China's New Amphibious Assault Ship Is A Monster

The vessels will give China a high-end amphibious assault capability that can be used both regionally and far from home. 

Chinese Internet

The development and fielding of China's fixed-wing aircraft carriers grab all the headlines, but another class of ship that is currently under construction also deserves international attention. The Type 075 landing helicopter dock (LHD) will be the People's Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN) most powerful amphibious assault ship and will usher in a new era of capabilities for the PLAN. As you can see by the images in this article, this ship is remarkably large. Some think it will displace around 40,000 tons, nearly equaling the displacement of America's own Wasp-class LHD, while others put it a bit lower, between 30,000 and 35,000 tons. Either way, this is an impressive warship that outsizes the vast majority of its international counterparts. These ships—three of which are on order—will become the centerpiece of China's increasingly concerning amphibious force. 

These flattops are thought to be able to carry around 30 helicopters of different types, many hundreds of infantrymen and their vehicles, and a pair of Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) craft—the Type 726, which is basically a knockoff of the U.S. Navy's LCAC—or other assorted landing craft to convey its troops to shore. Once again, we are talking about similar capabilities to the U.S. Navy Wasp class. 

Public Domain

Type 726 LCAC. 

Although there are certainly no shortage of rumors regarding the possibility, there is no evidence that any sort of short-takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) fixed-wing jet aircraft is slated for these ships in the near term, although it wouldn't be surprising if the Type 075 was designed with the potential to accommodate such an aircraft in the future. It is widely understood that China is at least researching how to build such an aircraft. 

These vessels will operate alongside other new amphibious ships, namely the Type 071 amphibious transport dock (LPD) that serve in a similar role as the U.S. Navy's San Antonio (LPD-17) class. China also has a variety of more traditional amphibious landing ships that remain in service. In addition, the PLAN has a very unique capability in the form of the massive Zubr class hovercraft that move large payloads of armor and personnel rapidly over relatively long distances without the need for any infrastructure to bring it all ashore. You can read all about how China obtained the Zubr class and how its unique capabilities can be put to work suddenly in this past piece of mine.

kees torn/wikicommons 

So, what we are seeing here is China investing heavily to build itself an amphibious capability that is second only to the United States. That is a very big deal considering the country's controversial strategic and territorial aims. Beijing's ability to realize an invasion of Taiwan, for instance, would be enhanced significantly by these ships. But the multitude of other disputes over territory, like the one regarding the Senkaku Islands and those over large swathes of the South China Sea, also play into the utility of such a high-end amphibious force. 

Even China's increasingly militarized manmade islands could be protected by these vessels and the shock troops and helicopters they hold. They could also be used to rapidly resupply these island outposts during a crisis or when their dock facilities have been destroyed. They also pose a real threat to the primary land holdings of regional competitors, like Japan, or countries that border the South China Sea, in a more traditional conflict. 

China has also been increasingly focused on drilling to rapidly seize islands, sometimes alongside their Russian allies. These vessels will dramatically enhance their ability to realize such a military action and are ideal for fielding allied forces that could help in doing so. 

USN

The Wasp class USS Kearsarge. China's LHDs will provide roughly similar capabilities.

Yet beyond the region itself, these ships offer true 'bluewater' capability. They can deploy over vast distances and sustain operations far from home. Considering China's increasing military footprint and influence abroad, including the opening of naval bases thousands of miles from Chinese territory, this isn't all that surprising. Beijing needs a way to protect its holdings and interests far from home should the need arise. Few capabilities are better suited for such a mission than vessels like the Type 075 and Type 071. These ships will also sail with their own heavily armed escorts, as well, protecting them from aerial and subsurface attacks. So, we are talking about the ability to wield serious naval power projection. 

The first Type 075 looks remarkably complete in recent photos of it being constructed in Shanghai’s Hudong Zhonghua shipyards. I would imagine that it would be ready to be launched by early next year. When that happens, it will be yet another wakeup call for many that China is rapidly expanding the quantity and quality of its maritime capabilities. The fact that they are investing so heavily into amphibious capabilities, in particular, ones that have bluewater reach no less, is an indication not just of China's territorial ambitions, but also of its global ones, as well.

Hat tip to 'TheBurke' for sending me the photo. It also appeared in an article by the SCMP, which you can read here.

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com