Marines: Chinese Marines Float On Air


August 27, 2012: Some photos recently appeared on the Internet showing more hovercraft (LCAC) being built in naval ship yards, amongst construction of frigates and destroyers. These are Chinese designed Jingsah II class LCAC, which are 70 ton hovercraft that can carry 15 tons of cargo, personnel, or vehicles. The first of these entered service in the 1980s, but it was two decades before a lot of them appeared. This was in time to equip the 20,000 ton Type 071 LPD amphibious ships.

China's second 071 class amphibious ship (the Jinggang Shan) entered service late last year with the South China Sea Fleet. The first one, Kunlan Shan, entered service four years ago. The 071s are LPD (landing ship dock) type vessels and are currently the largest ships in the Chinese Navy. That will change later this year when the first aircraft carrier enters service. A third 071 is nearing completion and a fourth is believed to be on order.

These LPDs are 210 meters (689 foot) long, 20,000 ton amphibious ships with a flight deck for up to four helicopters and a well deck 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 are 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 071s 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). Each 071 is believed to cost about $300 million.

China also bought some of the world's largest LCACs from Russia seven years ago. These are the Zubr class craft, which can carry 130 tons (three tanks, or a combination of lighter armored or non-armored vehicles). The Zubrs also carry two stabilized MLRs (multiple tube rocket launchers), four short range anti-aircraft missiles systems (Igla-1Ms), and two AK-630 six-barrel 30mm close-in weapon systems (CIWS), for defense against anti-ship missiles. At the time, most Chinese LCACs were designed and built in China but could only carry about twenty soldiers or two tons of cargo. These were used to quickly get troops from amphibious ships to shore. Since 2005, these have been supplemented by larger JingSah II LCACs. Four of them are carried on each of the larger amphibious ships.

The Zubrs, with a top speed of 100 kilometers an hour, can go right from the Chinese coast to Taiwan and land troops and armored vehicles on shore areas that would otherwise not be passable by troops coming in on standard amphibious boats. The original deal was for two Zubrs to be bought from Ukraine and the other two to be built in China under license. These craft are expensive (the price and weapons configuration is negotiable but the cost is somewhere over $10 million each) and China might only want to buy a few to get some experience and figure out how to build their own. This appears to be what happened, as the deal has since been recast, with all the manufacturing being done in China.



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