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China’s power projection continues to grow with impending LHD launch

With China’s first Type 075 landing helicopter dock (LHD) reportedly within weeks of launching, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is rapidly growing its capabilities before our very eyes.

China's new aircraft carrier, the Type 002, has also recently finished sea trials, and is set for commissioning before the year is out.

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The latest trials were the vessel's longest campaign, lasting over three weeks in the Yellow Sea.

It's hardly a new topic of discussion, the rapidly growing capabilities of China, but it's both fascinating and concerning to see their ambitious plans coming to fruition.

Last month, Defence Connect reported on the first images emerging of China's Type 075 vessels in development in Shanghai, but their launch is set to be much closer than anticipated, with rumours that the first LHD could enter service with the PLAN late next week.

The development of the vessels has been reported since 2012, but China has characteristically kept information on the LHDs on the down-low for their entire history.

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The vessels would be used to give the PLAN the ability to launch different types of rotorcraft to attack other naval vessels, submarines or ground forces, as well as providing landing capabilities for ground forces.

The Type 075s will also support the PLAN's (currently thin) aircraft carrier capabilities, with Beijing currently operating just one aircraft carrier, however that should double by the end of the year with the launch of the Type 002.

The Type 002 is based on PLAN's existing aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which it purchased half built in 1998 before refitting the warship nearly 15 years ago.

The Liaoning was commissioned in 2012, with the Type 002 featuring a number of changes despite drawing inspiration from the carrier.

The Chinese-designed and built carrier will be able to carry 32 J-15 fighter jets, six more than the Liaoning is able to transport.

The Type 002 also features a bigger aircraft hangar and an updated design for the control tower and bridge, as well as more up-to-date radar and electronic systems.

It's also anticipated that the keel laying for PLAN's third aircraft carrier will take place later in the year, with December being speculated, at Jiangnan Changxing shipyard in Shanghai.

China walking the White Paper walk

All of the fast moving parts of China's growing power projection are backing up the nation's White Paper, where it signalled its intentions to develop a force structure and system-of-systems capable of supporting its ambitions towards the Indo-Pacific and its national interests.

China's newest Defence White Paper identified the need for China to modernise, recapitalise and expand the growing superpower's military capability with an eye on developing a leaner, meaner and future-focused force structure and system-of-system capabilities to better support the economic, political and geo-strategic ambitions of the Chinese political leadership. 

"In the new era, to meet the strategic demands of national security and development, China’s armed forces firmly implement the missions and tasks entrusted by the CPC and the people. They endeavour to provide strategic support for consolidating the leadership of the CPC and the socialist system, safeguarding national sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, protecting China’s overseas interests, and promoting world peace and development," the White Paper noted. 

The White Paper also reaffirmed Beijing's commitment to projecting power in the Indo-Pacific, with its growing amphibious and aircraft carrier capabilities just further supporting those intentions.

"China’s armed forces defend important waters, islands and reefs in the East China Sea, the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea, acquire full situation awareness of adjacent waters, conduct joint rights protection and law enforcement operations, properly handle maritime and air situations, and resolutely respond to security threats, infringements and provocations on the sea," Beijing's DWP reads.

"China’s armed forces conduct air defence, reconnaissance and early warning, monitor China’s territorial air and peripheral air space, carry out alert patrols and combat take-off, and effectively respond to emergencies and threats to maintain order and security in the air. Aiming at safeguarding national unity, China’s armed forces strengthen military preparedness with emphasis on the sea. By sailing ships and flying aircraft around Taiwan, the armed forces send a stern warning to the 'Taiwan independence' separatist forces."

Obviously it is not just the PLAN that is carrying the flag for China in its rapid capability evolutions, with China's Air Force notably shifting towards a fifth-generation force with the introduction of the Chengdu J-20, the world's third operational fifth-gen stealth fighter aircraft.

In any case, China is certainly backing up its ambitious plans, and that's something regional partners need to keep their eyes on.

China’s power projection continues to grow with impending LHD launch
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