President Xi Jinping attends the commissioning ceremony of three naval vessels, the Changzheng-18, the Dalian, and the Hainan at a naval port in Sanya, south China's Hainan Province. Xinhua/photo.

The Type 075 amphibious assault ship Hainan is now China’s largest, and most ambitious project in the PLA Navy.

With an estimated displacement weight of about 40,000 tonnes, media sources say it can carry an estimated 30 helicopters and hundreds of troops.

Capable of transporting almost the whole of the Chinese Marine Corps and landing them in hostile territory, its launch on Friday by President Xi Jinping at the Sanya naval port, has heightened military concerns in the region and around the world.

Such is the impact of this new ship, a retired US Navy Captain has demanded that a Western armed patrol immediately go to the South China Sea to counter the new threat, the UK’s Express reported.

Former captain and now defence consultant Carl Schuster demanded Western patrols sail to the South China Sea to hold back the Chinese navy.

The Hainan 31, China’s first Type 075 amphibious assault ship, has a full-length flight deck for helicopter operations and features a “well deck” where hovercraft and armored amphibious assault vehicles can disembark from inside of the ship to launch an attack, the Express reported.

Without question, the Hainan would be the perfect weapon for an invasion of Taiwan — a fact that is not lost on its maritime rivals.

Colin Koh, a research fellow from the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said the new ship could scare China’s neighbors into responding to the “widening asymmetry” of Beijing’s military power in the region.

In a stern statement, Captain Schuster said: “Combined Vietnamese and Philippine coastguard patrols in the area of Julian Felipe reef will deter any further aggression there.

“I also think if you were to invite the US coast to go with you that would send a very strong signal as well.” 

Song Zhongping, Hong Kong-based military affairs commentator and former PLA instructor, told the South China Morning Post the Hainan assault vessel will be serving “under the Southern Theatre Command.”

The Hainan is China’s first Type 075 amphibious assault ship and can deploy large numbers of troops by air or sea. Credit: Twitter.

He added: “It does not mean it will only be responsible for the South China Sea.

“It will also be used for missions around Taiwan and other cross-theatre command tasks. But presumably it will mainly be for the South China Sea.”

Also commissioned the same day were a 10,000-ton Type 055 guided-missile destroyer, the largest of its class in Asia, and a new type of strategic nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, which can target the US mainland with its arsenal, The Japan News reported.

Some observers also believe that a second Type 075 amphibious assault ship will be commissioned by the end of this year.

The newly commissioned submarine — Changzheng 18 — features technical improvements based on the previous Type 094, with better overall performance in stealth and noise reduction, as well as higher missile attack precision.

Media sources say the sub carries the country’s most powerful ballistic missile (JL-3, or Julang, “Big Wave”) capable of hitting the US mainland.

With a range over 10,000km (6,200 miles), and able to deliver the multiple warheads, it is now able to target the entire American continent.

This gives a substantive leap to China’s strategic nuclear strength and sea-based nuclear strength, as well as secondary nuclear counterattack capability.

Dalian is the first Type 055 guided-missile destroyer commissioned to the South China Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy.

According to experts, the commissioning of the Dalian not only signifies a leap of Chinese navy destroyer from the third to the fourth generation, but also puts China’s active vessels in the leading pack in the world.

Those same experts say it can carry more than 100 rounds of ammunition, as well as anti-air and anti-ship missiles.

And now that Dalian is in the same battle group with a carrier, its range will be extended to more than 1,000 kilometers.

President Xi inspected the inside of the Hainan after the ceremony, which was attended by about 2,400 people and coincided with the 72nd anniversary of the establishment of the navy.

Dalian is the first Type 055 guided-missile destroyer commissioned to the South China Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy. Photo: Twitter.

China Central Television aired videos in which Xi confirmed details about helicopters and amphibious vehicles carried by the ship, listening to explanations from the crew.

Meanwhile, as the Chinese navy continues to grow at a rapid pace, it appears the force level goals of US Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday will fall well short of what some in the Defense Department are aiming for, National Defense reported.

There are currently just under 300 ships in the US Navy’s manned battle force.

The Pentagon’s latest shipbuilding plan, released in December in the final weeks of the Trump administration, called for growing the fleet to 316 ships by 2026, 355 by the early 2030s, and 400 by the early 2040s, National Defense reported.

“Recently I was asked by a member of Congress what my North Star is with respect to numbers right now,” Gilday said during a webinar hosted by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“That’s 355. I still think that’s a really good target.”

A 355-ship fleet had been the service’s stated goal for a number of years, and is the force level that Congress has called for in legislation, National Defense reported.

However, the Future Naval Force Study conducted last year — which was championed by former Defense Secretary Mark Esper and helped shape the long-term shipbuilding plan — called for a number “far above” that, Gilday acknowledged.

But given the budget constraints that are expected in coming years, the Navy must grow the fleet at an “affordable rate,” he said.

The Biden administration’s budget outline released April 9, called for US$715 billion for the Pentagon in fiscal year 2022, he noted. That is about 1.6% higher than the amount appropriated by Congress for 2021, National Defense reported.

Type 094 Jin-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine Changzheng 18 was commissioned by President Xi Jinping on Friday. Credit: Twitter.

The White House has yet to release separate toplines for each military service. A more detailed budget request is expected in May or June.

The military’s budget will be “lucky to actually keep pace with inflation,” Gilday said.

“What that will make most challenging, I think, is the fact that given the rise in personnel costs, given the rise in operations and maintenance costs, which typically rise at a rate higher than inflation, it will … potentially put a squeeze on the shipbuilding budget,” he said.

New capabilities that will require funding include hypersonic weapons, directed energy systems and improved networking for joint all-domain command-and-control, he noted.

Gilday also wants to bring a large number of robotic platforms into the fleet in addition to the 355-ship goal for manned vessels, National Defense reported.

“It’s an important part of the future,” Gilday said. “We can’t afford to field the Navy like we did in the previous century,” he added. 

By the mid- to late-2030s, up to a third of the service’s surface and subsurface fleet could be unmanned.

Sources: The Express, National Defense, South China Morning Post, The Japan News, China Military Online,