Simultaneous Construction of PLA Amphibious Assault Ships 075 and 076, Featuring Electromagnetic Catapult Innovation

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As the latest satellite images of the expansion of the shipyard in Shanghai East China Shipbuilding were exposed, domestic media followed up with revelations that, in addition to the ongoing construction of the fourth 075 amphibious assault ship, the shipyard is also simultaneously building the first 076 amphibious assault ship. It is generally believed that both 076 and 075 have a displacement of 40,000 tons, and the under-construction 076 will be the first amphibious assault ship equipped with electromagnetic catapult equipment.

According to a report by Chinese media outlet Tencent, the construction of the fourth 075 amphibious assault ship at Shanghai East China Shipbuilding is intensifying. Satellite images recently disclosed by Western sources show that the shipyard has recently completed its expansion project, and there is another newly built large ship inside the dock, which is speculated to be the first 076 amphibious assault ship.

The report explains that the main difference between the 076 and the three completed 075 ships lies in the fact that the former will be equipped with electromagnetic catapult equipment. This means that, similar to the U.S. amphibious assault ships, the 076 will have fixed-wing carrier-based aircraft. However, unlike the U.S. ships, which use F-35B vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, the 076 is equipped with electromagnetic catapult equipment, suggesting that its carrier-based aircraft may not use vertical takeoff and landing methods.

The comparison diagram of the People’s Liberation Army’s amphibious assault ships, 075 (right) and 076 (left). (Source: Tencent News)

The concept of U.S. amphibious assault ships originated from the Cold War-era idea of “amphibious aircraft carriers,” combining medium-sized catapult carriers with the well decks of amphibious ships to enable light carriers to conduct amphibious landing operations. However, this carrier retrofitting approach was deemed costly, and operational efficiency issues led to its abandonment.

The report points out that the distinctive feature of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) 076 amphibious assault ship is that it is based on existing amphibious assault ship designs with well decks, but it incorporates electromagnetic catapult equipment. Compared to the retrofitting approach, the specifications (cruising speed of 25 knots) and construction costs of amphibious assault ships are much lower, making them a preferable choice.

As for the 076 amphibious assault ship, which uses electromagnetic catapults, the differences in weapon systems and operations compared to the U.S. amphibious assault ships using vertical takeoff and landing aircraft are significant. The U.S. has a longer history of developing amphibious assault ships and has created various aircraft models such as tilt-rotor aircraft and vertical takeoff and landing fighters. However, incorporating different types of carrier-based aircraft, such as long-endurance drones and stealthy unmanned wing aircraft, into the traditional amphibious assault ship is cumbersome, limiting the options for U.S. amphibious assault ships.

The latest satellite images of the expansion of Shanghai East China Shipbuilding’s shipyard were recently exposed. (Online image)

Although the electromagnetic catapult on the 076 is shorter and has weaker catapult capabilities than the carrier’s electromagnetic catapult, it is more suitable for carrying relatively lightweight carrier-based drones, such as the CM-2 carrier-based version, CM-11 carrier-based version drones, and anti-submarine drones. This allows the 076 to gain stronger air support and the capability for ground and sea strikes even without vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.

In addition, the report cites predictions from the Shanxi “Ordnance Science and Technology” magazine that, assuming the fourth 075 ship is potentially intended for a Taiwan Strait war, the under-construction 076 is still in the segmented construction stage. As the first ship of the 076 type and with the trial use of a new electromagnetic catapult device, its construction time is expected to be longer than that of the 075, with a possible launch not earlier than 2024. It is aimed at meeting the future PLA demand for amphibious ships in overseas operations.

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