China building navy’s biggest amphibious assault vessel, sources say
Ships will strengthen navy as Beijing makes more assertive claims to disputed waters in South China Sea and increases sea patrols amid strained ties with Taiwan
China has started building a new generation of large amphibious assault vessels that will strengthen the navy as it plays a more dominant role in projecting the nation’s power overseas, military sources said.
The 075 Landing Helicopter Dock is now under construction by a Shanghai-based shipbuilding company, the sources said.
The amphibious vessel is far larger than similar ships previously constructed for the PLA Navy.
The 075 can serve as a form of aircraft carrier and military experts said it would give China’s navy the ability to launch various types of helicopters to attack naval vessels, enemy ground forces or submarines in the East or South China Sea.
The introduction of the vessel comes as China is placing increasing importance on its navy as it makes more assertive claims to much of the South China Sea.
The PLA has also increased the number of naval patrols near Taiwan, amid strained ties with the independence-leaning government of the island, which Beijing considers a breakaway province that has split from the rest of the nation.
China’s navy commander, Vice-Admiral Shen Jinlong, visited the Hudong Zhonghua Shipbuilding Company on Sunday, which specialises in building Landing Helicopter Docks, the company said on its website.
One source close to the navy said Shen’s inspection trip confirmed construction work was underway on the new class of vessel.
“Construction of the Type 075 ships will take two more years,” the source said. “The first vessel may be launched as early as 2019 and put into full service in 2020.”
Beijing is also due to launch its first home-built aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, on April 23, according to Chinese media reports and military sources, as part of its strengthened naval forces.
April 23 marks the 68th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army Navy and President Xi Jinping may attend the launch ceremony, one of the sources added.
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said: “This year is a big year for the navy as the supreme Central Military Commission has announced it’s going to expand. That’s why the launch time was set for the navy’s birthday.”
The South China Morning Post reported earlier this month, citing military sources, that the navy planned to increase the size of its marine corps from about 20,000 to 100,000 personnel to help protect its increasing interests overseas.
The launch of the 001A carrier and the construction of the Type 075 amphibious assault vessel provide further evidence that marine corps troops and the navy will play an increasingly important part in PLA operations.
The Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong said building the bigger Type 075 vessels, which are similar in size to the largest American Wasp-class amphibious ships, would help the navy match the US in the use of helicopters in its fleet.
“China has so many giant warships, including four Type 071 amphibious vessels and two aircraft carriers, but its vertical landing capability is still limited due to a lack of the largest helicopter dock vessels,” Wong said. “ The launch of Type 075 will let the navy become the world’s No 2 powerful navy after the US.”
The Type 075 is able to deploy and house up to 30 armed helicopters. Six helicopters will be able to take off from the flight deck at the same time.
The vessels will also be able to deploy landing craft and troops, plus house command and control operations.
Its developer is a subsidiary of the China State Shipbuilding Corporation which has produced at least four, smaller 20,000 tonne Type 071 amphibious transport docks.
The PLA navy dispatched one of the smaller amphibious ships to Fiery Cross Reef and other man-made islands in disputed areas of the South China Sea for the first time last year.
The construction of the new vessel is also likely to put more military pressure on Taiwan.
Its government says Beijing has increased the military “intimidation” of the island since President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence leaning Democratic Progressive Party won elections in January 2016.
The US Department of Defence said in a report to Congress last year that the PLA was building a strong amphibious assault force and that this posed a threat to Taiwan.
These included amphibious landing ships, armoured brigades and marine corps, the report said.
Another source said that after visit his visit to see the Type 075 under construction, Vice-Admiral Shen also inspected progress on the new Type 002 aircraft carrier.
The Type 002 will be China’s third carrier, which has been under construction at the Jiangnan Changxingdao shipyard in Shanghai since March 2015.
It is expected to be launched in about 2021.