Monday, 12 May 2014

The tactical implications of China’s Type 055 cruiser

A mock-up of a new Chinese warship design was discovered at a technical institution in Wuhan. It appears to be the design of a new type of warship identified as the Type 055 cruiser. Not only will a cruiser put the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) further on the transition to a blue water navy, it will also introduce a change in Chinese naval tactics.

Type 055 cruiser concept

The Type 055 cruiser is believed to be as big as the US Zumwalt class destroyers and bigger as the US Ticonderoga class cruisers. Her tonnage is estimated to be around 12.000 tons.  The ship will have two 64 Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) for a total of 128 VLS compared to the 122VLS on a USS Ticonderoga class. In all aspects, the Type 055 seems to be a copy of the Ticonderoga. But even if China is planning ahead in building the Type 055 it will have a large influence in PLAN tactics and force compositions.

Chinese military forces are very heavily missile minded and until recently the general doctrine the PLAN would use is to deploy its frigates and destroyers, all armed with missiles, and to fire as many missiles as possible on their target. This is similar to Soviet naval doctrine which would use a large volley of missiles to overwhelm the US ship defenses. Since the Soviets, and later the Russians, would help build and modernize the PLAN it comes as no surprise that China also uses the same tactics. A first game changer was China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. Since this carrier is too small for offensive operations it’s only tactical task would be to provide air support and protection of the frigates and destroyers before these are in range. At the same time the Liaoning has to be protected herself against enemy threats and this is done by frigates and destroyers.

The arrival of the Type 055 cruiser is another game changer, depending for what exact role it will fulfill. A cruiser can be deployed both offensively and defensively. Ticonderoga class cruisers tend to be deployed in a defensive role. Their main job is to protect aircraft carriers and other capital ships against incoming planes and missiles. However, sometimes these cruisers are deployed offensively and attack enemy targets with long range missiles. Since the Type 055 has a lot of resemblance with a Ticonderoga one would assume that its main task will be protecting capital PLAN ships such as the Liaoning or amphibian landing ships against enemy threats.

One must however take into account that the Chinese got most of their tactics from the Soviets/Russians. Both the Soviets as the Russians developed cruisers to play an offensive role. The Slava class was designed to attack and sink aircraft carrier groups, earning this class the nickname “killer of aircraft carriers”. The Kirov class is equipped with so many weapons and missiles that the Reagan administration saw no other option then reactivation old Iowa battleships to counter them. The Kirov class is estimated to be capable of engaging a whole US navy task force on its own and survive the encounter.
Should China remain true to its missile doctrine we would see the Type 055 being deployed more with frigates and destroyers instead of protecting the aircraft carriers. An offensively deployed Type 055 class would give the PLAN more punch when engaging enemy targets and bring a substantial increase in firepower to the frigates and destroyers task forces.

We can only speculate at the moment what kind of role the PLAN has envisioned for its Type 055 cruisers. Since this ship resembles the US Ticonderoga class cruisers one could indeed predict that the role of this cruiser will be protecting capital ships like aircraft carriers and rarely play an independent offensive role.
At the same time we must take in account that most PLAN doctrines came from the Soviets and Russians who view cruisers as offensive weapons that are supposed to be forward deployed. In such a scenario the Type 055 cruisers would team up with frigates and destroyers to attack enemy targets with a massive missile barrage.

1 comment:

  1. This , ah, 'Type 055' is designed to repel the USMC boarding party while obliterating the entire highly accursed Hideki Tojo landlubbers. Hallelujah for this new warship !