The development of the Chinese navy, the PLA-N, has accelerated dramatically in recent years. New ships, from missile armed fast attack craft to guided missile destroyers and landing platform docks, have been commissioning from Chinese ship yards in previously unseen numbers. However, despite development proceeding at a relative crawl, new photos of China’s first LHD-type ship have been emerging over recent months, with the newest images coming out just a couple days ago. The new images show that the island structure of the first ship of the class has now been affixed to the hull.
The Type 075 will be the PLA’s first LHD-type ship, broadly similar in form and purpose to the American Wasp-class. Its introduction to service will bolster China’s developing amphibious warfare capabilities. Per The Diplomat’s Rick Joe, “the 075 LHD is currently estimated to have a full displacement of about 31,000 tons, with the capacity to carry up to 30 helicopters. It is likely to have a well deck capable of accommodating two Type 726A landing craft air cushion (LCAC) as well”.
The large flight deck for helicopters means that the Type 075 will enable the PLA to carry out heavy air assaults in a way that they cannot currently. As traditional amphibious assaults become so dangerous as to be not worth considering, the ability to airlift large quantities of troops via helicopter—such as the Z-8 heavy lift helicopter—becomes increasingly important. Once airborne forces can neutralize key points, then a more traditional amphibious assault can take place with a reasonable chance of success.
It does not appear at present that the PLA-N plans to procure an F-35 or Harrier type aircraft to equip its LHDs. Without straying too far into speculation, it would follow that the PLA-N views the ship and its future fellows in a different way, doctrinally, than the US Navy does its LHDs. The Type 075s and whatever follows them will be critical the amphibious force’s organic fire support capabilities, embarking attack helicopters in addition to the transport helicopters that will make up the bulk of their load.