China Deploys Amphibious Warship Near the Philippines 

June 18, 2024 6:21 PM
Type-075 amphibious assault ship Hainan attached to a landing ship flotilla under the PLA Southern Theater Command sails on the sea during a coordinated maritime training exercise on March 17, 2023. PLA Photo

A Chinese amphibious warship is operating near a disputed South China Sea feature that has been the site of a standoff between Chinese and Philippine Coast Guards, USNI News has learned.

An unidentified People’s Liberation Army Navy Type 075-class landing helicopter dock was first seen by a ship spotter in satellite photos in the South China Sea on June 12. On Friday, the 36,000-ton warship stopped near Subi Reef, a reclaimed feature that now hosts a Chinese military base. By Sunday, the amphib was spotted near Sabina Shoal.

Located 72 nautical miles northwest of the Philippine island of Palawan, Sabina is claimed by Beijing under its expansive claims in the South China Sea as Chinese territorial waters. Manila considers the shoal to be within its exclusive economic zone.

The dispute at Sabina Shoal began in April when Philippine Coast Guard flagship BRP Teresa Magbanua (MRRV-9701) anchored at the shoal in what it claims was a move to prevent Chinese island reclamation operations. Beijing called Manila’s statement a “sheer rumor.”

In the ensuing two months since Teresa Magbanua arrival, Chinese naval forces have shadowed the cutter in growing numbers. On May 12, the Philippines identified 34 vessels around Sabina Shoal from the People’s Liberation Army Navy, China Coast Guard and Maritime Militia. The deployments resulted in the first-ever Chinese naval exercise to occur in the Philippine exclusive economic zone, according to the Philippine Navy

On June 4, Chinese naval helicopters and hovercraft were spotted by the Philippine Coast Guard during their escort mission of civilian researchers. The ship they were launched from was later identified as a Type 071 amphibious platform dock (LPD). Jay Tarriela, spokesperson for the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, said in a tweet that “the objective of the PLA Navy’s deployment of its amphibious assault ship on June 4, 2024, was to disrupt the activities of civilian Filipino scientists who were conducting a scientific survey in Escoda Shoal.”

Both Philippine and Chinese media said the deployment of the Type 075 comes amid Beijing’s latest law that permits the China Coast Guard to detain those trespassing within Chinese waters for up to 60 days. Chinese state media also claimed that this was the first time a Type 075 had deployed to the disputed area.

According to a Naval War College report, the Type 075 can support between 900-1200 troops and their associated complement of amphibious assault vehicles, hovercraft and helicopters. Compared to its American counterpart, the U.S. Navy’s Wasp-class LHD, the Chinese flattop displaces slightly less at 36,000 tons and does not come with a complement of vertical and short take-off and landing fighter jets.

While a Congressional Research Service report on Chinese naval modernization noted that the Type 075 would be of great value for a Taiwan Invasion scenario, the report also noted that the vessels can be used in “operations for asserting and defending China’s claims in the South and East China Seas.”

Ben Lewis, a Defense Analyst focusing on PLA development and Taiwan security issues, told USNI News that the Type 075 brings a “significant capability” to Chinese forces attempting to uphold maritime claims and demonstrates “Beijing’s resolve to continue to assert its sweeping territorial claims.”

The arrival of China’s largest amphib to the South China Sea preceded Monday’s incident at Second Thomas Shoal, which resulted in one Philippine service member seriously injured and multiple vessels damaged in the most serious encounter between Manila and Beijing to date.


Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa is a freelance defense journalist based in Washington, D.C.

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