July 3, 2015:
Satellite photos reveal that China is building a smaller version of a new American class logistical support ships; the Mobile Landing Platform (T-MLP). The Chinese MLP is about 5,000 tons but is clearly of the same design as the larger American version. In early 2013 the U.S. Navy received the first (USNS Montford Point) of three T-MLP ships. Montford Point successfully completed its sea trials and enters service in 2015. The other two will be in service by 2018. The navy is building two more. The navy wants to use two of these five new ships to serve as floating bases to support commando type operations ashore.
The American MLPs are 34,500 ton vessels that, in effect, serve as seagoing piers for situations where there is no friendly port handy. Each is 239 meters (785 feet) long and has up to 2,322 square meters (25,000 square feet) of space for storage of vehicles and aircraft. The second two MLPs will be the AFSB (Afloat Forward Staging Base) variant that has command and control equipment (electronics and communications gear) added as well as distinct flight deck area.
The MLP looks like a container ship with the main deck lowered to approximately the height of a dock. On the side of the MLP are mooring fenders (so cargo ships can, literally, tie up like at a dock). The MLP also has ramps for getting cargo from ships or a dock. Cargo would be transferred to landing craft or LCAC (air-cushion high speed landing craft which can carry 60 tons of cargo). The MLP can also partially submerge itself so that its deck is underwater. Landing craft can then move over the deck and the MLP can bring its deck back out of the water so the landing craft can be loaded. Currently MLPs are to each carry three LCACs. The AFSB variants can also carry helicopters and MV-22 tilt rotor aircraft. The navy plans to increase the fire resistance of part of the deck so that the AFSBs can also handle vertical takeoff version of the F-35.
Each T-MLP costs $500 million and is built to commercial (not military) ship standards and uses a civilian crew (as is the case with all USNS ships). Each can carry over 1.5 million liters of fuel. The T-MLP is highly automated and only needs a crew of 34.
China has long studied American naval logistics, as the U.S. was a pioneer in this area. This has resulted in China copying the designs of American naval supply ships as well as the resupply techniques used by the U.S. Navy.