active status confirmed after they took part in nighttime firing and search and rescue exercises where they were filmed alongside their sister ship the Lhasa. The confirmation of commissioning comes just two days after the PLA Navy released footage of a test launch of a hypersonic anti ship ballistic missile integrated onto a Type 055 destroyer – reportedly designated YJ-21 – providing a kind of strike asset unlike any other fielded in the world. It also comes at a time of high international tensions, with Western powers criticising China alongside India and several others for not supporting the Western position in the Russia-Ukraine War and threatening neutral countries with consequences for refusing to go against Russia. The commissioning also follows a visit by American lawmakers to the Taiwanese capital Taipei, which was generally interpreted as a step towards further placing pressure on Beijing. 

The Type 055 is widely considered the most capable destroyer class in the world, with each carrying larger armaments than any of their Western rivals and, with the exception of the three American Zumwalt Class ships, having superior stealth capabilities. In January it was reported that China could resume production after a brief pause, with the last ship of the class having been launched in August 2020. Progress on the program comes as the PLA Navy has moved towards launching its first supercarrier – the world’s first outside the United States – which is expected to occur in June. The yet unnamed warships will integrate electromagnetic catapult systems, and be a peer level competitor to the U.S. Navy’s Gerald Ford Class ships. The Type 055 is expected to serve as an escort in future carrier groups, alongside lighter Type 052D Class destroyers, and integrates four classes of surface to air missile providing an advanced defence capability. The Type 055’s potency is thought to have spurred the U.S. Navy to invest in developing a successor to its own Arleigh Burke Class destroyer, which due to the failure of the Zumwalt Class destroyer program is still by far the most capable in the Western world. The design of the successor has been widely speculated to have copied significant design aspects from the Chinese Type 055, with striking similarities between them.