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Pictures circulate of new Chinese helicopter assault ship

Jamie Seidel

CHINA is planning to build a force of enormous amphibious assault ships in response to similar moves by Japan and Australia as Asia’s arms race ratchets up another gear.

In a front-page editorial on the People’s Liberation Army Daily at the weekend, China’s military warned of “growing risks” along its borders — in particular the East and South China Seas.

“The situation surrounding our country is generally stable, but the risks and challenges are extremely severe, and the possibility of chaos and war on our doorstep has increased,” it reads.

“The maritime security environment is more complicated, and the undercurrents in the East and South China Seas have been gushing up.”

It is amid these growing tensions that details of a new rapid deployment troop ship have emerged.

A model of what may be China’s new amphibious assault ship, as circulated by Chinese medi

A model of what may be China’s new amphibious assault ship, as circulated by Chinese media. Source: Supplied Source:Supplied

Offensive capability

China displayed a model of the ship at a recent exhibition held in Beijing. Concept drawings, said to have been released on a Chinese military website, have since begun circulating on the internet.

While some reports state the ship is designated the M1 and others the Type 075, the images and descriptions of the helicopter-carrying troop transports appear similar.

The images show an aircraft-carrier like design with the ability to concurrently land-on and fly-off between four to six helicopters. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) model is shown carrying Russian Ka-29 helicopters, a type China has not yet acquired. It is also shown to include a large welldeck — an enclosed platform which can hold several landing craft to move heavy vehicles and troops from the ship to the shore.

Is this China’s new assault ship?

A 3D model of a proposed Chinese assaultship attributed to a PLAN website. Source: Supplied Source: Supplied

The design reportedly displaces 36,000 tonnes. Australia’s new Canberra-class Landing Helicopter Docks (LHDs) weigh in at 27,000 tonnes and Japan’s newIzumo-class “Helicopter Destroyers” 25,000 tonnes.

According to the Canada-based Chinese-language military magazine Kanwa Defense Review, the ship is a direct response to the Japanese Maritime Force’s new acquisitions.

Regardless of the assault ship’s designation and specific details, a force of such vessels would give China the ability to rapidly deploy large numbers of troops, tanks and other military equipment.

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Tensions have been high between China and Japan since the arbitrary declaration of an “Air Defence Identification Zone” over the waters of the East China Sea in 2013 — including islands Japan regards as its own.

The rapid construction of a string of Chinese military bases on disputed islands in the South China Sea was highlighted earlier this year when United States warships and aircraft deployed to monitor their development were warned away.

Sea garage ... A landing craft belonging to approaches HMAS Canberra’s dock in Sydney Har

Sea garage … A landing craft belonging to approaches HMAS Canberra’s dock in Sydney Harbour. Source: DefenceSource: Supplied

Rapid deployment

Australia’s first $1.5 billion assault ship HMAS Canberra was accepted into service late last year and has since been undergoing training and testing. A second ship, the Adelaide, is nearing completion. These ships can carry 1100 fully equipped troops, 110 tanks and armoured vehicles. Up to 18 helicopters and four landing craft enable the ship to rapidly offload the troops and tanks, and land them on nearby beachheads.

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Japan’s defence force has been playing word games with its new helicopter-carrying ships. The title “Helicopter Destroyer” is seen to be much more defensive than “Amphibious Assault Ships”. The Izumo class can operate five helicopters on its deck, and carries a total of 14.

Towering presence ... The Royal Australian Navy's biggest ever warship, the Landing Helic

Towering presence … The Royal Australian Navy’s biggest ever warship, the Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) HMAS Canberra. 

But the Chinese ships are intended to be a match for the United States Navy’s Waspand controversial new America class vessels. The US operates eight of the 40,500 tonne ships which are designed to carry a complete Marine Expeditionary Unit into hostile territory. The ships also carry a comprehensive force of transport helicopters, attack helicopters and Harrier jump-jets.

China currently operates a single aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which is a refurbished ex-Soviet ship purchased from Ukraine being used to give the PLAN experience in operating such vessels ahead of the completion of several new aircraft carriers currently believed to be under construction.

China currently operates a single aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which is a refurbished ex-Soviet ship being used to give the PLAN experience in operating such complex vessels. Several new aircraft carriers are believed to be under construction.

Mobile barracks ... The USS Makin Island (LHD-8), a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, p

Mobile barracks … The USS Makin Island (LHD-8), a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, prepares to land a helicopter. Source: Facebook Source: Facebook

Arms race ramps up

China’s efforts to modernise and expand its navy and air force has been a cause for concern among neighbouring Asian nations, spurring a raft of new military purchases and upgrades.

Speculation is rife that The Philippines is about to announce it will for the first time purchase and operate submarines.

The Philippines and China are engaged in an ongoing standoff over ownership of Scarborough shoal off the Philippines’ west coast.

“The Philippine Navy will buy several submarines and missile systems in the next five years from private manufacturing firms either from South Korea or Japan,” Gulf News reports an anonymous Philippine military source as saying.

Tit for tat ... The helicopter destroyer Izumo of Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force (JM

Tit for tat … The helicopter destroyer Izumo of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo. Source: AP Source: AP

This is on top of a recent purchase of two new frigates and two strategic sealift vessels to transport troops and helicopters. These are due for delivery late this year.

China’s new acquisitions extend beyond assault ships and aircraft carriers.

Images are also circulating of a mock-up of what appears to be a new warship’s superstructure. Speculated to be a testbed for the radar and sensor arrangement of the future Type 055 destroyer, the design reveals it to be similar to the US Navy’s Ticonderoga-class missile cruisers intended to help defend carrier battle groups from intense air attack. The new 10,000 tonne design reveals a sophisticated blend of stealth features and sensor arrays.