China launches its first assault ship

A new amphibious assault ship launched recently from the No.4 pier of the Hudong-Zhonghua yard in Shanghai, China. According to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, the ship served as a backdrop for a ceremony that involved confetti, streamers, and its first crew standing at attention. Afterward, water was pumped into the drydock where the ship was built and the brand new warship was floated out. The ship was nudged pierside by tugs to sit next to a Chinese Navy Type 071 warship, also an amphibious vessel.

The new ship was built with lightning speed, even by Chinese standards. Chinese air and naval analyst Andreas Rupprecht, author of Modern Chinese Warplanes, told Popular Mechanics, “We saw the first modules/components (at the shipyard) only in March.” (USS Wasp, the equivalent ship in US Navy service, took two years to launch.) Rupprecht says that a second ship is not only already under construction at Hudong-Zhonghua but is, “at a state where the first was in May.”

Ultimately, he says, China may elect to build as many as three to six of the massive ships.

The Type 075 is a landing helicopter dock ship, or LHD. LHDs are large ships designed to hold a marine landing force and the transportation needed to get them ashore. LHDs have a large, full-length flight deck, similar to aircraft carriers, to launch and recover attack, observation, and transport helicopters. According to Naval News, the Type 075 is rumored to be capable of carrying up to 28 helicopters. Unlike aircraft carriers, LHDs are not equipped with catapults and arresting gear to launch and recover fixed-wing aircraft.

LHDs are also equipped with what is known as a well deck in the rear of the ship. A well deck is basically a drydock built into the ship, designed to facilitate the easy loading of marines onto landing craft and hovercraft parked inside. This method lets jeeps, trucks, armored vehicles, and even tanks to drive directly onto the landing vessels. Once the amphibious force is loaded, the well deck is flooded with water, a rear ramp lowers, and the marine-laden craft float out and make for shore.

The Type 075 class is similar both to the US Navy’s Wasp class LHDs and France’s Mistral class. Naval analyst H.I. Sutton, writing at Forbes, believes the Type 075 likely weighs between 30,000 to 35,000 tons, versus the 40,000 tons of the Wasp class. That likely means the Chinese ship can either embark a smaller marine landing force or has a shorter sailing range, or a little of both. The US Marines currently fly the vertical takeoff and landing version of the F-35, the F-35B, from Wasp-class ships but China does not (yet) operate a vertical takeoff and landing fighter capable of operating from the Type 075s.