by DAVID AXE
One photo at a time, Beijing’s military-industrial-media complex is slowly showing the world the Chinese navy’s giant future warship, the Type 055. The latest disclosures include a glimpse of the vessel’s potentially sophisticated new radar.
The first blurry, low-resolution images of the new cruiser—more accurately, a land-based mock-up of the ship—showed up on Chinese Internet forums in early April.
It’s customary for Beijing’s military planners to leak increasingly high-resolution photos of new weapons to Internet enthusiasts, in order to build grassroots public support for military modernization.
The mock-up is at a technical institution in Wuhan, where the Chinese navy sometimes tests the electronics for new warships before building floating prototypes.
Based on its size relative to a nearby model of China’s sole aircraft carrier Liaoning, the Type 055 mock-up appears to be 603 feet from bow to stern, roughly as big as a U.S. Zumwalt-class destroyer but nearly 100 feet longer than an American Burke-class destroyer and 36 feet longer than a U.S. Ticonderoga cruiser.
The Type 055 could pack a hundred or more long-range missiles, making it one of the most heavily-armed vessels in the world.
Chinese engineers spent three years tinkering with the Liaoning model before the flattop commissioned into active naval service in 2012. “Using this same timeline,” China Defense Blog noted, “we might expect the keel of the new cruiser to be laid in 2015, with a 2017 commission date.”
But in order for that to happen, in the next three years the Type 055’s developers need to work out all the kinks in the cruiser’s presumably highly-complex suite of sensors, computers, communications and weapons.
To that end, in early May the first photos appeared depicting what appears to be a test model of the new ship’s sensor mast at Wuhan, jutting from the brush near the vessel’s hull mock-up. The Type 055 could carry the Type 346A radar, an improved version of the sensor on the latest Type 052 destroyers.
The Type 346A is an electronically-scanned array sensor, meaning it does not use mechanically complex—and unreliable—rotating dishes. Rather, the radar includes many small, fixed emitters, each of which can scan and track independently. But making an AESA work requires lots of intensive computing.
The Wuhan testing will be critical to the Type 055’s success as a frontline warship. Continued disclosures by the ship’s government boosters could be a sign that the development is proceeding as planned—and China is producing a huge new warship it can be proud of.