BEIJING • China's military yesterday launched what it calls the most advanced and largest warship in Asia, the latest addition to the country's rapidly expanding navy.
The 10,000-ton warship is a new type of domestically built destroyer, Xinhua news agency said.
Launched at Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, it is the first of the People's Liberation Army Navy's "new generation" destroyers.
"It is equipped with new air defence, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons," Xinhua said, without giving further details.
The state-run Global Times newspaper said the ship was believed to be the first Type 055 destroyer.
It is considered to be a successor class to the smaller Type 052D guided missile destroyer, which is a 7,500-ton vessel. China is still producing the latter and commissioned one, the Xining, in January.
Asia's largest warship
•Type 055 destroyer
•Maximum speed: More than 30 knots
•Displacement: 10,000 tons
• Armament: Two 64-cell vertical launch systems loaded with a mix of missiles; two close-in weapon systems for last-ditch missile defence; launcher for anti-submarine and anti-warship torpedoes
SOURCE: SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST
Chinese media showed photos of the new ship covered in streamers and flags and flanked by rows of sailors during the launch. The vessel will have to undergo planned testing before it is commissioned into use.
The South China Morning Post said the vessel is expected to enter service next year.
A member of the Central Military Commission, Mr Zhang Youxia, said at the ceremony that the launch of the ship marks an important step towards China's dream of having a strong and modern naval force.
Beijing is believed to be planning to launch four of the ships, reported Associated Press.
The new destroyer will be similar in size to the 8,000-10,000 ton Arleigh Burke class destroyers, the main type currently in use with the US Navy.
China is producing warships at a rapid clip as it modernises its navy, which has been taking an increasingly prominent role among the country's armed forces.
State media has said that the navy commissioned 18 ships, including destroyers, corvettes and guided- missile frigates last year.
In April, China launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier, a conventionally powered ship that likely won't enter service until 2020.
The Washington-based Centre for Naval Analyses said China's navy is projected to have a total of 265 to 273 warships, submarines and logistics vessels by 2020.
That compares with 275 deployable battle force ships currently in the US Navy, China's primary rival in the Asia-Pacific, although the once-yawning gap between the two is narrowing rapidly, reported Associated Press.
China's naval build-up and its increasingly assertive stance over disputed territory in the South China Sea has unnerved its neighbours.
Beijing claims almost all the South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, through which about US$5 trillion (S$6.9 trillion) in ship-borne trade passes every year, and has been building up military facilities like runways on the islands it controls. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
China's launch of the new warship also comes at a time of rising competition with other naval powers such as Japan and India.
Beijing and Tokyo are involved in a dispute over a group of tiny, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. India, meanwhile, has grown increasingly concerned over the Chinese navy's growing presence in the Indian Ocean.
In March, China announced it would increase its military budget by about 7 per cent this year - the second year in a row that increases have been less than 10 per cent, after nearly 20 years of larger increases.
Figures published by state media showed that the military budget will increase to 1.044 trillion yuan (S$216 billion). It is the smallest increase in more than a decade, and comes as economic growth has slowed.
China's defence spending amounts to only about a quarter of the US defence budget.
But many experts believe its actual spending on the military to be higher than the official figure, reported Reuters.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute put China's 2015 expenditures at about US$215 billion, versus a US Department of Defence estimate of more than US$180 billion.