China’s navy commissioned its largest and most advanced surface warship yet

China’s navy commissioned its largest and most advanced surface warship yet, the Nanchang guide-missile destroyer reported in state media on Sunday morning in Qingdao port city.

Observers say the commissioning of China’s first 10,000-ton Type 055 destroyer, which is supposed to join aircraft carriers in battle groups, is a step forward as Beijing aims to operate further away from its shores and reach further into the western Pacific.

Its commissioning launched in June 2017 marks the navy’s leap from the third generation to the fourth generation of destroyers, the navy said in a statement.

Collin Koh, research fellow and authority on maritime safety at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore told The Japan Times that the warship in China’s navy, outside its aircraft carriers, is “by far the most effective surface combatant”

Having a displacement of more than 10,000 tons, the Pentagon has referred to the 180-meter-long, 20-meter-wide Type 055 not as a destroyer but as a larger cruiser build. China is the only known country to be building such a warship, with more Type 055s planned.

The arsenal of the warship comprises 112 vertical-launch missile cells capable of launching a variety of surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship missiles, land-attack missiles, and anti-submarine missiles, recorded Sunday by the state-run Global Times.

According to state-run China Central Television, it is the first to commence service in 2020.

At a commissioning ceremony for the domestically built warship, Nanchang’s captain, Zhou Minghui, told CCTV that the vessel would now begin training “in all systems and subjects to establish fighting capabilities and integrate into the PLA combat system.”

The commissioning showed the navy “was now entering the age of destroyers of the fourth generation,” CCTV said.

The Global Times cited a Chinese naval expert as saying that the Nanchang is scheduled to follow the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, which is a refit of a Soviet-era vessel and also based in Qingdao. He said this would probably form a battle group for the aircraft carrier.

The Type 055 would support aircraft carriers as a “effective escort,” said Li Jie, a naval expert based in Beijing. Li called the vessel “very flexible,” and noted that without a carrier, it could also lead a task force, performing “a wide range of missions.”