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Type 081 Aviation Assault Ship (LPH / LHA)

Type 81 LHAlChina is widely reported to be working on medium size amphibious ship, thought to be designated the Type 081. For several years it was thought that the Type 081 was the same as the 20,000 ton model seen at international arms shows, but it it beginning to appear that this design may be for the export market, with a rather larger design intended for domestic consumption. These pages describe the 20,000 design, and for the time being preserve the Type 081 nomenclature.

With a possible displacement of about 20,000 tons, it would be about the same size as most other such ships, like the French Mistral-class LHD, though only about half the displacement of the US Navy LHD/LHA-type amphibious assault ships. Some observers believe China may build a total of three or more Type 081s, and that construction was already underway as of 2010, but as of late 2013 there was no evidence of building activity. The US Department of Defense reported on 06 May 2013 that "China will ... begin construction on a new Type 081-class landing helicopter assault ship within the next five years." Combat Fleets 2013 reports that as many as six may be built.

China Air and Naval Power noted in May 2013 that Chinas was offering an LHD for export. "A couple of months ago, weve seen this LHD design displayed for export to Turkey and also at Abu Dhabi. This mysterious design is said to be 211 m long, 32.6 m in beam and 26.8 m high for a displacement of 20,000 to 22,000 ton. Its a little wider than Type 071 and has a flat top, so it can hold 8 helicopters with the hangar space for 4."

Beijing based China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Co. (CSOC) unveiled several new designs during IDEX 2013, the international defense exhibition held in the United Arab Emirates. Although the sign next to the model said "LPD", the model showcased on CSOC's stand at IDEX was really an LHD (Landing Helicopter Dock). Specifications (length of 198 meters, displacement of 22,000 tons, breadth of 21.80 meters, and maximum speed of 22 Knots) were about those of a Mistral class LHD.

Navyrecognition reported "A CSOC representative at the show insisted the design was for the export market exclusively. After inquiring about the design's projection capabilities the same representative told us the LHD had 4 helicopter spots and could carry 8 more internally inside the hangar. Regarding troops accommodations, we were told the design could accommodate in excess of 700 soldiers and over 50 armored vehicles. The CSOC representative confirmed the presence of a well-deck for amphibious operations but declined to comment on it capacities or specifications.

"Looking at the model's details, we can guess that CSOC's LHD design is fitted with two naval gun mounts at the bow (each carrying their own Optical Fire Control), two FL-3000N (with 18 cells/missiles each) missile systems at the stern and two Type 730 (or the newer Type 1130) 30mm Gatling type CIWS located forward and aft on the island of the LHD."

In January 2004 it was reported that China would build several helicopter carriers, having decided to delay plans to build aircraft carriers. China was said to ask a European country to build the helicopter carriers and a contract was said to be expected to be signed in the near future. An un-named European country was said to have provided China with the design and specifications of the carrier it would build for the Chinese Navy. The helicopter carriers would act as a stopgap for aircraft carriers that the Chinese Navy wanted to build, despite lacking the capability to do so.

China Defense Mashup reported 09 May 2009 that "Hudong Shipbuilding Company, another shipbuilder in Shanghai, will carry the task of producing 6-8 23,000-tonne class flush deck amphibious transport dock ships." Ted Parsons reported in March 2012 [Chinese Shipbuilder Unveils Possible Type 081 LHD Design, Janes Defence Weekly, March 28, 2012: 15] that "China Shipbuilding Corporation (CSC) has revealed what may be a design for the Type 081 landing helicopter dock (LHD) amphibious assault ship. The design was shown in model form at the Defense & Security 2012 exhibition in Bangkok in early March. It is unclear whether this is the Type 081 LHD design long expected to complement the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) Navys Type 071 land platform dock (LPD) vessels, the third of which was launched in September 2011. However, China did reveal a model of the Type 071 in 2004 ahead of the first-in-class vessels launch in December 2006.

According to Taiwanese defence magazine DTM, which supplied images of the model to IHS Janes, the proposed LHD has a length of 211 m [i.e., about 692.25 feet], [a] maximum speed of 23 kt and can embark eight helicopters with hangar space for four. Endurance is 25- 30 days at sea and accommodation is provided for 1,068 embarked marines, officials said.... Any resemblance to the French Mistral [LHD] design may reflect comments by the late General/Admiral Liu Huaqing, the architect of the PLAs modernisation path, who in his memoirs confirmed co-operation with French naval design institutes."

In 2011, an analysis published by the US Naval Institute noted that "local observers now expect China to build up to six Type 071s along with six flat-deck helicopter carriers." There is no evident discussion in the open literature about a Chinese amphbious aviation ship, but it is a logical companion to the Air Cushion Vehicle (ACV) capabilities of the Type 071 Yuzhao class. Future military forces require enhanced vertical lift capabilities in a compact package.

The overall design space is probably bounded by the American LPH and LHA designs, of 20,000 tons and 45,000 tons, respectively. The most straightforward design, with Chinese characteristics, of such a ship would be an adaptation of the Type 071 Yuzhao LPD, replacing the LCAC dock in the hull with a hangar deck, and extending the helicopter landing deck from two to four spots. The vessel has an overall length of 650 feet / 200 meters, overall beam of 100 feet / 30 meters, waterline length of 555 feet / 170 meters.

Such a vessel would have a hull and diesel propulsive system; a main deck divided into a short exposed forward section, an intermediate section comprising about a tenth the main deck, and an aft exposed section; an upper deck on which superstructure items are located; a flight deck extending along most of the aft main deck; a hangar below the aft deck section, this hangar's roof being the upper flight deck; pads located on the aft deck sections; and parking areas located on the aft deck section.

CTOL and STOL carriers, including helicopter ships, share a common configuration: a hangar enclosed within a hull, a large flight deck on the hangar roof, take-off runway/s, landing runway/s and pad/s on that flight deck, lifts connecting the hangar and flight decks, and a superstructure off to one side of the flight deck. CTOL carriers such as the USS Nimitz have catapults, arresters and, usually, several runways, some angled. STOL carriers such as HMS Invincible usually have a single through runway serving as take-off runway, landing runway and pad; they usually also have a ski jump because in practice they only operate STOVL and VTOL aircraft. Some 1930s carriers also had an additional take-off runway located on the hangar deck before the hangar, the rear portion of this runway being enclosed under the forward part of the main flight deck. A modern version of this type up-dated with catapults, ski jumps, arresters, etc. for use by newer aircraft and an "assembly line" system within a large hangar for fast landing, servicing and relaunching of large numbers of aircraft.

Apart from the above vessels, another carrier is known, this being a STOVL vessel without a landing runway: a large container ship on which containers stacked before the superstructure form a flight deck with a take-off runway, a pad and a ski jump. A STOVL vessel is an adequate carrier because even STOL vessels in practice only deploy STOVL and VTOL aircraft.

VTOL or helicopter carriers are also known: some such as the French Jeanne d'Arc configured with a large hangar aft, a large pad atop it, and lifts connecting those decks; a carrier for V/STOL-as-VTOL aircraft with no pad but using a device developed by British Aerospace to release and recover hovering V/STOL-as-VTOL aircraft has also been proposed.

Some VTOL vessels are not carriers but are other-role ships, usually small, configured in one of two ways: with a hangar on the main deck abaft the superstructure and a pad abaft the hangar; with only an aft pad. In contrast, CTOL, STOL and STOVL vessels are all large and, effectively, all carriers; this because all built or proposed have at least one of the following: a fore and aft flight deck with a superstructure beside it and therefore a wide beam; a heavy flight deck on the hangar roof and therefore a hangar of a construction sturdy enough to support it and a large hull to offset the resulting top-heaviness; a hangar enclosed in the hull and therefore a hull of wide beam; a hangar-deck with a take-off runway, that deck therefore being high above the waves; an in-line take-off runway and hangar or in-line take-off runway and superstructure and therefore a long hull; complex and/or heavy machinery like catapults, arresters and, especially, lifts.

Helicopters are typically configured to perform specific roles such as troop transportation, cargo transportation, assault, medical evacuation, surveillance, AWAC, rescue, firefighting, construction, etc. Military helicopters are often designed with interior accessories to accommodate passengers and/or cargo. Various attachments are available to mount weapons, equipment, hoists, etc.

For the Chinese Navy's long-term needs, the Type 071 amphibious dock landing ship undoubtedly has many deficiencies.

First, the 071 fire support capability is insufficient. As a amphibious dock landing ship, the main task of the Type 071 in amphibious landing operations is to transport personnel and supplies. But its rather limited fire support capability will face a bottleneck for the Chinese navy amphibious combat powers. 071 amphibious assault ship weapon is only a single tube 76mm guns and other smaller caliber guns. Such weak firepower capability is nowhere near enough to assualt enemy beachheads.

Secondly, the Type 071 has limited performance in helicopter operations. Currently, the 071-based dock landing ship can land two simultaneous domestic WZ-8 helicopters. The helicopter was developed in the 1980s, when China imported from France "Super Hornet" helicopter generic type. Either as a helicopter, or equipment used in large-scale amphibious landing ship, it is inappropriate. For example, the United States and France were equipped with "Sea Hawk" and "Puma" helicopters, which not only have the ability to do transport tasks, while their different models are also capable of anti-submarine, anti-ship, early warning, and many other tasks.

Third, the Type 071 directing hardware facilities are inadequate. As it is currently one of the few large amphibious ships in the Chinese Navy, the 071 not only has to assume the inherent transport tasks, but also play a fleet flagship and joint command role for the various arms of the Front. This is why the United States and France and other powers with amphibious warfare forces have large amphibious ship's basic requirements. So, the French went to the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship along with the "Charles de Gaulle" aircraft carrier. Although there is no 071 amphibious command ship equipment system specific data, but through its shape for interpretation difficult to find, in command of the hardware side, 071 is obviously inadequate.

Although Conceptually, the amphibious dock landing ship with the differing nature, but for this new type of naval countries like China, the former is usually used as the technical basis of the latter: the former through the development of not only the accumulation construction of large surface ships of technical experience, in contrast, how diverse the construction process, and the overall efficiency will be promoted to become a more important aspect. Similar to the rule of law Mistral-class amphibious assault ship that Type 081 through the deck amphibious assault ship.

In the field of ship construction, there have been civil and military two standards, mainly because of the hull structure ruggedness and security importance of the different levels. Prior to this, only in World War II, subject to the huge demand for the war, British and American merchant based in the construction of a large number of escort carriers. Since then, the civilian shipbuilding standards began to enter the field of naval construction, but this approach has not been promoted. The reason is simple, the standard construction of civilian vessels, apparently unbearable wartime enemy artillery fire. But as the war in the form of changes and the development of shipbuilding technology, this view has also undergone a change. From the current point of view, China is fully capable of building straight-deck dock landing ship.

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