China has deployed its most advanced guided-missile destroyer to the disputed South China Sea to participate in a large naval exercise, according to Taiwanese media.
This week, the Want Daily and its English-language sister site, Want China Times, reported that China deployed the Kunming, the first of its new Type 052D guided-missile destroyers (DDG), to the South China Sea last month. The purpose of the deployment was to hold a military drill in the disputed wars simulating an Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) attack. The Type 052D guided missile destroyer was joined by some of two of its earlier variants, a Type 052C and a Type 052A destroyer, which also participated in the drill.
The English-language report did not specify the source for the story, nor did it detail the exact dates the exercise was held. It did say that the Kunming had left China for the drill sometime in the later part of September.
As The Diplomat previously reported, China officially commissioned the Kunming back in March amid much fanfare in the Chinese media. The Type-052D is by far China’s most advanced destroyer and is regularly compared to the United States’ Aegis Arleigh Burke-class DDG. As a result, the Type 052D is often referred to as the Chinese Aegis. China is expected to ultimately launch six vessels for this class.
The Type 052D has a number of significant improvements over its early variants. Displacing between 6,000-7,000 pounds, the Type 052D has a new 130 mm main gun and, building on the prototype Type 052C, it also has Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA). It’s vertical launch cells (VLC) are also greatly improved. As James Holmes and his Toshi Yoshihara noted when China first launched the Kunming in 2012, the new VLS “allows for quick firing of anti-air, anti-ship, or land-attack missiles without the bother, delay, and technical headaches associated with uploading munitions onto launchers from magazines deep within the ship.” They added that “the PLAN may have found its premier surface combatant” with the Type 052D DDG.
And for good reason. The Type 052D DDGs would be an important asset in most of the conceivable naval showdowns China could find itself in over the South China Sea, East China Sea or Taiwan. Having more and higher quality sea-based air defense is also a crucial step for becoming a global navy — that is, one that is able to operate far beyond one’s border and out of the reach of land-based air defense systems.
However, it is no coincidence that the Type 052D drill is taking place in the South China Sea as this may be where it most quickly demonstrates its value. China is currently taking steps to bolster its ability to more actively patrol more distant parts of its expansive claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea. In the air, this means acquiring new hardware like the Su-35. On the other hand, for the sea this means that China is able to both sustain long-range patrols and protect these assets from potential adversaries. By building up logistical bases in reefs near the Philippines, China is actively trying to achieve this former objective. The Type 052D DDG will help it achieve the latter.