Video Above: USS Zumwalt
Did a stealthy new Chinese destroyer just sail through the Sea of Japan in a provocative gesture to challenge Japan’s fast-growing effort to build more military strength and challenge Chinese aggression in the region?
It does appear that way, according to a report in the Chinese-government backed Global Times newspaper which cites a press release from Japan’s Ministry of Defense.
Chinese Military Ships, Sea of Japan
According to the Chinese report, a People’s Liberation Army - Navy flotilla of four warships passed through the Soya Strait from Sea of Japan with a Type 052D destroyer and a Type 903A supply ship supported by China’s sleek-looking new Type 055 destroyer the Nanchang.
“The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force on August 24 spotted a PLA Navy flotilla consisting of four warships, namely the Type 055 destroyer Nanchang, the Type 052D destroyer Guiyang, a Type 903A supply ship with hull number 903, and a surveillance ship with hull number 799, which passed through the Soya Strait from the Sea of Japan and then sailed east, Japan's Ministry of Defense Joint Staff said in a press release on August 25,” the Global Times writes.
Alongside the apparent Chinese “gesture” to provoke or send power messages to Japan, the use of the Nanchang seems to be of particular significance. This ship, which one could arguable say rips off some of the visible design concepts of the USS Zumwalt-class destroyer, does appear to have a somewhat-stealthy external shape.
USS Zumwalt & Nanchang 055 Destroyer
Most of all, much like the Zumwalt, the Nanching has a smooth exterior with few or little protruding structures or sharp edges likely to be picked up by radar. Certainly a ship of that size could not become invisible, yet radar signature lowering designs might make it look like something else such as a non-military commercial vessel or smaller ship.
This is the case with the USS Zumwalt, as a statement years ago from Naval Sea Systems Command said the Zumwalt appeared as a small “fishing boat” to radar, a circumstance which of course lends quite an advantage to maritime warfare operations.
Much like the Zumwalt, the Nanching has a sloped, smooth hull with few edges, something decidedly stealthier as electromagnetic pings have less shapes off of which to bounce and send a return signal to produce a more complete or accurate “rendering.” At the same time, interestingly, the Nanching’s back end does look a little more like a U.S. Flight IIA DDG 51 ship in that it does have some protruding antennas which could be somewhat more detectable or stealthy.
Nonetheless, the Chinese Type 055 is a fairly new ship and the PLA Navy is reportedly building more. The ship is clearly a threat to Japan and other U.S. allies in the region, not to mention a threat to the U.S. as well. It may not be clear what weapons it fires, yet it is China’s most modern destroyer. What is clear is that the Chinese do appears to be responding in a more provocative or aggressive way to U.S. patrols and Japanese patrols in the region by demonstrating power projection and maritime combat potential.
Chinese Global Expansion
The other often discussed dynamic this may also represent is a well-documented and overt attempt by the Chinese to massively expand global presence and influence. China has of course long been a regional power and has in more recent years been extremely forward learning regarding effort to extend its reach around the globe.
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Added to this equation is that for the first time in 30 years, the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force has begun massive, nationwide military exercises involving “all units” in a clear effort to strengthen deterrence against China.
The exercise, cited in a Chinese government-backed newspaper called the Global Times, says Japanese media described the exercise as a counter to China to respond to “China’s ramped-up regional assertiveness.”
Also in its response to the Japanese exercise, the Chinese paper was arguably rather pointed and aggressive, quoting PLA military experts as “warning” Japan.
“But Chinese military experts warned that Japan does not have the ability to deter China in a military conflict over China's territories like the Diaoyu Islands and the island of Taiwan, and a military conflict with China will bring destructive consequences to the country,” the Global Times writes.
The paper is equally assertive on the question of Taiwan, using familiar rhetoric about reunification, flatly saying China is ready for war over Taiwan.
“China is prepared for the worst-case scenario - the US and its allies, including Japan, launch an all-out military intervention to interrupt China's national reunification,” the paper says.
Japan has been making a visible and decided effort to massively increase its military strength to deter China in the region and embrace a stronger defensive military posture. There is much evidence of this, to include Japan’s recent $35 billion F-35 acquisition.
Other U.S.-Japanese partnerships include a number of high-impact weapons systems such as the SM-3 interceptor missile, Global Hawk drone and Aegis radar systems. As part of this clear military buildup, Japanese leaders also continue to debate the possibility of rewording the Japanese constitution to expand possibilities for military operations and maneuvers in support of defensive aims.
Japanese discussions in recent years have, along these lines, centered around the possibility of slightly changing or altering Japan’s pacifist constitution emerging from the end of WWII. Japan’s post-World War II 1947 Constitution, which currently denies the country’s right to employ military force, a move followed by the 1954 introduction of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.
There are few public statements on these questions regarding the Japanese constitution from senior U.S. military leaders, however earlier this year Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with his Japanese counterpart, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi as part of a joint effort to expand military coordination. During this meeting, a DoD report said, the U.S. pledged additional U.S. Coast Guard defensive maritime support in areas of great significance to Japan.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.