Decommissioned Chinese Destroyer Becomes Museum as Beijing Modernizes Fleet

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Chinese sailors man the decks of the Luda II Class Destroyer, ZHUHAI (DDG 166), with downtown San Diego in the background. This marked the first time Chinese warships crossed the Pacific and visited the Continental United States. (Image: Eric Murata/U.S. Navy/Public Domain)

The Zhuhai, a Type 051 class destroyer of the Chinese navy, has completed a 10-month journey up the Yangtze River, coming to dock in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing. 

Decommissioned last year, the Zhuhai was named Lüda (after a Chinese city) in the NATO designation system. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy launched 17 Lüda class ships between 1970 and 1990; Zhuhai and a sister vessel, Zhanjiang, were the fourth generation, Chinese designation Type 051G. Both ships were decommissioned on Dec. 28, 2020. 

The decommissioned destroyer Zhuhai sails into the waters of the Chaotianmen Yangtze River after a 10-month “journey” in Chongqing, China, June 26, 2021. (Image: Costfoto/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

The ships are being converted to museums as part of celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s founding in July 1921. Zhuhai is now at the Jianchuan Museum, where it will be known as 166 Ship Exhibition Hall, after its pennant number. The ship opens to the public on July 27. 

Communist China’s naval forces have seen rapid quantitative and qualitative development since the PLA Navy’s establishment in the 1950s. According to a Pentagon report released last September, the PLA Navy has surpassed America by number of ships in service, deploying more than 350 vessels of all kinds to the 295 currently in service with the U.S. Navy. 

The Lüda class destroyers are now fully retired from service, being replaced by newer ships, including the Type 052 family (NATO designation Luyang/Luhu) and Type 055 (Renhai). The Type 051 designation still survives with the experimental Type 051B (Luhai) and Type 051C (Luzhou) destroyers. 

Chinese destroyer modernization

China’s surface fleet made a substantial improvement with the introduction of the Type 052D and the Type 055 destroyers in 2012 and 2020, respectively. The Type 052D (Luyang III) is colloquially referred to as the “Chinese Aegis” due to its area air defense capabilities being widely compared to the Aegis Combat System equipped on many U.S. and allied vessels. Seventeen of a planned 25 Luyang III ships are operational. 

A Type 052C (Luyang III) destroyer of the PLA Navy photographed by the Japanese navy in the East China Sea as it travels with several other Chinese vessels forming an aircraft carrier group on April 20, 2018. (Image: Japanese Ministry of Defense/CC-BY-4.0)

The 12,000-ton Type 055 (Renhai) destroyers, first launched in 2014 but only in service with the PLA Navy as of last year, represents the latest in China’s technology, incorporating stealth with expanded radar capability. Three of a planned 16 vessels are complete, and are likely to serve as escorts to PLA Navy aircraft carriers as well as platforms for more advanced weapons systems. Their large size has led the U.S. to classify them as cruisers, comparable in displacement and role to the Ticonderoga class ships. 

While the PLA Navy is growing in all respects, from numbers and technology to operational experience, it still lags far behind the U.S. and allied navies. Most PLA ships are coastal patrol vessels, compared with the U.S. Navy, which has a preponderance in principal combat ships. The U.S. Navy has 67 ships of the Arleigh Burke class destroyers, compared with fewer than 40 destroyers of all types.

The PLA Navy is awaiting its third conventionally powered aircraft carrier, while the U.S. Navy has 60 years of experience operating nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and has more than 10 in service. 

  • Leo Timm is a writer and Chinese-to-English translator with years of experience covering Chinese politics, society, and culture. Follow him on Twitter at @soil_and_grain.