China is launching new amphibious assault ships and beefing up its marines. Its main aim is to project power far from home, but it is also strengthening its ability to invade Taiwan.
China launched its military build-up in the mid-1990s with a top priority: keep the United States at bay in any conflict by making the waters off the Chinese coast a death trap. Now, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is preparing to challenge American power further afield.
China’s shipyards have launched the PLA Navy’s first two Type 075 amphibious assault ships, which will form the spearhead of an expeditionary force to play a role similar to that of the U.S. Marine Corps. And like the Marines, the new force will be self-contained - able to deploy solo with all its supporting weapons to fight in distant conflicts or demonstrate Chinese military power.
The 40,000-tonne Type 075 ships are a kind of small aircraft carrier with accommodation for up to 900 troops and space for heavy equipment and landing craft, according to Western military experts who have studied satellite images and photographs of the new vessels. They will carry up to 30 helicopters at first; later they could carry fighter jets, if China can build short take off and vertical landing aircraft like the U.S. F-35B.
The first Type 075 was launched last September and the second in April, according to reports in China’s official military media. A third is under construction, according to the May edition of a Congressional Research Service report. Eventually, the PLA Navy could have seven or more of these ships, according to reports in China’s official military press.