MELBOURNE, Australia — China has launched the first of a new class of guided missile destroyer, the largest and most advanced of its type to be designed and built in the country.

In a news release, China’s Ministry of National Defense, or MND, said the ship, which it did not identify, although widely known as the Type 055, was launched at a ceremony held at Shanghai's Jiangnan-Changxing shipyard on Wednesday morning.

In addition, General Zhang Youxia, a member of China's Central Military Commission and head of its Equipment Development Department, attended the ceremony. He was joined by leaders of the People's Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, as well as those from the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense at the ceremony.

The MND release listed the ship's displacement at 10,000 tons but did not provide further details, although satellite imagery of the ship being built suggests that it will be between 175 and 180 meters long with a beam of approximately 20 meters.

Photos of the ceremony released by the MND and Chinese state media also suggest the Type 055 will be fitted with a bow-mounted sonar and a 64-cell vertical launch system, or VLS, for surface to air, anti-ship and cruise missiles in the forward section of the ship behind the 130mm dual-purpose gun. This ship will also include a set of VLS aft that will likely bring the total number of VLS cells carried by the ship to between 112 and 128 cells.

The Type 055 also features multifunction phased array radar similar to that on China's Type 052D destroyers and the U.S. Navy's AEGIS system. More sensors are carried within an integrated mast on the superstructure, while it is believed that there will be hangar facilities on board to carry two helicopters.

Although classified by the PLAN as a destroyer, a recent Pentagon report on Chinese military developments called the Type 055 a cruiser, assigning the code name Renhai-class to the type. Naval analysts told Defense News have also questioned the published displacement of 10,000 tons, believing it to be an under-estimate of the true figure.

It is anticipated that the first Type 055 will be commissioned into service in 2019, when it will be the premier surface combatant in the PLAN and is expected to be an integral part of China's future carrier battle group alongside the smaller Type 052D destroyers and 054A frigates.

As Defense News has reported earlier, China is building further ships of the class at a rapid pace, with another hull already put together at Jiangnan-Changxing shipyard. In addition, commercial satellite imagery and aerial photographs indicate that preparations are being made for two further ships to be built at the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company's shipyard in northern China.

The pace of construction of the Type 055 is a stark contrast to its approach to the Type 052 destroyers, which were previously the PLAN's most advanced ship types. A small number of Type 052 subclasses, known as the Type 052, 052B and 052C, were built and evaluated by the PLAN before the current 052D became the settled design. The pace reflects China's increasing confidence in its advanced naval shipbuilding industry, having recently built everything from aircraft carriers to nuclear submarines as part of the country's rapid naval modernization program.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.

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