As a reminder, the Navy is retiring the Ticonderoga class and is not directly replacing it. Navy descriptions of the replacement suggest a wide range of possibilities with most sounding like a collection of buzzwords rather than an actual ship design concept. The Navy has stated that the replacement cruiser may not be a cruiser at all but, rather, a “family of ships” or a “systems of systems”.
Currently, the Ticonderogas are being replaced by more Burkes, specifically, the Flt III which the Navy has acknowledged is too small to support the required AMDR radar and will, thus, be fitted with a smaller, less capable radar.
In contrast, the Chinese are building a true cruiser, the Type 055, with four already launched and at least two more underconstruction. Sources suggest at least 8 ships will be built with more being possible.
Here are some basic comparative specs for the Type 055 and the Burke, per Wikipedia.
Burke Type 055
Length, ft 509 590Displacement, tons 9,100 13,000
Range, nm 4,400 5,000
Gun 1x 5” 1x 5.1”
VLS, cells 96 112
The specs show that the Type 055 is significantly larger although the radar and weapons are reasonably similar in number and capability.
So, what else can we infer about the Type 055 as compared to the Burke?
Stealth. One obvious difference is the shape of the ship with the Type 055 being decidedly stealthier than the older Burke, at least by visual observation. Of course, it’s anyone’s guess what the true degree of stealth of the two ships is but the Type 055 certainly looks stealthier! Assuming that’s true, this gives the Type 055 an advantage in terms of detection range. Aircraft will have to approach closer to “see” it and it can approach its targets much closer without being seen. The Burke, being an early stealth design, and cluttered with all manner of topside gear, is at a distinct disadvantage. I would go so far as to say that the Burke is no longer a front line warship design as regards stealth and its impact on the ship’s combat capabilities.
Type 055 Cruiser
Photo from China Defense Blog
Power. Another likely difference is that the Chinese are actively and aggressively pursuing directed energy weapons (lasers) and it would be almost inconceivable that a high degree of excess electrical energy generation hasn’t been built into the design. The Chinese have seen that electrical power limitations are one of the US Navy’s challenges with their current fleet and with the Burke Flt IIIs and it’s unlikely that they haven’t incorporated that lesson into the Type 055 design.
Upgradability. The Type 055 design has much greater potential for future upgrades and new sensors/weapons due to its much greater size and, presumably, power, than the Burke class does. Despite the inherent limitations and very limited growth potential of the Burke, the Navy continues to build them even at the cost of sub-optimal equipment performance.
Almost unbelievably, the Navy continues to build Burkes and are now going to build sub-optimal Flt III Burkes rather than a clean sheet design. China has opted to build a new design cruiser. To be fair, the Chinese had no Burke type class worth upgrading so a new design was a given. That aside, the Type 055 appears to be larger, carries more weapon cells, and has more growth potential. Of course, it’s an open question about the radar performance and control software. On paper, the Type 055 is setting the standard for modern cruisers while the US Navy continues to build sub-optimal, nearly obsolete Burkes.