Type 076 LHD and Its Implications For PLA’s Amphibious Warfare Capabilities

Throughout April and May, various images emerged that showed the progress of the Type 076/Yulan class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD). One of the most notable aspects of some of the satellite imagery is the larger size of the LHD compared to the Type-075/Yushen-class LHD.

Aerial photos showing Type 076’s LHD construction in April 2024. Note the incomplete flightdeck revealing hanger and likely well deck (Photo: X/@RupprechtDeino)

Type 076 LHD Characteristics

Pictures of Type 076 LHD in drydock at Hudong-Zhonghua Shipyard taken on May 30, 2024 (Photo: X/ @louischeung_hk)

China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation’s (CSIC) 713 Research Institute designed the Type 076, likely in the early to mid-2010s. CSIC’s owner, China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC), issued Requests For Proposals (RFPs) for several components in May 2023. These RFPs include items such as a 21-megawatt gas turbine and diesel powerplants, a well deck, a deck made for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and an electronic Catapult-Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) system. CSSC likely began the vessel’s construction around the same time at the Number Two Drydock at the company’s Hudong-Zhonghua Shipyard, located on Changxin Island.

Computer generated images of side-by-side comparison of Type 075 LHD (Top) and Type 076 LHD (Bottom) (Photo: X/@louischeung_hk)

When compared to the Type 075 LHD, the Type 076 is significantly larger and comparable to the Type 001/Liaoning and Type 001A/Shandong aircraft carriers in terms of size and displacement. Tye Type 076’s length is approximately 830 feet (263 meters) long, 141 feet (43 meters) wide, and it has a likely displacement of between 50,000 and 60,000 tons. The Yulan’s measurements are larger than the Yushen’s, which are about 784 feet (239 meters) long and 105 feet (32 meters) wide, for a total displacement of 36,000 tons. Furthermore, the flightdeck for the Yulan looks similar to the Yushen’s flightdeck in terms of shape, appearing to be straight and squared off at either end.

However, there are several key differences. The most notable difference is the location of some of the ship’s aircraft elevators. One of Yulan’s aircraft elevators is located on the vessel’s rear port side. The Yulan’s second elevator is likely located in the midships section between the vessel’s two islands on the starboard side. The Yushen’s second elevator is smaller and is located before the island to the left. The Type 076’s two weapon elevators are located before the island to the left, while the Type 075’s are located in the forward section of the flight deck. However, both the Type 075 and Type 076 LHDs have an elevator located at the center of the ship’s stern. The Type 076 will also incorporate an electronically developed CATOBAR system into its flight deck.

Picture of Type 076 LHD taken on May 25th (X/@RupprechtDeino)

Implications for Amphibious Warfare

While the Type 076 LHD is still under construction, several aspects of the vessel point to how the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will employ it. The Yulan’s increased size would give the PLAN more leeway to project power in distant areas. For example, the Type 076’s size would allow the vessel to embark and carry more aircraft, landing craft, and vehicles than the Type 075. The Type 075 is capable of embarking on a company-sized element along with a tank platoon and self-propelled howitzer battery. The increased size would be a significant increase in the PLAN’s ability to move troops and equipment during the initial stages of an amphibious landing.

For example, the increased size would allow the LHD to carry up to four Type 726A Landing Craft Air Cushioned (LCACs) or a combination of LCACs and Landing Craft Utility (LCUs) in its well deck. However, the expanded size would likely allow the Type 076 to carry more aircraft, such as helicopters, Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The LHD would allow the Marines, People’s Liberation Army Army (PLAA), or People’s Liberation Army Air Force Airborne Corps units to conduct air assault operations. Furthermore, the Yulan’s CATOBAR system will allow the LHD to launch and recover STOVL aircraft that will be developed in the future. However, the Yulan could also operate UAVs optimized for use, such as the GJ-11 Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV), on the LHDs since it will have a CATOBAR system installed on the vessel.

Analysis

The Type 076 LHD illustrates that the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) continues to grow its amphibious warfare capabilities to perform long-range power project operations. However, the Yulan class also points to China continuing to lay the foundation for its Amphibious Task Forces (ATFs) to integrate fixed wing aircraft and UAVs into its naval operations. The Type 076 will allow China to project power across long distances and would be a significant improvement over the Type 075. For example, the Yulan would have the capacity to carry a Marine or PLAA amphibious mechanized infantry company with a platoon of tanks or artillery batteries.

Furthermore, the increased space would allow the PLAN to embark on other units, such as air defense or operational service companies or platoons. The significant increase in size would allow the PLAN to create ATFs similar to the Marine Corps Marine Expeditionary Units, which are largely comparable in number of personnel. However, the ATFs would be limited to only providing rotary-wing aerial support since they do not have similar fixed-wing STOVL aircraft like the F-35B Lightening II. For example, the task force’s aerial support would be limited to only light to medium helicopters, such as the Z-10 medium attack helicopter, Z-19 light attack and reconnaissance helicopters, and the Z-20 medium utility helicopters.

The Yulan class indicates that China is developing the capability for its ATFs to integrate fixed-wing aircraft and UAVs into their operations. The Type 076 will have a CATOBAR system installed into its flight deck, indicating that the PLAN will embark on either fixed-wing aircraft or carrier variants of a UAV or UCAV. One possibility is that China will deploy J-15 or J-35 multirole jet aircraft since both will likely be capable of being launched and recovered from the flight decks. However, both aircraft will likely require more assistance than the catapult system. Alternatively, China could develop a STOVL jet aircraft for use with both the Type 075 and Type 076 vessels. In May 2023, Chengdu Aircraft Research & Design Institute received patent approval for China’s first STOVL jet aircraft. The aircraft’s STOVL system is similar to the Yak-38’s in terms of layout and appearance. However, major obstacles include China’s lack of knowledge about developing the necessary components for the system and its inability to use espionage to steal the technology.

However, Yulan would also use the catapult system to launch and recover any carrier variants of UAVs and UCAVs. China would likely choose to develop UAVs with Vertical Takeoff and Landing Aircraft (VTOL) capabilities because they would provide the best benefits for the ATFs. China could leverage its already large assortment of UAVs to develop a carrier-borne variant to operate on the Type 076. For example, China could optimize the GJ-11 UCAV or the WZ-10 UAV for VTOL operations on board the Type 076. Furthermore, China could also develop new types of VTOL UAVs and UCAVs since it has a large research, development, and manufacturing capability.

These drones would also allow the PLAN to utilize the flight desk’s space more efficiently due to their smaller size compared to only carrying manned aircraft such as the J-15 and the J-35. The UAVs would also give the ATF more options when conducting missions such as the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses. Utilizing UAVs on the Type 076 would also allow the PLAN to recruit and train UAV operators faster since their training pipeline is smaller than the pilots’ training pipeline. Furthermore, it would be easier to train UAV operators compared to training pilots, which requires at least four to five years of training to be fully qualified as pilots.

The Type 076 will also use the Sea Eagle S/C/Type 382 3-D naval air search radar that is also used in the Type 075 LHDs. The radar will allow the Yulan to safely track and guide both fixed-wing aircraft and UAVs the LHD launches during flight operations. The radar will also enable the air traffic tower to detect and track 100 area targets and precision track 20 targets for up to 155 miles (250 kilometers). The Type 075 also has a precision approach radar installed on the flight control tower’s rear face. The radar would provide all-weather short-range navigational guidance to assist aircraft or VTOL UAVs landing on the LHDs. The same radar is also installed on the Type 055 destroyer/Renhai class cruiser.

However, the precision radar was only previously seen on the Type 001 and 002 aircraft carriers. The radar’s presence provides some insight into both the composite of the PLAN’s ATF and the role the cruisers would have. For example, the radar indicates that the PLAN will use the cruisers as part of future task forces, along with other amphibious surface vessels. The cruiser would also be used to provide additional radar information to the Type 075’s combat information center.

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin the panda began Sino Talk in 2022 primarily to give an objective, unbiased view on China related topics as well as other issues related to the Indo-Pacific region. He spent several years studying and traveling throughout China and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In another life, the panda was also a U.S. Marine intelligence analyst who enjoyed bamboo MREs and drinking bourbon and soju. Indo-Pacific Division Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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