China has accelerated the deployment of its ace guided-missile destroyers, known as Type 055, as four of the latest-generation warships, capable of attacking targets onshore, offshore and underwater, are being built at the nation’s two largest shipyards in Shanghai and Dalian.

The latter is also the home port of the first Chinese-built aircraft carrier.

When the first ship of the 055 class was launched at the end of June in Shanghai, China’s official media offered scant details of the brand-new destroyer, though some observers reckoned that it might be the largest warship in the Asia-Pacific region except for aircraft carriers.

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A still from a China Central Television news clip about the 055-class destroyers.

But an expert with the PLA Naval University of Engineering revealed at a forum at the end of last month that the nation’s first super-destroyer, of 186 meters long and 21 meters wide with a displacement of up to 12,300 tons, would soon be at sea to give a big lift to the People’s Liberation Army’s naval strength.

The 055 may be the only ship in any navy that can rival the US military’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, Chinese news portal Sina quoted the expert as saying.

Arleigh Burke is the first class of destroyers in the US Navy, built around the Aegis Combat System. The hallmark of the mighty warship is its multi-mission capabilities to combine anti-aircraft warfare with surface-to-air missiles, anti-submarine warfare with anti-submarine rockets, and anti-surface and strategic land-strike missiles.

Firing Tomahawk cruise missiles from an Arleigh Burke destroyer far offshore against ground targets is usually a sign of Washington’s declaration of war.

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A People’s Daily diagram shows a 055 destroyer in a carrier strike group.

Now it won’t be way off the mark to conclude that the 055-class destroyers are China’s equivalent to the Arleigh Burke ships.

Other than their stealth design and cutting-edge active electronically scanned array radar system – able to detect targets the size of a compact car 5,500 kilometers away – Type 055 destroyers’ multi-mission feature centers on three types of vertically launched missiles: HHQ-9B, HQ-26, and a Chinese version of America’s Evolved SeaSparrow Missile (ESSM).

HHQ-9B, an active radar-homing surface-to-air missile, has a range of 200km with enhanced ultra-low-altitude anti-ship attack capability.

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A long-range HQ-26 is filed from a warship. Photo: PLA Daily

HQ-26, tailor-made for the 055 destroyers, is the Chinese equivalent of the US military’s SM-3 for naval deployment. As a variant of the long-range HQ-19, it is rumored that HQ-26 is also able to intercept medium-range missiles on the atmospheric fringe.

It can pierce through the nationwide anti-missile program the United States has had in development since the 1990s, according to Jane’s Defence Review.

The third type of missile, a Chinese version of the ESSM, can counter supersonic maneuvering anti-ship missiles and is small enough to be “quad-packed” and carried in a single cell of a launching system.

The Type 055 destroyers will constitute China’s first anti-missile and ship-to-ground combat platform, since the nation faces more missile threats both in the northeast and southeast, and as the PLA Navy believes it has to boost its sea-land attack capacity to match Japan’s Atago- and Kongo-class warships and respond to any emergencies in the South China Sea as well as the Taiwan Strait.