A flotilla of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy has wrapped up a month-long far sea exercise in the South China Sea and the West Pacific, a move experts said on Sunday demonstrated the Type 055 large destroyer’s far sea capabilities.

The flotilla, consisting of the Type 055 large destroyer Dalian and the Type 054A frigate Huangshan under the navy of the PLA Southern Theater Command, recently returned to a naval port in Sanya, South China’s Hainan Province after completing a routine exercise featuring combat alert patrols and joint drills in sea regions including the South China Sea and the West Pacific, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Friday.

During the exercise that lasted for 28 days and stretched for more than 8,000 nautical miles (14,816 kilometers,) the flotilla practiced over 20 combat-oriented training subjects, including wartime replenishment, air defense and surface-air joint anti-submarine capabilities, CCTV reported.

“We focused on verifying the exertion of the Type 055’s new-type combat force in wide and new fields as we simulated many emergencies and dangerous situations during targeted practices that are close to realistic battlefield environments,” Zhang Shuliang, a staff officer of the flotilla’s command unit, said in the report.

At a time when the PLA Northern Theater Command has been regularly sending Type 055 large destroyers on far sea voyages beyond the first island chain into the West Pacific from the north, the PLA Southern Theater Command showed that its Type 055s are also ready do so from the south, a Beijing-based military expert told the Global Times on Sunday, requesting anonymity.

The PLA Navy has commissioned eight Type 055 large destroyers since 2020, with four in service with the Northern Theater Command and four with the Southern Theater Command, according to official media reports.

Unlike northern parts of the first island chain, which are tightly monitored and heavily guarded by Japan and the island of Taiwan, its southern parts in the vast South China Sea are relatively looser, the expert said.

With the voyage of over 8,000 nautical miles, the vessels could reach many strategically important locations where the US is stacking its forces to militarily confront China, for example, reach Guam from its south or reach waters off Australia, observers said.

Earlier this year, the Hainan, the first Type 075 amphibious assault ship of the PLA Navy, joined a flotilla and conducted a far sea exercise in the West Pacific for the first time since its commissioning in April 2021 together with the Type 055 large destroyer Dalian. It sailed for over 30 days across more than 9,000 nautical miles in the South China Sea and the West Pacific.

Such far sea drills are expected to become regular and more frequent as the PLA Navy continues to gain blue-water capabilities, experts said.