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Type 071 Yuzhao class Amphibious Transport Dock (LPD)

The PLA Navy increased its amphibious force in 2012. Two YUZHAO-class amphibious transport docks (LPD) (Type 071) were accepted into service during the year bringing the total of YUZHAO LPDs to three. In late July 2011 China commissioned its second amphibious dock landing warship, the 19,000 ton Jinggangshan, which had been launched in launched in November 2010. Built by Shanghai's Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding, the new vessel was the second Type 071 dock landing ship. The 689-foot-long warship can carry 1,000 soldiers, helicopters, armored fighting vehicles, boats and landing craft. The first Type 071 dock landing ship, named Kunlunshan, which had no helicopter capacity, was launched on 22 December 2006 and commissioned into the PLAN South Sea Fleet on 30 November 2007.

Christian Bedford wrote in Fall 2011 of "the Type-071 Yuzhao-class landing platform dock (LPD), of which the PLAN has built three and is preparing to launch a fourth by the end of 2011. These vessels would be extremely useful to Beijing in any future action against islands in the South China Sea..." On 23 January 2012, a fourth PLA Navy 20,000-ton long-range type-071 (Yuzhao-class) amphibious transport dock (LPD) was reportedly launched at Shanghai Hudong-Zhonghua Shipyard, marking another milestone in China’s amphibious warfare buildup. According to Chinese newspaper "Huantsyu shibao", Hudong-Zhonghua Shipyard in Shanghai held a launch for the fourth Type 071 class LPD. The launch was timed to happen on the Chinese New Year, 23 January 2012. As of mid-2013, no further launches had been reported. The long gap between the first and second units of some four years had initially suggested a rather leisurely build rate, but subsequent construction suggests a build rate of one per year. One source reports that as many as 8 LHAs might be expected, and at least these many LPDs in service by 2020 would not be surprising.

Evidently the Yuzhao class ships are named after mountain ranges in China. The Kunlun Shan is a major mountain system of Asia, situated in China about halfway between the Himalaya and Tian Shan mountain ranges. The Jinggangshan range of mountains is located 180km (110 miles) from Nanchang, between Hunan and Jiangxi provinces. The name of the new ship recalls founding of the Communist Party of China, which spanned the decade from the May 4 Movement in 1919 to the establishment of the Jinggangshan Revolutionary Base in 1928. Jinggangshan is known as the birthplace of the Chinese Red Army (the People's Liberation Army of China) and the "cradle of the Chinese revolution". The signficance of the "Yuzhao" class name is a bit less clear. Yuzhao is pinyin for omen or prognosis (in medicine).

By the beginning of 2002, China had over two dozen amphibious landing ships and could transport a brigade of marines at one time, but could not carry enough supplies. China continued to build Landing Ship, Tank designs, although this type of ship had been largely abandoned by other countries. At that time, there was reportedly credible evidence of Chinese ambitions to construct a 12,300-ton displacement amphibious transport dock (LPD). This ship could be capable of carrying up to four landing craft air cushion (LCAC) and several helicopters. In this way, China's Navy will have acquired improved capabilities at transporting tanks and soldiers.

Chronologies for the first unit exhibit some peculiarities. By one account, the lead ship, pennant 998 Kunlun Shan [Kunlunshan], was reportedly laid down in Shanghai in June 2006. In September 2006 the Chinese Shanghai-based Hudong Shipyard confirmed that a new amphibious warfare ship, Type 071 (Yuzhao) was under construction. It is generally agreed that this first unit was launched on 21 or 22 December 2006, but this would suggest that the hull was on stocks for not more than six months, which is a rather short period of time. This ship was reported to have conducted sea trials in September 2007, and to have been commissioned by the PLAN South Sea Fleet on 30 November 2007 [other accounts report December 2007]. At that time, it was presumed that the Chinese intended to construct more of that class, although there had been no official word on the subject. 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."

China's sixth naval escort flotilla departed 01 July 2010 for the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters. The flotilla with more than 1,000 personnel, including Navy special forces troops, is to relieve the fifth flotilla, which has been cruising the waters off the Somalia coast for more than three months. The amphibious landing ship Kunlunshan, destroyer Lanzhou, and supply ship Weishanhu of the fifth fleet, will escort vessels sailing through the region. It was the first deployment of the amphibious landing ship Kunlunshan, with a displacement of 18,500 tonnes, on an escort mission. The previous five Chinese fleets to the Gulf of Aden have escorted 2,248 Chinese and foreign ships in 213 batches in this region, which has been plagued by pirate attacks, since December 2008.

The Jinggangshan dock landing ship, which is the largest warship in the Chinese Navy, was officially launched in Shanghai, Monday's Jiangxi Daily reported 19 July 2011. The report did not give the exact date of the launch. With a displacement of 19,000 tons, the amphibious warship is 210 meters long and 28 meters wide and can carry helicopters, armored fighting vehicles, boats and landing craft as well as nearly 1,000 soldiers, Jiangxi Daily said. According to an earlier report on china.com, Jinggangshan is the second of the Type 071 dock landing ship and was built by the Shanghai-based Hudong-Zhonghua Shipyard. The first one, Kunlunshan, was launched in 2006 with a displacement of 18,000 tons, it said. The ship was christened the Jinggangshan last December "to show the love for the revolutionary base area and inherit and carry forward its revolutionary spirit," according to Jiangxi Daily's report. Jinggangshan, or Jinggang Mountains, is located in East China's Jiangxi province and is known as the birthplace of China's People's Liberation Army and the cradle of China's revolution.

Right after the Spring Festival of 2012, the newly commissioned “Jinggangshan” amphibious dock landing ship of a landing ship flotilla under the South China Sea Fleet of the Navy of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducted the first-ever joint training with helicopters and air cushion boats, unveiling the training of the new-type dock landing ship after the Spring Festival.

A taskforce under the South China Sea Fleet of the Navy of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) left a naval port in Sanya in south China’s Hainan province on March 19, 2013 for the waters of the South China Sea and the Western Pacific Ocean to conduct combat readiness patrol and high-sea training. The taskforce was composed of the “Jinggangshan” amphibious dock landing ship, the “Lanzhou” guided missile destroyer, the “Yulin” and “Hengshui” guided missile frigates as well as helicopters and hovercrafts on the warships. The taskforce will conduct training on such subjects as command post establishment, maritime maneuvering operation, maritime right protection, high-sea escort, rapid response to support operation and political work in the waters of the South China Sea and the Western Pacific Ocean.

The high-sea training fully drove the troop units under the South China Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy to conduct a series of actual-combat confrontation drill according to the criterion of “being able to fight and win battles”, so as to effectively improve the fleet’s capability to complete diversified military tasks, according to Jiang Weilie, commander of the taskforce and commander of the South China Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy.

The combat readiness patrol and high-sea training is an annual routine military training of the South China Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy. Both the “Lanzhou” warship and the “Yulin” warship, which have carried out escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the Somali coast, have strong air-defense, anti-missile and anti-submarine capabilities. The “Hengshui” warship is a new-type guided missile frigate recently commissioned to the PLA Navy.

Type 071 Yuzhao LPD - Missions and Capabilities

The Type 071's role is not limited only to the Taiwan scenario. It seems more likely to be useful in the South China Sea, as a means of intervening in the Spratly Islands. This interpretation is reinforced by the homeport of the first ship, which is based at the South Sea Fleet's headquarters at Zhanjiang Naval Base in Guangdong Province. The 1st and 2nd Marine Brigades are stationed at this facility. With its strong self-contain capability the LPD could operate far from friendly shores, projecting amphibious assets over distance of several thousand nautical miles. The ample space onboard also allows additional communications equipments to be added for the ship to act as a fleet command and control center in an amphibious operation.

The Yuzhou class LPD represents a major step forward in the Chinese plan for a blue water navy, significantly improving the PLA Navy's sea-lift and power projection capabilities. Vessels without protected well-deck areas experience functional and safety problems while conducting roll-on/roll-off (RO/RO) and load-on/load-off (LO/LO) operations because of the instability of the ship-to-surface craft interface. Landing platforms alongside the sea-going vessel remain operationally limited for servicing ship-to-shore craft, especially during military operations. These platforms are subject to craft interface instabilities, limited docking area for the ship-to-shore craft, and limited flexibility of cargo placement within the platforms. The landing platform dock, however, overcomes these limitations for cargo loading and other operations of ship-to-surface craft.

The PLAN had long been projected to operate large amphibious ships similar to the LSD/LPD concept. Such a ship will enable PLA/Marine forces to operate far from home waters, and enhance the PLAN's ability to rapidly mobilize troops in any amphibious assault. The Type 071 LPD offers much increased sea lifting capacity and operational flexibility not possessed by the conventional tank landing ships (LST) in the current PLA Navy service. Some have speculated that in a possible offensive operation to seize Taiwan, the Type 071 could be used to launch an amphibious assault from the Pacific side of the island, where the island's defense is relatively weak. But the Pacific side of the Island is generally mountainous, and not promising country for an amphibious assault.

In addition to traditional amphibious assault role, the Type 071 LPD could also be deployed for a whole range of non-military missions, for example, providing a sea-based platform for helicopters to send humanitarian aids to a disaster area and evacuate casualties and refugees from the area; or evacuating citizens from conflict zones.

China's China State Shipbuilding and Trading Corp (CTSC) consortium has offered to build a modified version of the 071 LPD for the Malaysian Navy. The Malaysian Navy has a requirement for a 13,000 ton LPD. The Chinese-built 071 LPD is said to cost only about one-third of a comparable US-built San Antonio-class LPD. However, as of mid-2008 Malaysia had made no decision on the purchase.

The August 2009 US Office of Naval Intelligence report "The People's Liberation Army Navy: A Modern Navy With Chinese Characteristics" stated "Humanitarian assistance and naval diplomacy missions may leverage conventional naval forces, but are more likely to concentrate on flexible expeditionary and multimission capabilities able to respond quickly to crises and provide logistical support at extended ranges from shore. The PRC is unlikely to build ships exclusively for humanitarian assistance missions; however, multimission ships like the Yuzhao LPD and Anwei AH hospital ship will be key assets in support of humanitarian or diplomatic missions."

In Defense Ministry spokesperson Geng Yansheng's regular press conference on February 23, 2012, he was asked "We know that the second LPD or a large amphibious ship of the PLA Navy will be deployed to the South China Sea Fleet. It is said that it will arouse more concerns from the surrounding countries about the development of the PLA Navy. It’s also reported in the future six LPDs of this kind will be deployed towards that direction. What is the commentary of the Ministry of National Defense on that? And secondly, can you also elaborate a bit more on the purpose of the PLA development on such large scale amphibious ships?

"A: In an era when science and technology are making stunning progress, it is quite normal for countries to renovate or upgrade their weapons and equipment. China is in no exception. We have repeated on several occasions that the purpose of China’s development of its own weaponry and equipment is totally for its requirement of its national security; it does not aim at any particular or specific country or target. What I want to point out here is that, actually, quite a number of newly developed weapons of the PLA Navy were used in quite a number of foreign military activities, playing a quite positive role and maintaining world or regional peace and stability. For example, from July 2010 to February 2011, the PLA Navy’s LPD Kunlunshan participated in the sixth ship group to provide escort services in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the Somali coast; it have done its jobs quite well."




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