On March 19 a Chinese task force (a destroyer, two frigates, and a Type 071 amphibious ship) left a southern Chinese port for a South China Sea training exercise. This included landing marines and combat vehicles on small islands using hovercraft. This is just the sort of thing China threatens to do if anyone opposes their claims (to all the uninhabited islets and reefs in the South China Sea) and establishes more manned outposts. China is making it clear how they will deal with such “intrusions.” One of these landing exercises took place 80 kilometers off the coast of Malaysia and 1,800 kilometers from mainland China.
Chinese designed Jingsah II class LCACs (Landing Craft Air Cushion or hovercraft) are being used on Chinas Type 071 amphibious ships. These 70 ton hovercraft can carry 15 tons of cargo, personnel, or vehicles. The first Jingsah IIs entered service in the 1980s, but it was two decades before a lot of them appeared. That was done in order to equip the Type 071 ships.
China's third Type 071 class amphibious ship entered service late last year with the South China Sea Fleet. The first one entered service five years ago. The 071s are LPD (landing ship dock) type vessels. Type 071 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. A fourth 071 is under construction.
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.