As the Chinese navy speeds ahead with completion of the final piece in its modernized warship portfolio, experts say it will be years before the Type 075 amphibious helicopter landing craft is operating at full capacity.
The first Type 075 landing helicopter dock (LHD) is expected to be commissioned next year as part of China’s effort to strengthen its capability for an assault on Taiwan, the self-ruled island which Beijing regards as a breakaway province.
An analysis in Chinese military magazine Modern Ships said the design of the Type 075, which will be capable of carrying troops for deployment from helicopters, could play an important role in any future military operation against Taiwan.
“With the LHD, [the PLA] can airdrop troops on the east coast [of Taiwan] instead of the west coast which faces the mainland,” the article said. “[In this way], the enemy’s defense can be shattered much faster.”
However, military commentator Zhou Chenming said he expected the Type 075 to play a supporting role in any operations against Taiwan, since the navy already had sufficient transport capacity – in the form of its earlier model Type 071 amphibious landing docks – to mount an attack across the Taiwan Strait.
The PLA navy has ordered at least five 25,000-tonne Type 071 vessels in the past four years, currently under construction at the Hudong-Zhonghua Shipyard in Shanghai. Three Type 071s are already in commission and a second batch was delivered in April.
Zhou said it could take 10 years before the Type 075 reached full combat capability because of the lack of operational experience in the Chinese navy, which would further limit its role in any plans for Taiwan.
The Type 075 is the world’s third largest LHD, with a flight deck only slightly smaller than the United States’ Wasp-class and America-class, and could potentially transform into a light aircraft carrier, like its US navy counterparts.
However, China currently does not yet have any fighter jet capable of vertical or short take-off and landing, which has prompted discussions about the possibility of using the Type 075 as a carrier for unarmed aerial vehicles.
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said he expected the Chinese navy’s next generation of LHD, the Type 076, to be a fully functional carrier for fixed-wing drones.
“There could be a catapult and arrest design to make it a proper drone carrier,” Li said. “But for now, the Type 075 should focus on helicopters.”
Speculation mounted that the Type 076 project had already started after an unverified document was leaked online which invited contractors to take part in designing different systems on a ship, including an electromagnetic aircraft launch system for combat drones and advanced arresting gears.
The Type 075, with an approximate displacement of about 40,000 tonnes, is designed to carry up to 30 helicopters, including the tailor-made Z-20 – currently under development – and a naval version of the Z-8, Russian-made Ka-27/28 anti-submarine helicopters, as well as the smaller rotor-wing unmanned aerial vehicles.
The Type 075 can also carry amphibious tanks, armored vehicles and jet boats, as well as hundreds of marine troops, giving the PLA the capability of running a small-scale ground operation by an integrated combat force with a full range of firepower thousands of kilometres from the mainland.
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