Most recently, the 4th 052C joined service with PLAN as 151. Over the next half a year or so, the final 2 052Cs should also join service in the same flotilla. The first 052D started sea trials a little while ago and the construction for this program is proceeding very nicely. We have 3 052Ds launched along with modules for 2 others in JN shipyard. There is also speculations that Dalian shipyard also got works for 052Ds. The product run for 052D is expected to reach 8. That would mean a total of 16 052B/C/Ds. A big question is what will happen after this production run is over. These 16 ships will form 4 destroyer flotillas. At this point, 052D is already as fully loaded with weapon/sensor as its hull could handle. As part of PLAN's continuous modernization, a new Type 055 class is expected to be built to lead the next generation of PLAN surface warship.
There is a lot of discussions on SDF recently regarding whether or not this Type 055 class is needed, so I'm going to just jump in here to talk about what i think of this speculated class. If we look at recent new classes, typically the first one or two ship of a particular hull type gets produced with current generation of sensors of weapons. In the case of 054, it was equipped with radars, missiles and close in weapon systems that were already on other ships. In the case of 052B, it was equipped with newer subsystems than 051B and 052, but they were proven Russian or Chinese copy of Russian subsystems that were on Sovs. Although both 054 and 052B were said to use a newer generation of combat systems, the visible weapon subsystems were already mature. And the reason for that is PLAN generally does not like to create a new surface ship hull type (with new propulsion system) and also putting new weapon or sensor subsystems on there. When one considers how new some of these subsystems are to PLAN, it certainly makes sense that they would want to be conservative and evaluate them on existing platforms first. As a result of this, the new VLS, radar suite and CIWS were installed on 052C and 054A class.
And with the introduction of the impressive 052D class, a even more complete VLS (and associated radars) along with a new main gun, the HQ-10 CIWS and new type of variable depth sonar are squeezed onto this existing hull after already getting that new generation of 052C subsystems. I would expect this new VLS to be on all future major PLAN surface ships. From that stand point, any new missiles that's designed for this VLS would be usable by all PLAN surface ships post 052D. I do expect that the first 055 will use a lot of the subsystems that we already see on 052D, but with more VLS and larger radar or one with higher placement. The first couple of ships will be used to test out a new larger and more stealthy hull using a new propulsion system. There has been quite the discussion on SDF on whether this class is needed when China can just keep on mass producing 052D like it is doing with 054A. I think it's important to note that 8 052D + 6 052C is quite an extended production run for this class of ships. As PLAN becomes more of a blue water fleet, it believes that a larger platform with more modern propulsion system is required to be better suited for blue water operation. This would allow better speed and manueverability in escorting carriers, smoother operations in bad weather conditions/sea state and greater ability to lead a flotilla. On top of that, 052D's hull has very little left for expansion in the future and would not be able to support any future weapon system like laser or a more powerful ABM radar that would have greater power requirement than what the current propulsion system offers. The 055 platform does not need to be the size of a 12000 ton cruiser like some have suggested. Something along the lines of Arleigh Burke class or Kongo class with future expansion possibilities would more than satisfy PLAN requirements. Once PLAN is satisfied with the 055 platform, it will then proceed with installing new weapon subsystems.
Similary, although 054A has been one of PLAN's most successful program, it will need to be succeeded by a new platform using the new standard VLS along with a new type of propulsion system.