A 10,000-ton-class large destroyer recently commissioned into the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in 2023 participated in a combat-oriented exercise in the South China Sea.
As part of these drills, the Chinese destroyer demonstrated its ability to quickly develop capabilities in the defense of maritime rights, national sovereignty, and security in the face of regional tensions, Chinese state-controlled publication Global Times reported.
China’s seventh vessel of the Type 055 destroyer, codenamed ‘Zunyi,’ entered service with the PLA Navy and made its first public appearance in January this year. The vessel is named after the Chinese city of Zunyi in the Guizhou province in southwestern China.
Citing a broadcast that appeared on China Central Television (CCTV), the Global Times report published on November 15 stated that the destroyer ‘Zunyi’ successfully validated the ship’s solo fighting capabilities in the far seas by conducting a series of realistic air defense, anti-missile, and sea assault combat maneuvers in an unnamed location of the South China Sea.
The Zunyi’s early warning and detection systems detected many possible airborne targets during the exercise. The battleship successfully intercepted the targets by assuming an advantageous position, unleashing jammer rounds, and firing its close-in weapon system.
The Zunyi launched a swift counterattack after a hostile vessel target approached it during a subsequent training session, severely destroying it with its main cannon.
The Zunyi was responsible for handling challenging air and sea crises and rigorous training activities during the multi-day exercises. The warship completed over a dozen training courses, including light arms firing, helicopter-vessel integrated search and rescue, and coordination with small boats, according to CCTV.
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Zhang Shuliang, a member of an undisclosed detachment under the navy of the PLA Southern Theater Command, told Chinese media that the primary goal of this exercise was to gain a thorough understanding of the new equipment’s capabilities and hasten its actual use in systematic joint combat.
“Through comprehensive training and verifying in complicated maritime and air conditions, we have explored and optimized tactics and training methods,” Zhang said.
According to observers, the Zunyi are nearly prepared for battle after more than six months of training. Chinese military researcher and TV pundit Song Zhongping told the Global Times that the expertise of Type 055 destroyers is helping the Zunyi develop its combat skills quickly.
However, the drills in the South China Sea come at a time when the region remains the most volatile it has been in years. Since August 2023, there have been several belligerent encounters between Chinese and Filipino vessels in the face of a long-standing territorial dispute between the two countries.
Over the past decade, China has expanded its presence by constructing and reinforcing outposts and airstrips on the Paracel and Spratly island chains.
The two sides came to blows last month after a collision between their respective vessels in the South China Sea. Filipino authorities said in a statement that a Chinese Coast Guard ship engaged in “dangerous blocking maneuvers” that resulted in it colliding with a Philippine vessel transporting supplies to soldiers stationed in the Spratly Islands chain’s Ayungin Shoal, also known as Second Thomas Shoal.
Soon after the incident, United States President Joe Biden issued a subtle warning to China, saying that his country would defend the Philippines in case of any attack in the disputed South China Sea while reiterating its “ironclad” defense commitment to Manila.
Days after the incident, the US Navy conducted a Freedom of Navigation Operation in the region. As per an official statement, “On November 3, USS Dewey (DDG 105) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law. After the operation, USS Dewey (DDG 105) exited the excessive claim area and continued operations in the South China Sea.”
The situation in the South China Sea continues to be perilous. The drills conducted by the Zunyi Type 055 destroyer, thus, come at a time when even the United States has heaped praises on the PLAN Type 055 destroyers, which are believed to be China’s response to the US Aegis class destroyers.
China’s Type 055 Destroyer
The Type 055 large destroyer is a massive platform that can carry a lot of equipment and stay at sea for extended periods, especially when compared to destroyers of the previous generation. Its hybrid gas and gas propulsion system can also sail more efficiently.
Sailors on Type 055 claim that the warship’s anti-submarine weapons system, integrated radio frequency system, 130-millimeter naval cannon, and large missile-carrying capacity offer exceptional all-around combat capability.
According to reports, the Type 055 is larger than typical destroyers, with a displacement of 12,000–13,000 tons, and around the same size as US Navy cruisers of the Ticonderoga class.
With 112 vertical launch system (VLS) cells, it has greater surface-to-air and anti-ship missile firing capacity than the US Navy’s newest destroyer, the Arleigh Burke class, which has 96. It also boasts sophisticated anti-submarine and radio armament.
And a lot of them are being produced in China. Production of Type 055s began in 2014, and the eighth Xianyang was just sent into service. The eighth Type 055 big destroyer, Xianyang, was put into service by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy last month, according to a report published in Global Times. This indicates that the PLA Navy has now accepted all eight warships in this class into service.
In addition, another Type 055 heavy destroyer, Dalian, proved its far sea capabilities by finishing a 28-day distant sea practice that covered more than 8,000 nautical miles (14,816 kilometers) between the West Pacific and the South China Sea this summer.
In contrast to China churning out one advanced Type 055 destroyer after another, the construction on the US’ Zumwalt-class destroyers started five years earlier, but only two have been put into duty, noted the CNN report. The ship’s construction began in October 2008 and was taken into service by the US Navy in October 2016.
The drills conducted by the Chinese Zunyi also serve as a reminder of China’s swelling Naval fleet, which poses a danger to its regional adversaries and the United States, which has been seeking a more significant role in the region.
Commenting on the recent drills, Chinese observers said that the exercises were not targeted at a third country but “a mighty navy operating powerful warships like the Type 055 is a stabilizer to regional peace.
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