While reading pop3’s various posts on Type 055, I was struck by how long this project has been planned.
As far back as 1968, the Type 055 designation was given to a new large missile destroyer program. By 1970, the701 Institute, Hudong shipyard and NSF commenced work to develop this ship. As one could imagine, China did not have the money or technology needed to develop a large missile destroyer back in those days. By 1981, this program went from an official program to one under research development. Back in the 80s, many PLAN program was dropped due to underfunding and weak technology base. Type 055 program from that time would’ve required CODOG propulsion, ASW helicopter, ECM/ESM system, SAM, sonar countermeasure system, integrated communication system, 3D search radar and rocket assisted torpedo. Those requirements were probably 20 years ahead of its time. If they had built a cruiser, it would’ve been as large as Kirov to fit all of the missiles and electronics that were available at the time. They would not have the propulsion system needed to power such a ship. Even if they did have the appropriate propulsion system, that ship would still not be very capable. That’s why China ended up developing Type 052 destroyer.
The most recent reincarnation of Type 055 came about in December of 2009. The project calls for 10k+ ton cruiser with high speed, long endurance, long self-sufficiency and excellent global navigation. It would be a stealthy design with lo acoustic, radar, infrared and electromagnetic signature. It will need to be survivable by itself and be able to lead a fleet. It must have early warning defense system as well as long, medium and close range hard+soft kill weapons. So many requirements were included in the Type 055 design that an initial design was estimated to be over 20,000 ton in displacement. A lot of work was put in to reduce redundancies and complexities in order to better utilize space. For example, the new universal VLS system supports 4 different types of missiles from 4 different firms. Each firm has their own control system, so all of this need to be integrated into one system. In addition, Type 055 will use integrated electric propulsion system, which has smaller space requirements, lower noise level and better fuel economy than previous power generation system. Pop3 estimated the cost of each Type 055, excluding missiles, to be about 6 billion RMB ($900 million). I think that’s reasonable since it’s comparable to what South Korea paid for KDX-3 and quite a bit less than what Japan paid for Atago class. While Type 055 may turn out to be better (or at least more powerful) than those 2 classes of ships, I have a hard time making that prediction at this stage.
Type 055 will be China’s first major large surface combatant series since Type 052 series. On SDF, Jeff Head start a thread on 052 Historical analysis and put some great thoughts on the history of this program. The overall dimension and propulsion of the type 052 platform did not change too much from Type 052 to Type 052D, but the firepower increased exponentially to become a truly capable multi-role destroyer. Now that Type 052D has been packed in with the most recent Type 346A MFR, 64 cell universal VLS, HQ-10 and PJ-38 main gun, it is probably at the limit of what the Type 052 hull could fill. PLAN is developing Type 055 to be a blue water large surface combatant that can defend itself against many different threats. Type 055 will also probably go through different iteration until reaching the limit of what the initial dimension and propulsion system could support. Comparing to the development of Type 052, Type 055 contains much fewer risks, since most of the weapons (universal VLS, Type 346A radar, HQ-10 and PJ-11 CIWS, YJ-18A AShM and PJ-38 main gun) have already been tested out on Type 052D and Type 054A+. Using relatively mature weapon and radar systems would significantly reduce this type of delays to commissioning of the ship. The 701 Institute has also built a full sized land based simulator of Type 055, which will allow training programs to start before the first unit is launched. Such a real world model would also identify any unexpected results in signature profile and any electronic interference. All of this would reduce the amount of troubleshooting when the first Type 055 gets launched. The Type 052 program never had this kind of luxury, since PLAN was dealing with integrating imported subsystems from different countries at the same time a new hull with new propulsion system was getting tested. No. 113 also uses different propulsion than No. 112 since arms embargo went into affect by then. All of this added a lot of delays to the Type 052 program. I think it’s really interesting to see how much things have changed in 25 years.