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By David Axe, The National Interest
The Chinese navy on Sept. 25, 2019 launched its first big-deck amphibious assault ship, or LHD.
The Type 075 amphib, which is similar in shape to the U.S. Navy’s own Wasp-class assault ship, could help Chinese forces invade Taiwan, seize disputed islands and project power and presence over a long distance.
The assault ship appears to be around 800 feet long and displace around 40,000 tons. It probably can accommodate dozens of helicopters and landing craft and hundreds of marines.
The first photos of the vessel’s initial construction appeared in the spring of 2019. It seems the Type 075 went from keel to launch in around six months.
When the first Type 075 enters service following potentially months of trials, it will be the Chinese navy’s biggest amphibious ship and an aviation platform second only to Beijing’s growing fleet of aircraft carriers.
The Hudong–Zhonghua shipyard in Shanghai built the first Type 075 incredibly quickly, Joseph Trevithick noted at The War Zone. “Regardless of how much the ship actually displaces and what its exact capabilities are, what may be most impressive about it is China's ability to proceed so fast with its construction,” Trevithick wrote.
Chinese shipyards have already demonstrated their ability to produce large surface warships with relative rapidity, but work on the Type 075 has progressed at a particularly fast pace. For comparison, it took three years between keel-laying and launch to build the U.S. Navy's second in class USS Tripoli. Also, keep in mind that the U.S. has been building flattop amphibious assault ships for the better part of a century. This is China's first.
It is possible that the goal was to have this ship launched ahead celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Communist State on Oct. 1, 2019, and that CSSC did everything possible to ensure it could meet this timeline. How fast Hudong-Zhonghua is able to get the second hull in the water may offer some insight into how sustainable this pace of work actually is. The first tranche of Type 075s will reportedly consist of three ships in total.
LHDs, which combine the functions of helicopter carriers and transport docks, can deploy landing craft, hovercraft, helicopters and vertical-launching fighters while also transporting hundreds of soldiers or marines.
The U.S. Navy possesses nine Wasp- and America-class LHDs and is building several more. In U.S. service, LHDs not only form the core of amphibious groups, they also can embark large numbers of AV-8B or F-35B jump jets in order to double as light aircraft carriers.
China lacks a jump jet, so the country, for now, doesn’t have the option of deploying LHDs as carriers. But LHDs in Chinese service could help the PLAN assert Beijing’s claims to disputed China Seas territories as well as join smaller Type 071 assault ships in any Chinese assault on Taiwan.
“China’s investments in its amphibious ship force signal its intent to develop expeditionary warfare capabilities,” according to the 2019 edition of the U.S. Defense Department’s annual report on Chinese military developments.
The PLAN has five large [Type 071] Yuzhao-class ... amphibious transport docks, with three more under construction or outfitting during 2018. The Yuzhao LPD provides a greater and more flexible capability for long-range operations than the PLAN’s older landing ships. It can carry several of the new Yuyi-class air-cushion medium landing craft and four or more helicopters, as well as armored vehicles and PLAN marines for long-distance deployments.
The PLAN probably will continue constructing Yuzhao LPDs even as it pursues a follow-on amphibious assault ship that is not only larger but also incorporates a full flight deck for helicopters.
LHDs will be boon to Chinese power-projection. But even with a larger amphibious fleet including big-deck assault ships, Beijing could struggle to defeat Taiwan in a conventional invasion scenario, according to the Pentagon report.
“Large-scale amphibious invasion is one of the most complicated and difficult military operations. Success depends upon air- and maritime-superiority, the rapid buildup and sustainment of supplies onshore and uninterrupted support.”“These stresses, combined with China’s combat force attrition and the complexity of urban warfare and counterinsurgency, even assuming a successful landing and breakout, make an amphibious invasion of Taiwan a significant political and military risk.”
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