July 9, 2007:
Large amphibious ships are not just
coming from Europe and the United States - Asian countries are getting into the
game as well. In essence, the power projection game is getting new players -
and the ships involved are going to be big. It is believed that a lot of this
activity is driven by the numerous disputes over uninhabited islands (and
potential oil deposits nearby, not to mention fishing rights).
South Korea has perhaps the largest such vessel in
the Dokdo-class landing platform dock vessel. This ship displaces about 14,000
tons, and can carry about 700 troops (about as much as a U.S. San Antonio-class
LPD). It also can carry up to fifteen helicopters and 200 vehicles. The
Dokdo-class ships also have a lot of command and control capabilities. In
essence, this is a somewhat scaled-down San Antonio. Three ships are planned
for this class - all to be names after border islands whose ownership is
disputed by Japan.
Japan has not been idle. Its largest landing ship
is the Osumi-class vessel. Designated an LST, it is more accurately described
as a LPD. It can carry two CH-47 helicopters, two air-cushion landing craft,
and the ability to carry a number of vehicles, including up to 14 heavy tanks.
Officially displacing 13,000 tons, there is suspicion that this figure is low -
and Japan has been known to understate warship displacements in the past, with
the Mogami-class cruisers of World War II being the most blatant (Japan claimed
they only displaced 8,500 tons, in reality, they displaced nearly 13,000
tons). Three of the Osumi-class vessel
are already in service. Old habits die hard.
Japan is also building a new-class of
helicopter-carrying destroyer. This vessel, officially 13,500 tons, will be
able to carry lots of helicopters. Plans are for them to mostly carry SH-60 and
MH-53 helicopters, but others could be carried as well. In essence, they could
act as small aircraft carriers or as a landing platform helicopter, if transport helicopters are used. These
vessels also have an offset island for a superstructure.
China is working on its own class of amphibious
vessels, the Type 071 Wu Deng LSD. This ship will displace about 12,000 tons.
One model the Chinese have had on display shows that the ship will carry a
couple of heavy-lift helicopters (Chinese copies of the Super Frelon) and up to
four air-cushioned landing craft.
In essence, Asia is getting to see more capable
navies that are getting into the business of projecting power. These vessels
are probably only the first to enter service - and one can be assured that
additional ships will be built as the various countries in that region respond
to the ships that are already being built. - Harold C. Hutchison