At the Hudong Zhonghua shipyard in Shanghai, China’s next amphibious assault ship is taking shape. Photos on Chinese media and satellite images show a completed flight deck and command island, but the ship is sporting red, noncorrosive paint that will one day be replaced with an ocean gray.
It’s the second Type 075 landing helicopter dock (LHD) to be built for the PLAN, the first being completed just this past September. Chinese naval planners have ordered at least three of the vessels.
An LHD, also called an amphibious assault ship, is a type of helicopter carrier that can also carry troops, tanks and other equipment for amphibious assaults. The land forces embark from the bowels of the ship aboard landing craft before making their way to shore.
Recent satellite images from Hudong–Zhonghua Shipyard, #Shanghai, #China show the bridge & upper deck progress on the PLAN type 075 landing helicopter dock amphibious assault vessel pic.twitter.com/XK7oUmqKsC— d-atis☠️ (@detresfa_) March 9, 2020
The US Marine Corps has long made use of LHDs, with eight Wasp-class warships and three of the new America-class vessels. LHDs are typically the size of World War II-era aircraft carriers, around 40,000 tons of displacement, and the Chinese Type 075 is only slightly smaller than the US’ America-class ships. US Navy shipyard Huntington Ingalls delivered the third America-class ship, the USS Tripoli, just two weeks ago.
‘Mastered the Technology’
Citing Xi’an-based periodical Ordnance Industry Science Technology, the Global Times noted earlier this week that the completion of a second ship of this size so quickly demonstrates that “China has mastered the technology of building amphibious assault ships,” which can be applied to other similar ships, including aircraft carriers.
Late last year, the PLAN commissioned its second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, which is of indigenous design but closely based on Russia’s Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier.
The outlet noted LHDs will be supremely useful in a future struggle to achieve “China’s reunification,” meaning an invasion of Taiwan, which is still ruled by the republican government overthrown elsewhere in China by the communists in 1949. The PLAN also has seven Type 071 landing transport docks, a smaller type of amphibious assault ship that lacks the LHD’s flat top, and is rapidly expanding its marine corps.
New Choppers, But No Jump Jet - Yet
The Global Times, which is owned by the Chinese Communist Party publication People’s Daily, further noted that Beijing “may also develop tiltrotor aircraft, a type of larger helicopter, and short takeoff and vertical landing fighter jets in the future” for use on the Type 075 and other warships.
At present, the PLAN has a variety of helicopters to fly from its LHDs, including the Z-8, Z-9 and new Z-20 choppers, which can be a serious danger to targets on land, sea and air, but it lacks the true power projection that only a fixed-wing aircraft can offer. The US and its allies have the F-35B stealth aircraft and AV-8B Harrier, both of which can take off and land vertically, and the US also has the V-22 Osprey, which can rotate its propellers to fly either like a helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft.
It’s expected that by 2030, China will have at least six aircraft carriers in operation. Its navy is already larger than the US Navy and on track to continue expanding, even as Washington moves to catch up.