New images of China’s fourth Type 075 Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) amphibious assault carriers nearing completion at the shipyard warrant examining their role in a Taiwan operation.
While China is militarily larger than Taiwan and has openly advocated taking a military recourse if needed, it still has certain areas left to be addressed to be prepared for all eventualities.
Experts say the Type 075 can undertake highly complex operations like amphibious landings. With the complete fleet yet to be ready, they suggest it still has some distance left to go before it is assessed to be “fully prepared” for a cross-strait war.
In other words, the Chinese military is not yet ready to ensure an entirely decisive outcome, especially with the risk of American and allied intervention. But it does not mean it can’t launch an attack in its current state.
It would only run into many obstacles and delays, which can be exploited by Taiwan and the West, complicating China’s planning and reducing its deterrence value, and upsetting a lot of Beijing’s underlying geo-economic and diplomatic calculations.
The military-political-strategic dynamics in Cross-Strait relations underwent a radical change following the visit of former US Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the island in August 2022.
China conducted unprecedented live-fire exercises around the island and fired missiles over it that landed on its eastern seas. Since then, it has consistently undertaken comprehensive air and naval drills that suggest fervent preparations for a military move.
Photos Show Fourth LHD Nearing Completion
Photographs of the Type 075 under construction at the Hudong-Zhonghua Shipyard in Shanghai have been posted on X (formerly Twitter) over the last few days, noting the steady progress and speculating its launch date.
The pictures indicate that while the main structure is ready, it still has a significant amount of outfitting and internal wiring.
The three other Type 075 LHDs, the Hainan, Guangxi, and Anhui, entered service from 2019 to last year. “It is widely believed that the Type 075 would have a significant role in any military attack on Taiwan, which Beijing has vowed to bring under mainland control, by force if necessary,” said a September report on the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
It suggests a strategy where China would aim to overwhelm Taiwan with a massive military build-up and encirclement for a blockade, forcing it to calculate that military resistance would be futile. But surrounding the island with a gigantic flotilla and military overflights of drones and fighter-bombers challenging the Republic of China Air Force (RoCAF) would not be enough to shatter any hopes of resistance psychologically.
It can only be achieved through a simultaneous combined arms operation, of which an amphibious fleet is an essential element. Such a scenario forces Taiwan to strategically plan for suddenly defeating the above components all at once, leading to many miscalculations and tactical mistakes.
Civilian RoRo Ships & Amphibious LHD
The infrastructure required for amphibious landings must be examined in this context. China’s People’s Armed Police (PAP) Propaganda Bureau member Zhao DaShuai explained the relevance of Type 075 in a possible US and Japanese intervention. This is a significant aspect that will decide China’s decision to launch a military operation, its duration, and the level of escalation – or all three.
“The Type-075 will most likely be used on the eastern coast of Taiwan to conduct limited landing operations. But suppose we are judging the PLA Navy’s readiness in a Taiwan scenario on whether the US and Japan decide to intervene. In that case, the CV18 Fujian carrier needs to be ready at the minimum,” Zhao said.
Zhao also said that if sufficient “Type-093B SSN is in operation,” the carriers and the submarines can form a “permanent presence in the Western Pacific.”
Zhao suggested sailing the civilian RoRo vessels to Taiwan’s eastern shores would be technically challenging. The boats only haul men and material across the 150-kilometer stretch onto the island’s western seaboard.
Given the massive resources required to take Taiwan, which will be a “whole of nation” effort, according to Zhao, it doesn’t mean that the RoRo vessels and the Type-075 will be mutually independent.
They would rather be mutually independent (or exclusive), where even if China has the full complement of the Type 075 fleet available, it doesn’t mean it will not use the RoRo boats – which have a far more considerable troop and vehicle carrying capacity. In other words, China would use the RoRo regardless.
Whether they are pressed in service simultaneously with the Type-075 or after – where the LHDs launch amphibious forces both on Taiwan’s western and eastern shores – depends on the prevalent tactical and logistical situation and the conditions under which the Communist Party of China (CPC) decides to take the island by force.
Working Together Yet Independently
Zhao points to the interplay between the Type 075 and the RoRo vessels. “If we have enough of them (the Type-075), then they’ll surely be a part of the advanced wave before the RoRo brings in the heavier units,” Zhao said.
Zhao identifies three “clusters of beaches in north, central and southern Taiwan great for landing.” “The RoRo serves as a critical platform for logistics,” Zhao added.
Independent Chinese military researcher Ben Lewis also upheld the RoRo vessels’ general importance. He said the PLAN “integrated them into its amphibious operations as they recognized the gap in troop transport capabilities.”
Lewis told the EurAsian Times that RoRo ferries have also conducted drills alongside amphibious assault ships. He also placed the Type-075 in the larger backdrop of the PLA’s preparations and readiness level for a Taiwan contingency.
“The fourth Type-075 marks the halfway point in the program. The PLA has invested heavily in developing amphibious assault ships; the 075s are the largest of these ships built so far.
“In a Taiwan contingency, the PLA will need to move many troops across the Taiwan Strait, and the 075s will play a focal role in those operations. (But) I don’t think the PLAN is prepared for a Taiwan contingency. They have made great strides in developing the necessary capabilities, but they still have a long way to go,” Lewis said.