China’s ability to fight island and coastal conflicts got a big boost Wednesday when the country’s navy launched its first amphibious assault ship.
The massive ship, which was floated at a shipyard in Shanghai, is the first in China’s Type 075 class of amphibious assault ships, according to the People’s Liberation Army’s English language website.
Analysts said the launch is yet another indication of the growing power of the Chinese fleet.
“It highlights China’s growing maritime power projection and the expansion of its amphibious warfare ambitions and forces,” said Carl Schuster, a former United States Navy captain and Hawaii Pacific University instructor.
Amphibious assault ships – sometimes called helicopter landing docks – can be described as small aircraft carriers designed for island or coastal assaults.
China provided no details of the size and capabilities of the new ship.
But, in general, the flat-topped ships have the ability to carry dozens of aircraft – helicopters in the case of the Type 075 – along with hundreds of ground troops, their vehicles and equipment. The ships have internal docks that allow those troops to load into smaller vessels to be carried ashore.
“The Type 075 gives them not only a significant increase in assault lift, but also provides their Marine Corps with a vertical assault dimension and air mobile force projection capability,” Schuster said.
The US and Japanese navies also operate amphibious assault ships in the Pacific.
The USS Wasp was just left the region this month after more than 18 months operating out of Japan. It will be replaced by the newer and slightly larger USS America later this year, according to a US Navy release.
Japan has two Izumo-class helicopter destroyers, which function much like amphibious assault ships.
The US ships can carry fighter jets, the short-takeoff and vertical landing capable F-35B. Japan also plans to give its ships the ability to carry the F-35Bs.
China, however, does not yet have an aircraft with the vertical landing capability of the F-35B.
But Schuster said it’s likely that such a jet is in the works and the Type 075 has the size to accommodate it.
In announcing the launch of its new amphibious assault ship on Wednesday, the Chinese military noted the ship still has some work to do before it’s commissioned into the active fleet.
“In the next phase, engineers will start outfitting and fine-tuning the vessel’s equipment and then conduct mooring tests and sea trials,” the Chinese military said.
But even with that, analysts noted the frenetic pace of Chinese naval shipbuilding. The ship launched just five months after pictures of its keel under construction were seen, wrote Joseph Trevithick and Tyler Rogoway on the The War Zone blog.
“The speed with which the Chinese have been able to execute its construction is as impressive as the ship’s size,” they wrote.
The US Department of Defense, in its annual report for Congress on the state of China’s military released in May, noted that China was the world’s top shipbuilding nation.
It has been churning out advanced destroyers and submarines, and it has one domestically built aircraft carrier in sea trials and another under construction.
The US Defense Department report noted that the new Type 075 will join a fleet of eight smaller Type 071 amphibious transport docks. Those ships have limited flight deck and handle only about four helicopters, according to the report.
It also noted how China was improving and refining amphibious warfare capabilities as well as bulking up its marine corps.
Shuster said he expects China to eventually build three of the Type 075s with them conducting exercises and showing the Chinese flag into the Indian Ocean to Africa and possibly the Mediterranean.