May 24, 2011: China has just sent its eighth group of warships (each one usually two frigates, and a supply ship) to serve 6 month anti-piracy patrols off Somalia (including two month's travel time). This has proved to be excellent training for Chinese sailors, both in terms of learning how to handle long voyages, as well as months of shipping protection operations. Each tour of duty usually involves escorting 100-150 ships a month, and protecting one or two a month from actual pirate attack.
Last year, China tried something a little different in one of its anti-piracy groups by sending one of its largest surface ships, the 210 meter (689 foot) long 071 class LPD Kunlan Shan. The first 071 class ship entered service over two years ago. These LPDs are 20,000 ton amphibious ships with a flight deck for up to four helicopters and a well in the rear for landing craft. It normally carries four hovercraft in the well and two smaller landing craft suspended on davits. The ship can carry up to 800 troops (500 is more common) and up to 20 armored vehicles. The 071 class ships are similar to the American 25,000 ton San Antonio class or the French 21,500 ton Mistral class. The 071's have the smallest crew (120), compared to 180 in the Mistral and 396 for the San Antonio. Armament consists of a 76mm gun, four 30mm anti-missile autocannon and four 18 tube decoy/chaff dispensers (for anti-missile work). A second 071 ship was launched last December. Each one is believed to cost about $300 million.
The 071 sent to Somalia did not carry a lot of troops or any armored vehicles. But there were two Z-8 helicopters on board, each capable of carrying up to twenty troops, and the landing craft that could be used to go after pirates. Some naval commandos were also on board, as these troops have been seen, several times, practicing landing on cargo ships (via helicopter or small boats).
The Kunlan Shan is the largest Chinese warship to be sent on anti-piracy duty. All the other seven groups included frigates and destroyers.