Type 071 Yuzhao class Amphibious Transport Dock (LPD)
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 is 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.
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."
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."
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