Pictures taken by military enthusiasts earlier this week appear to show that construction of China's first Type 075 amphibious helicopter assault ship is moving quickly.
The images, taken outside the dry dock at Shanghai's Hudong-Zhonghua shipyard, were circulated on Chinese social media and showed scaffolding around two separate superstructures above the flight deck, suggesting the estimated 40,000 tonne ship may have two islands.
In June, commercial satellite images showed the vessel had a 32-metre wide beam, with bow and stern sections yet to be added. In the most recent pictures the bow of the vessel is clearly visible.
The status of the construction suggested the ship would probably be launched in the next few months, according to Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military affairs commentator.
An image of China's first Type 075 amphibious helicopter assault ship suggests the vessel may be completed in the next few months. Photo: Weibo alt=An image of China's first Type 075 amphibious helicopter assault ship suggests the vessel may be completed in the next few months. Photo: Weibo
Song said large landing helicopter docks (LHDs) like the Type 075 could play an even more important role than aircraft carriers in the future, following last month's defence white paper released in Beijing which named protecting China's overseas interests as one of the key missions of its military forces.
"LHDs are a central part of a blue water navy, because an LHD has a full range of weapons with a lot more marine troops for potential ground operations, whereas an aircraft carrier is just a mobile airbase," he said. "Each time the Americans deploy their forces overseas, LHDs always serve as the vanguard."
The PLA Navy has ordered several LHDs in recent years, at the same time as Beijing's claim to the disputed South China Sea has been challenged and the relationship with Taiwan strained.
China claims almost all islands and reefs in the South China Sea, many of which are occupied by rival claimants, and reserves the right to use force to reunify Taiwan, which it sees as a breakaway province.
Five Type 071 25,000 tonne amphibious landing dock ships have been launched since 2016, of which three have been commissioned and two are on sea trials.
It is believed China's first batch of Type 075 craft will consist of three ships. The Type 075 will be the world's third largest amphibious assault ship, behind only the US Wasp-class (41,000 tonnes) and America-class (45,000 tonnes). It is significantly bigger than Japan's Izumo-class (26,000 tonnes), and France's Mistral-class (21,000 tonnes).
The Type 075 will be able to carry up to 30 helicopters, as well as a number of amphibious tanks, armoured vehicles, jet boats, and hundreds of marine troops.
Its massive flat deck could also accommodate vertical take-off and landing fighters such as the F-35B. This capability would enable the ship to operate as a light aircraft carrier, in a similar function to the way the US military uses LHDs. However, China currently does not yet have any vertical take-off jets.
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.