What do we know so far about China’s next amphibious assault ship?
One of the most recent and fast-moving credible rumors to come from the online communities watching the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is a new landing helicopter dock (LHD) type vessel dubbed the 076. This 076 class LHD was first brought to the attention of the community in mid-2020, and in a rather unprecedented fashion a number of official request for proposal documents were found, and some credible insiders with established track records began to speak about the details of 076. It then reached a number of overseas and English language news outlets.
The 076 is described as an LHD – following on from, or perhaps complementing, the 075 class LHD – however, it is believed to be capable of conducting fixed wing flight operations via electromagnetic catapult (EMCAT) and arresting gear. Indeed, the greatest difference between the 076 compared to the 075 LHD, or other LHDs such as the U.S. Navy’s Wasp or America classes, is that the 076 is described as providing a similar capability as the F-35B gave to U.S. Navy LHDs, but without using a vertical short take off and landing (VSTOL) aircraft.
As if it was not already rather jarring to consider an LHD equipped with catapults and arresting gear – essentially making such a ship technically a “CATOBAR” carrier (Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery) – those same insiders then revealed the primary fixed wing complement of 076 would consist of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or UCAVs for combat). Specific types of UAVs and UCAVs included a flying wing UCAV (possibly a navalized derivative of the GJ-11, a mockup of which was shown at the 70th anniversary National Day parade in 2019), as well as a conventional high altitude long endurance UAV known as “Wind Shadow,” which has previously been observed at the catapult testing facility at the Chinese Navy’s (PLAN’s) Huangdicun naval air station.
Design and Configuration
Before examining the plausibility, logic, and role of the 076 and its airwing, it is first instructive to review the current body of understanding for the 076’s general characteristics. Many of these are taken from the rare 076 class request for proposal documents found by online sleuths.
The propulsion of the 076 will include 21 megawatt gas turbines and diesel engines, as well as a medium voltage direct current integrated power system. It is unclear if the overall ship will feature an integrated propulsion system or a hybrid diesel-electric or gas-electric system. Either way, this system is considered to be somewhat mature and is expected aboard the 054B frigate as well as the eventual 055A class succeeding the 055 destroyer.
A floodable well deck is also explicitly described, enabling the deployment of vehicles and amphibious craft from ship to land. A well deck is one of the cardinal features expected for a ship with an amphibious assault mission, and its inclusion aboard the 076 points to it still deserving the classic “LHD” designation. Furthermore, credible insiders have spoken of the 076 still as an “amphibious assault ship” like 075.
The aforementioned EMCAT and the arresting gear are the most noteworthy subsystems relevant to flight operations. However, other subsystems documented include a munitions elevator and a flight deck elevator capable of supporting a weight of 30 tons. Also mentioned is a “UAV deck.”