• The PLA flotilla was seen sailing through Tsushima Strait to the Sea of Japan
  • This is Lhasa's first sea voyage since its commissioning in March 2021
  • Lhasa is considered the largest and second-most powerful destroyer

A year after its commissioning, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) destroyer Lhasa has embarked on its first sea drill by entering the Sea of Japan. Military analysts claim the move suggests that the Type 055 large destroyer has achieved full operational capability.

Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force reported Monday the PLA flotilla was sailing through the Tsushima Strait from southwest to northeast toward the Sea of Japan, reported Chinese-state-backed Global Times.

Besides Lhasa, the fleet also consisted of the Type 052D destroyer Chengdu and the Type 903 replenishment ship Dongpinghu. The report added that this was also the first time that Lhasa was embarking on a far sea voyage since its commissioning into the PLA Navy in March 2021.

Though it had conducted a number of realistic combat scenario exercises in the Yellow Sea, the sea drill would be an opportunity to "demonstrate its capabilities in deterring possible foreign military interference in the Taiwan Strait."

"The latest voyage indicates that the Lhasa has reached 100 percent operational capability, and it can carry out military missions in the far sea as the core of a flotilla," Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military expert, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

The analyst added that navigating in formation, air defense and anti-submarine could be among Lhasa's training objectives. Wei added that this will "show that the PLA Navy can safeguard China's strategic interests in the far sea."

Earlier, reports mentioned how Lhasa is considered the largest PLA destroyer. The vessel is the largest surface combatant, with a length of 180 meters, a beam of 20 meters, and a draft of 6.6 meters for a full load displacement of about 13,000t. It is also considered the second-most powerful destroyer after the US Navy’s DDG-1000, or Zumwalt-class stealth ship. While Zumwalt is focused on land attacks, Lhasa is more of a multi-role warship.

The vessel also has 112 vertical launch missile cells, boats of balanced air defense, anti-missile, anti-ship, and anti-submarine weapons. This is also the second Type 055 destroyer owned by the PLA. The first is Nanchang, which became operational two years ago on Jan. 12, 2020.

Lhasa's sea drill comes as the territorial dispute between China and Japan worsens over the last few years. China had recently lashed out at Japan for its "selfish" claim over Okinotori, an island situated halfway between Taiwan and Guam.

"Japan, in pursuit of selfish interest, has illegally staked claim to nearly 700,000 square kilometers of jurisdictional waters based on the tiny reef," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian had said.

A file picture of Chinese naval vessels participate in a drill on the East China Sea China Daily/via REUTERS