This article was first published in French language by East Pendulum
End of the Type 071 LPD program ?
There was a time when observers thought that the Chinese army could only rely on thousands of fishing boats to cross the strait and land on the island of Taiwan, which is almost true. With less than twenty rather small landing craft (LST type) in the early 2000s, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN or Chinese navy) was unlikely to be able to conduct a large amphibious operation to reach this “separated province”. But the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait crisis, followed by the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, has radically changed the situation, especially in the minds of policy makers.
Thus was born the Type 071 in 2002, the first Chinese LPD displacing more than 20,000 tons. Three ships of this class were put in service between 2007 and 2012, all assigned to the PLAN South Sea Fleet (which, however, does not include Taiwan in its area of responsibility).
But being able to transport a whole battalion reinforced with marines, twenty amphibious tanks and up to sixteen 13 ton helicopters per ship does not seem to be a sufficient capacity for the PLAN. That’s despite the fact Type 071 are not the only type of amphibious vessels in the Chinese fleet today and that the LPDs would typically be accompanied by nearly 60 landing ship tanks (LST) of all kinds, 3 times more than just 20 years ago.
It remains a mystery why five more Type 071 LPDs were added to the order book during the 12th five-year plan (2011-2015), whereas the program had planned for only 3 hulls initially.
Things have been moving fast since, with the commissioning of the 4th vessel in the class, Yimeng Shan (pennant number 988) in February 2016, Longhu Shan (980) in September 2018 and Wuzhi Shan (987) in January this year.
The 7th Type 071, Wudang Shan, as well as the 8th one (name yet to be revealed), are currently undergoing fitting out in Shanghai. The latter, launched at Hudong-Zhonghua Shipyard on June 6, 2019, is expected to be the last, at least for the second batch of orders.
With 8 Type 071 LPDs alone, the PLAN would already be able to project a force of more than 2 marine brigades on the island of Taiwan, not to mention the troops that can be transported by the 60 or so LSTs displacing between 1,000 and 5,000 tons.
Start of the Type 075 LHD program
Is this “enough”? Difficult to say without knowing the exact intervention scenarios of the Chinese military for the island of Taiwan and many others.
Still, the Chinese Navy officially started in 2011 development work on the Type 075, a helicopter carrier project displacing more than 30,000 tonnes. Its aim is likely to increase the “vertical” amphibious assault capability with the very mountainous East Coast of Taiwan in mind.
As for its specifications, rumors speak of “36,000 tons of displacement”, “capacity of 28 helicopters”, “diesel engine with the 9,000 kW 16PC2-6B” and “four CIWS including two HQ-10 and two H/PJ-11” (see our article “Some rumors about the characteristics of LHD Type 075” in French language).
Note that the launching of the first vessel of the class was mentioned in 2014, but several unofficial sources spoke of a change in the design that would have drove down the size (displacement) of the vessel and therefore its transport capabilities. While a capability for 36 helicopters was expected initially, the figure would only be 28 today, but that remains to be confirmed.
A larger variant: Type 075A LHD
If a source close to the Chinese naval sector is to be believed, the PLAN would have planned several batches of construction for the Type 075 program. The first batch would involve three vessels and a single unit of a larger version, presumably the Type 075A, which would be at the design stage by the 708 Institute of the CSSC group.
Anyway, the aerial and satellite images show a rather fast construction inside a dock. Since the first steel cut at the end of 2017, the lead Type 075 ship has already taken shape this summer according to a series of photos leaked on Chinese social media by a technician from the Hudong-Zhonghua Shipyard. The technician was laid off immediately and sent home according to posts on his Weibo account.
These photos and other (more legal) shots suggest that the Type 075 features a well deck similar to the Type 071, and two vehicle decks (on two levels) under the aviation hangar. The vessel is fitted with two aircraft elevators: One in front of the island and the other one at the stern.