According to state-run media, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is expected to deploy its first Type 075 Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) within the coming month. The announcement comes less than a week after the United States Navy (USN) lost the use of one of its own LHDs, and days after the US Department of State called Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea, "completely unlawful."
The Type 075 LHD is the newest class of amphibious assault ships currently in service with the PLAN. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has launched two of the class, although one only began its fitting by the Hudong–Zhonghua Shipbuilding Company in Shanghai. Neither vessel has participated in combat patrols or operational testing. With a displacement of 40,000 tons, the 075 is nearly equivalent in size to the USN's America-class Land Helicopter Assault (LHA) ships. It is believed that the 075 can carry up to thirty helicopters (most likely the naval variant of the Z-20) for troop deployment, anti-submarine warfare, and fire support missions. Additionally, the vessel has a floodable dock in the stern that can carry landing craft and hovercraft. For defensive armament, the 075 boasts two H/PJ-11/Type 730 30MM close in weapons systems (CIWS) and two HHQ-10 surface-to-air missile (SAM) defense systems. The 075 is powered by a 9,000 kW 16PC2-6B diesel engine. It is believed, although not confirmed, this allows the 075 to reach up to 30 knots in calm waters.
According to Global Times, the soon to be launched LHD is to be named after one of the PRC's biggest cities, although The Intelligence Ledger has not been able to confirm this.
Upon completion of operational testing, the 075 will almost certainly be used to assert the PRC's territorial claims in the South China Sea and Taiwan. This will put the capital ship up against the United States Navy, as Washington has stated that China has no ownership rights to the body of water or sovereign island. On July 13, 2020, the Department of State declared in a press release, "The PRC has no legal grounds to unilaterally impose its will on the region. Beijing has offered no coherent legal basis for its 'Nine-Dashed Line' claim in the South China Sea since formally announcing it in 2009."
As the United States seeks to stem Chinese expansion in international waters, it will have to do so with one less capital ship. On July 12, 2020, an explosion rocked the deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), a Wasp-class LHD currently in service with the United States Navy. Soon thereafter, fire spread across the vessel and migrated into the island's superstructure. After conducted a thorough analysis, The Intelligence Ledger determined that the vessel will be a total constructive loss.
The United States Department of Defense has touted the ability of its LHDs, namely the Wasp and America classes, to serve as light carriers in times of high intensity conflict or national emergency (Hurricane Katrina, COVID-19). This falls outside their traditional roles as amphibious warfare ships, which typically revolve around the support of a marine expeditionary unit (MEU). In support of this new mission as a light carrier, the Navy has modified or is in the process of modifying six of its eight Wasps with the equipment needed to operate F-35s. As all America-class vessels retain the ability to support the F-35 right out of the shipyard, no additional modification is needed. With the loss of the Bonhomme Richard, the number of F-35 capable LHDs drops to just nine. This means less platforms for the Navy to deploy its most potent airframe.
The USN will attempt to offset the loss of the Bonhomme Richard with the commissioning of the USS Tripoli (LHA 7) into the fleet. However, it will still be several months until the vessel is fully operational. As such, the US will temporarily find itself at a slight numerical disadvantage in China's backyard.