24 September 2019
by H I SUTTON
While recent events have focused military thinking on the Persian Gulf, a small corner of the defense community have been looking in an entirely different direction: towards China. The country’s first amphibious assault carrier, a 35,000-ton behemoth, is about to be launched from an innocuous-looking shipyard in Shanghai. When the new warship enters the water it will, in a near-instant, transform the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
Termed a Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD), this type off ship allows marines to capture beaches and land supplies on enemy territory. Possessing this type of warship represents yet another step change in China’s rapidly expanding maritime capability, joining aircraft carriers, air defense destroyers and underwater drones in an impressive new lineup.
Amphibious ships are particularly relevant because of China’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea, border disputes further north with Japan, and the long-standing threat to the last holdout from the communists: Taiwan. For many years a potential Chinese assault on Taiwan was mocked as the “million-man swim” because the navy did not have anything approaching the amphibious capability needed to land enough troops on the island. Today these derogatory jokes are fading into memory as defense watchers count the new warship in China’s naval modernization.
This rate of warship construction is itself impressive. It is only 12 years since China commissioned the Type-071 class. That was the first of at least seven landing platform-docks (LPDs) which each carry four large helicopters and have a well-deck for transport hovercraft. These were already a massive leap in Chinese amphibious capabilities, but the new Type-075 will be in the next league. In terms of size it is likely to be larger than the Australian or French equivalents and second only to the U.S. Navy’s Wasp Class and America Class on the world stage.
The new assault carriers will also have a part to play in power projection. Chinese amphibious forces have already venturing to the Indian Ocean and Middle East and China now has a base at Doraleh in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, conveniently near to the Persian Gulf and Red Sea.
So there appears no letup in the Chinese Navy’s growing capabilities and incredible modernization journey. Based on analysis of satellite images from last month it appears that a second Type-075 is already under construction even before the first one has hit the water.