The mighty Chinese warship that shames the US at sea

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China’s military might has intensified with continuing tensions in the South China Sea. Video / CCTV via AP

This week, China and the United States embarked aircraft carriers in the murky waters of China’s eastern and southern seas. But quietly follow a new warship that shames America’s best and could redefine warfare at sea.

The Chinese training aircraft carrier Liaoning and five escort ships were seen passing through a critical maritime “choke point” in southern Japan over the weekend. At about the same time, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and two escorts made their way through the narrow Strait of Malacca, past Singapore and into the South China Sea.

The 55,000-ton diesel-powered Liaoning can carry up to 40 light fighters and helicopters.  Photo / AP
The 55,000-ton diesel-powered Liaoning can carry up to 40 light fighters and helicopters. Photo / AP

Since World War II, aircraft carriers have replaced large battleships as status symbols and standard bearers of gunboat diplomacy.

At first glance, the US-Chinese battle groups are not evenly matched.

The Roosevelt, with a capacity of 110,000 tons, nuclear powered, can operate some 90 heavy planes and helicopters.

The 55,000-ton diesel-powered Liaoning can carry up to 40 light fighters and helicopters.

But that balance changes dramatically once low-profile escort ships are factored in.

Aircraft carriers are not the source of the overwhelming strength they once were.

Fast, stealthy missiles negated their only advantage: long-range strikes.

And the new Chinese Renhai Type 055-class missile destroyer carries a lot of it.

Naval arms race

The pace of change has accelerated. Governments around the world are struggling to tackle issues of privacy, data economics, and digital security decades after their emergence.

And getting rid of old ideas, definitions and standards is proving to be just as much of a problem for armies around the world.

A new Type 055 destroyer sails along the Liaoning. PLAN Nanchang has 112 vertical launch system (VLS) cells. Eight ships of this class were launched. Six more are at various assembly points.

The guided missile destroyer Nanchang carries 112 cells of the vertical launch system.  Photo / Supplied
The guided missile destroyer Nanchang carries 112 cells of the vertical launch system. Photo / Supplied

Meanwhile, a 38-year-old Ticonderoga-class cruiser protects the USS Theodore Roosevelt. The USS Bunker Hill also carries 112 VLS cells. But the US Navy is struggling to keep these ships functional as more and more are retired. No comparable replacement is under construction.

The point of comparison, apart from their age, is the number of VLS cells.

They are the “big guns” of modern warships.

Each cell can contain a large missile, or sometimes several smaller ones. The mix of anti-surface, anti-shore, anti-aircraft or anti-missile warheads depends on the mission.

They are designed to send as many missiles as possible into the air as quickly as possible.

The idea is to overwhelm any opponent’s defenses with speed, stealth, and numbers.

But even as Beijing sends more and more VLS cells to sea, the United States is withdrawing them.

And he does not intend to replace them.

Deadly weapon

Japan responded to the passage of the PLAN Liaoning Battle Group through the Miyako Strait between Okinawa Island and Miyako Island by sending one of its own destroyers and a surveillance plane to “observe” the force. .

The Type 055 Nanchang was the center of attention.

It is approximately 180 m long and 22 m wide. Its smooth sides deflect radar, and the large square panels betray the advanced nature of its sensor systems.

Liaoning’s other two heavy escorts, the 052D Luyang III class destroyers, are only slightly less modern. And they carry 64 VLS cells, giving them less potential firepower than their 33-year-old American Arleigh Burke-class counterparts, who have between 90 and 96.

But it is the potential of the Type 055 that puts the US Navy at risk.

The guided missile destroyer Nanchang.  Eight ships of this class have been launched and six more are in preparation.  Photo / AP
The guided missile destroyer Nanchang. Eight ships of this class have been launched and six more are in preparation. Photo / AP

Media controlled by the Chinese Communist Party claims that its dual-band radars can detect stealth planes and track satellites in low earth orbit. Its VLS cells can carry 9m long missiles powerful enough to hit them. Not only does this endanger crucial surveillance and communications satellites, but it also indicates the possibility of intercepting ballistic rockets – whether or not they carry hypersonic or nuclear warheads.

Some US Ticonderoga and Arleigh-Burke class ships also have this capability.

Today, Beijing-controlled media reports that the Type 055s are equipped with 20-megawatt generators capable of powering high-energy weapons such as lasers and electromagnetic rail guns. Prototypes of such weapons are already being tested at sea.

What’s in a name?

The PLAN Nanchang weighs 13,000 tonnes. It is the equivalent of a heavy cruiser from WWII. But it’s called a guided missile destroyer.

The USS Bunker Hill weighs 9,800 tons. Its designation is Guided Missile Cruiser.

The Royal Australian Navy recently accepted the HMAS Sydney air war destroyer. This is the third and final in a batch of three modern 7,000-ton warships based on a Spanish F-100 frigate design. All of them are bigger than WWII cruisers. All carry 48 VLS cells and an assortment of short range and point defense weapons.

These designations – cruiser, destroyer or frigate – seem meaningless in the context of their size and firepower.

Yet the outdated language of WWII guns still shapes the thoughts and opinions of politicians, the general public, and military personnel.

The Liaoning, with a capacity of 55,000 tons, crossed the Strait of Miyako accompanied by a battle group of destroyers.  Photo / AP
The Liaoning, with a capacity of 55,000 tons, crossed the Strait of Miyako accompanied by a battle group of destroyers. Photo / AP

But the raw numbers show that a 48-cell air war destroyer is unlikely to protect itself – but only the troop transport it is tasked with protecting – even against a single 112-cell guided missile destroyer.

And the US Pentagon is ramping up plans to pull out its expensive-to-maintain Ticonderoga Cruiser fleet, although replacement plans – DDG (X) – appear to have stalled. An earlier replacement program, the USS Zumwalt-class, was scrapped due to excessive costs and the inability to produce its advanced weapon systems on time.

The result has serious implications for the balance of power in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

“We’re going to have to have a much larger fleet than we have today, if we’re serious about great power competition and great power war deterrence, and if we’re serious about dominant capabilities over something like China or some other power that has significant capabilities, ”US Chief of Staff General Mark Milley recently warned.



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