A recent photo on social media showing China’s Type 075 Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) having a long-curved ski jump has got observers scratching their heads. The picture shows the LHD at a port pier/jetty with an officer of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) standing on it and appearing to speak before a television news crew.
That's amazing! How did Type 075 LHD Hainan become a ski-jump carrier? ? pic.twitter.com/eFy9ftBKYC
— 彩云香江 (@louischeung_hk) July 13, 2022
A second photo in the same tweet shows a hand-drawn illustration of how a ski jump would fit.
The curved ski jump section is shown merely fastened onto the front edge of the flight deck with big screws. While not impossible, the biggest marker that the image might be faked is the absence of screw holes under the flight deck to accommodate the screws.
And in what is the biggest dead giveaway are two big screws under the ski jump that look too crude and amateurish to have been fastened onto – clearly photoshopped!
Fake, Real, Or Chinese Disinformation?
From a purely military and strategic standpoint, the scenario imagined needing such a capability on the LHD – meant exclusively for amphibious operations and Humanitarian Assistance Disaster Relief (HADR) – means China would lose all four of its aircraft carriers and would need a platform for fighters like the J-15 and the under-development J-35 to take off from.
This is a remote possibility given that it can only occur during a full-blown clash between the United States and China in the Western Pacific and the war dragging on to such a level where China loses a massive chunk of its navy.
The Russia-Ukraine war certainly has busted two significant conventional pearls of wisdom. First, full-scale wars are not impossible, given the fear of escalation that might devastate all participants. Secondly, even if they erupt, it would be short and sharp, with all concerned parties tacitly disengaging and reaching a compromise to preclude further conflagration.
However, this holds when the war is between two Great Powers, like US and Russia, US and China or Russia, and a military bloc like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
All participants have big militaries with equally massive air forces and nuclear weapons. Ukraine has neither of those, with the West merely backing it with military aid. Moreover, the politico-strategic-social dynamics between Russia and Ukraine to is different.
There is a kinship of shared languages, culture, history, and tradition, with enormous sympathy and desire to have normal ties between the countries’ citizens.
Lastly, if having a backup for lost aircraft carriers is the goal, it would mean the United States has managed to power through China’s formidable first line of defense – its carrier-killing Anti-Access/Area Denial missiles, meant to keep the American naval flotilla at bay, without allowing ever to get close to Chinese shores.
US Navy Admirals have admitted their handicap before the radically unorthodox DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM).
If the US Navy had even sunk China’s aircraft carriers, it would not just stop there but go for China’s ports and naval shipbuilding facilities. The PLAN wouldn’t have a harbor to berth and retrofit the ship with the ski jump, a tedious process possibly requiring days that cannot be done inland.
The best explanation for such a picture to be created could therefore be a classic Chinese disinformation tactic, often meant to confuse observers and adversaries alike. China’s cyber warriors and civilian strategic planners are well integrated into the country’s politico-military apparatus and often undertake such activities at the state’s behest.
The Ship & Its History
According to Naval News, the first Type 075 for the PLAN was launched in September 2019 and started sea trials in August 2020, while the second one was launched in April 2020 and started its sea trials in December 2020. This represents an impressive rate of one LHD launched every six months.
A total of eight LHDs are said to be on order for the PLAN. Currently, the same yard is also building the Type 054 A/P frigates for the Pakistan Navy and, it appears, a Type 071E LPD for Thailand.
While Type 075 seems slightly smaller than the US Navy’s LHA, it is more significant than French or Spanish/Australian LHD equivalents. It is pretty close in size to Italy’s future Trieste LHD.
The largest LHDs in the world remain the Japanese Izumo-class vessels, sometimes considered mini-aircraft carriers. Military analysts expect that the Type 075 will play vital roles in possible operations on the island of Taiwan and islands and reefs in the South China Sea; the LHD will have further missions.