February 18, 2012: 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 in the next year when the first aircraft carrier enters service. A third 071 is nearing completion and a fourth is believed 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 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.
The 071s have had some interesting adventures so far. Two years ago China sent the Kunlan Shan to join the anti-piracy patrol off Somalia. The 071 sent to Somalia was not carrying a lot of troops or any armored vehicles. But there were two Z-8 helicopters on board, each capable of carrying up to twenty troops, and the landing craft could be used to go after pirates. Some naval commandos were probably on board as these troops have been seen, several times, practicing landing on cargo ships (via helicopter or small boats).
The Kunlan Shan is the largest Chinese warship to be sent on anti-piracy duty. The previous five rotations (each four months long) have included frigates and destroyers. The appearance of the second LPD in the South China Sea makes Vietnam and the Philippines nervous that China might be ready to seize possession of some uninhabited islands that all these nations claim.