Photos: China Tests Converting Heavy Cargo Ship Into Helicopter Carrier
19:00 GMT 28.08.2020(updated 19:29 GMT 28.08.2020)
In a recent drill, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) took a page from the US Navy's book and tested its ability to use the deck of a large semi-submersible cargo ship as a temporary helicopter landing pad.
According to a recent report published in the Chinese-language edition of the Global Times, the PLA's 71st Army Group recently tested its ability to use a semi-submersible heavy lift ship as a helicopter base.
During the drill, the PLA landed Z-8, Z-10 and Z-19 helicopters on the vessel, which had its large submersible deck painted with a trio of helipads.
The Diplomat reported the ship was the Zhen Hua 28, a 41,000-ton vessel built in Shanghai and used to transport massive sea cargo, such as other ships, cranes and even oil rigs. While the Zhen Hua 28 is a civilian vessel, the PLA has the ability to use some civilian vessels for purposes of national defense if necessary, and since 2016 has required certain classes of vessel to meet the military's requirements for communication and cargo-carrying, in case they are needed.
Chinese military expert Li Jie told the Global Times the PLA could make wide use of such a ship during times of war. While the drill tested the military's ability to use a heavy-lift ship for replenishment and as a medevac destination for choppers carrying wounded soldiers off the battlefield, the ship could also be stationed offshore for a longer period of time to serve as a repair center. He even noted such vessels could be positioned at the ends of islands or reefs as maritime relay platforms to enhance the combat radius and cross-sea abilities of the helicopters.
In addition to these convertible ships, the PLA Navy also has several Type 075 landing helicopter docks, which are more akin to aircraft carriers and suited to sailing the high seas, rather than camping offshore.
The US pioneered the use of heavy lift cargo ships in this way with its expeditionary transfer docks (ESDs) USNS Montford Point and USNS John Glenn, finished in 2013 and 2014. However, in addition to being helicopter landing pads, the US Navy ships can also deploy amphibious attack vessels such as hovercraft by lowering their decks into the water.
The US Navy later expanded on the concept with its expeditionary sea bases (ESB). These huge ships, operated primarily by civilian crews, just as the ESDs are, sport higher flight decks as well as lower decks for storing a variety of craft for both air and water. They are positioned offshore for long periods of time, such as the USS Lewis B. Puller, which is presently stationed in the Persian Gulf.
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