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The new Type 075 landing helicopter dock was photographed in the Eastern Theatre Command’s home base. Photo: Weibo

Taiwan role expected for China’s second Type 075 landing helicopter dock

  • The vessel has been photographed at the home base of the Eastern Theatre Command, which covers Taiwan Strait contingencies
  • It can be turned into a floating logistic and supporting platform for attack helicopters, expert says
China’s second Type 075 landing helicopter dock is expected to be assigned to the Eastern Theatre Command, which oversees the Taiwan Strait, giving the frontline unit a powerful striking platform, a defence expert said.

Dubbed a small aircraft carrier, the 40,000-tonne vessel was shown at the eastern command’s home naval base in Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, in a photograph posted on social media last week by the local government.

The photo showed the hull of the vessel, which is yet to be assigned a pennant number. The Hainan, its sister ship, joined the Southern Theatre Command in April.

Unlike the eight active Type 071 amphibious transport docks and other amphibious vessels, Hainan bears the “31” pennant number – in the same family as the country’s flagship aircraft carriers, indicating that it has a more significant role and status than the other smaller vessels.

The second Type 075 is expected to carry the “32” pennant number and will be named after it is commissioned, according to a source close to the Chinese military.

Its assignment is a major boost for the eastern command’s East Sea Fleet, which has yet to operate any aircraft combat platforms.

Liaoning and Shandong, China’s two active aircraft carriers, have been assigned to the North Sea and South Sea fleets, headquartered respectively in Qingdao, Shandong, and Sanya, Hainan.

Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at Taiwan’s Naval Academy, said that the second Type 075 would be seen as a major threat to the self-ruled island’s defence, possibly more so than the aircraft carriers.

“If a contingency happens in the Taiwan Strait, the Type 075 landing helicopter dock [LHD] will be turned into a floating logistic and supporting platform for attack helicopters from airbases on China’s southeastern coast,” Lu said.

“The mainland’s aircraft carrier strike groups are not meant to target Taiwan’s defences but are more for anti-access strategies to stop foreign military interventions in the South China Sea and western Pacific.”

What are China’s theatre commands and service branches?

The Type 075 LHD can carry about 30 attack helicopters, nearly 1,000 marines, multiple amphibious hovercraft, battle tanks and armoured vehicles. It will bolster the fighting capability of the eastern command, which operates three Type 071 and other smaller amphibious vessels.

“The Type 075 LHD is like the twin brother of Type 071, and its main job is to command air superiority, while the latter focuses on surface combat,” said commentator and former Chinese military instructor Song Zhongping.

China’s third Type 075 LHD has begun sea trials since it was launched in January, but Chinese aircraft companies have yet to develop a suitable model of heavy armed helicopter to support the new platform.

Song said he believed the third Type 075 would be assigned to the Southern Theatre Command, which has responsibility for the South China Sea, but the three vessels could join forces in Zhoushan in the event of any conflict across the Taiwan Strait.