China’s New Amphibious Assault Ship Sails into the South China Sea

This commentary was updated on January 7, 2021, to take into account new satellite imagery of the Type 075 landing helicopter dock.

The first of China’s new Type 075 landing helicopter dock (LHD) recently embarked on a second round of sea trials—this time in the South China Sea. The amphibious assault vessel left Hudong–Zhonghua Shipyard in early October and remained in the Shanghai area for nearly three weeks before sailing south. Toward the end of October, the Type 075 arrived some 1,250 nautical miles away, near China’s southern coast.

Satellite imagery captured the Type 075 in the waters near Wuchuan on November 3 and moored at Yulin Naval Base in Sanya on November 12. An updated look on December 13 confirmed that the Type 075 was still in the area and accompanied by major elements of a support group, including two destroyers, an amphibious transport dock, and several auxiliary vessels. Imagery captured on December 26 revealed that the Type 075 had been joined by the Shandong, China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier.

A critical component of China’s ongoing military modernization is enhancing the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), especially those that may be leveraged to project power or called upon in a contingency in China’s near seas. On this front, the Type 075 considerably elevates China’s ability to transport, land, and support ground forces operating outside the Chinese mainland.

The vessel measures an estimated 237 meters in length and displaces between 35,000 and 40,000 tons, making it smaller than the Wasp- and America-class ships of the U.S. Navy—but still one of the largest amphibious assault ships in the world. The Type 075 features a full-length flight deck for helicopter operations, which in time could also serve as a platform for short takeoff and vertical landing aircraft, should China develop a reliable airframe for that environment. A floodable well deck situated in the stern of the vessel allows hovercraft and other vehicles to disembark. It is reported that the Type 075 will carry approximately 900 troops. 

It remains unclear how exactly the PLAN will employ the Type 075, but it is a flexible platform suited for a variety of roles. In addition to bolstering China’s ability to carry out amphibious operations, the Type 075 (in particular, the helicopters it carries) could be charged with conducting anti-submarine warfare and supporting anti-piracy missions. The Type 075 may also provide critical support to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.

Several additional sea trials will likely be conducted before the ship is commissioned into the PLAN, which could occur sometime in mid to late 2021. Two additional Type 075 are currently being produced, one of which recently entered its own sea trials. All three vessels will likely be commissioned into the PLAN by 2025.

Regardless of how many Type 075s the PLAN fields or how they are eventually employed, the new class of ship nonetheless represents a significant step forward for enhancing China’s amphibious capabilities.

Special thanks to Seongeun Lee and Pavak Patel for providing research support to this commentary.

Matthew P. Funaiole is a senior fellow for data analysis with the iDeas Lab and senior fellow with the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., is a senior fellow for imagery analysis (non-resident) with the CSIS iDeas Lab and Korea Chair.

Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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Abbreviations used in the above imagery include: AGOS (auxiliary ocean-going surveillance); AORH (auxiliary ocean-going replenishment, helicopter); AOT/AWT (auxiliary oil tanker/auxiliary water tanker); ARC (auxiliary cable ship); LHD (landing helicopter dock); LPD (landing platform dock); and DDGHM (missile-guided destroyer)

Matthew P. Funaiole
Vice President, iDeas Lab, Andreas C. Dracopoulos Chair in Innovation and Senior Fellow, China Power Project