China’s first Type 075 landing helicopter assault dock completed its first test voyage on Sunday, and is expected to join the Chinese navy’s marines next year, military analysts said.
However, a military insider said the amphibious warship was still awaiting the launch of the aircraft it would carry: the naval versions of the Z-8J and Z-20J, which are modified based on the air force’s Z-8 and Z-20 armed helicopters.
Having left a shipyard in Shanghai for the first time on August 5, the Type 075 assault carrier returned last Sunday after completing an 18-day sea trial, according to photographs circulating online.
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The Type 075 landing helicopter dock (LHD) is estimated to have a displacement of about 40,000 tonnes and is China’s largest – and the world’s third-largest – amphibious assault ship, behind the United States’ Wasp-class and America-class ships.
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said he expected the warship could be handed over to the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s marines as early as the first half of next year.
“The warship’s propulsion system, maximum and minimum speed, endurance, manoeuvres, and radar and communication equipment were all tested in the first voyage,” Li said, adding that orders of the helicopters have been delivered gradually.
However, a military insider said the modification of the naval Z-20J was not yet complete, despite photos of the aircraft being posted online.
“The Type 075 may be ready by the end of next year, but the ship-borne Z-20J is still under development – the requirements for naval versions of aircraft are so strict because you need to tackle the ‘three highs’,” the insider said, referring to high temperature, high humidity and high salinity.
The Z-20, from which the ship-borne aircraft is being modified, can deliver a maximum weight of 10,000kg (22,000 pounds) and fly at a maximum altitude of 4,000 metres (13,000 feet), according to its developer, the Harbin Aircraft Industry Group.
The Z-20J is designed to perform search-and-rescue operations, like the American SH-60 Sea Hawk helicopter.
The layout of the Z-20 is similar to the US Black Hawk helicopter, but has several differences to give it greater lift, cabin capacity and endurance than the Black Hawk, according to the Australian Naval Technology website.
“The marines need more new ships because their headcount has expanded several times,” the insider said. “That’s why the first sea trial of the Type 075 ship was carried out when its flight deck remained unpainted, which is unprecedented in the navy’s warship sea tests.”
The Type 075 is specifically designed for a possible war to try to take back Taiwan, but it could also be used for offshore defence in the East and South China seas, Li said.
“The Type 075 can join China’s aircraft carrier strike groups, or fight independently because of its large capacity, carrying up to 30 helicopters and hundreds of marine troops,” Li said.
China remains in territorial disputes with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands, which Japan calls the Senkaku Islands, in the East China Sea. Beijing has built eight artificial islands in the South China Sea’s disputed Paracel archipelago, of which Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam are all claimants.
To date, China has built three Type 075 warships. The first and second ones were launched last September and in April respectively, while the third one is still under construction. The navy has ordered several LHDs in recent years, including five 25,000-tonne Type 071 amphibious landing dock ships.
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