China is fast-tracking a new generation of amphibious assault ships intended to introduce new dimensions to air-surface connectivity and amphibious assault tactics, activities often demonstrated by the large People’s Liberation Army Navy in drills and exercises near the Taiwan coastline.
The first of a new Chinese class of amphibs, called Type 075s, has now achieved initial operating capability, the Chinese government-backed Global Times newspaper reports.
The now operational ship, called the Hainan, will “visit harbors and ports all over the world and provide an outstanding image for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy,” the paper writes.
China's Type 075 Amphibious Assault Ship
China's first Type 075 amphibious assault ship, the Hainan, has reached initial operating capability, and the vessel will visit harbors and ports all over the world and provide an outstanding image for the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, the warship's captain told the state broadcaster.
The Hainan will enter operational service after completing an upcoming year of training, and the Chinese paper quotes military analysts described the ship’s new integrated warfare abilities.
“Often dubbed a helicopter carrier, the vessel can carry a large number of helicopters in addition to amphibious armored vehicles and tanks, and launch both horizontal and vertical landing missions on islands and reefs, and even land from the sea,” the paper says.
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This conceptual approach to concepts of operations clearly aligns with US thinking regarding the US Navy’s strategic approach with its emerging America-class amphibious assault ships. However there are a couple of extremely critical variables to consider when it comes to any Chinese ability to truly match or rival that maritime warfare tactics made possible by the US America class.
While the Chinese paper may suggest that the new Type 075 amphibs introduce new or unparalleled dimensions of air-surface-and-ground warfare, the US Navy’s America-class amphibious assault ships operate with Osprey Tiltrotor aircraft, vertical-take-off-and-landing F-35B 5th-generation stealth technology and a new generation of US Abrams tank-carrying Ship to Shore Connector landing craft.
China is known to be fast-tracking a new carrier-launched 5th-generation fighter jet, yet the emerging J-31 does not appear to have an F-35B-like vertical take-off capability comparable to the America class. Therefore, the new class of Chinese Type 075 amphibs, it would seem, might be quite challenged to project a 5th-generation air support capability for amphibious operations. Clearly the introduction of 5th-generation stealth attack is reshaping the tactical sphere of amphibious warfare by bringing new possibilities to multi-domain amphibious attack.
Secondly, it does not appear as though the Chinese Type 075 ships operate anything comparable to the US Marine Corps Osprey helicopter, a much demanded platform which not only enables new ranges and payloads available for transport and resupply but also supports Mounted Vertical Maneuver operations wherein amphibious forces can drop in behind enemy lines for surprise attack, mission reinforcement or clandestine hit-and-run ambushes in enemy territory. While much is likely unknown about the new Chinese amphibs, the PLA Navy ships simply may not operate with any kind of similar ability.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.