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He, serves as an “at sea university,” one that has trained two of every three cur- rent PLAN officers.72 Shichang’s 9,500-ton displacement, 17.5-knot speed, crew of two hundred, and range of eight thousand nautical miles suggest a se- rious effort to develop some limited form of deck aviation.73 It is at sea two hundred days per year, and its crew is accustomed to handling typhoons and thirty-degree rolls.74 It supports “simultaneous operations of multiple helicop- ters,” which “facilitates training for shipboard helicopter operations, as well as amphibious assault training.”75 Shichang “is widely regarded as the prelude to construction of a [true] helicopter carrier or amphibious assault vessel [pre- sumably LPD- and LPH-type ships], and provides a basis for perfecting fixed- wing aircraft carrier operational concepts.” With its helicopter module, it can serve as a “transfer station” for “a group of helicopters in wartime.”76 Shichang is also envisioned as having an ASW mission.77

A detailed 2005 analysis of China’s prospects for developing a helicopter carrier states that “arrogant intervention of hostile great power(s) in the cross-Strait di-

vide requires us to prepare for successful military struggle. Moreover, China still has some significant maritime territorial disputes with some peripheral coun- tries.” Its author believes that a coastal defense strategy is increasingly inadequate for China’s future needs, which include “energy security, economic development, and political stability,”all of which “are increasingly intimately connected with the international situation.” Developing a helicopter carrier is therefore China’s best “springboard” for such a “development strategy.”78

Considering funding, technology, and tactical issues, a helicopter carrier’s displace- ment should be approximately 15,000 tons when fully loaded. It should be able to ac- commodate approximately 15 helicopters (12 ASW helicopters [and] 4 advance warning helicopters. . . .) The [hurdle] of 10,000 ton ship technology is small. China has previously constructed the “Shichang” training ship of around 10,000 tons. . . . As a result of limited tonnage, the equipment demands of a helicopter carrier are lower than those of a large or medium aircraft carrier, [helicopter carriers] can use [the] Commercial Off the Shelf Technologies (COTS) method in their construction, and [their] costs can be greatly reduced.79

Further, “China’s opportunity, funding and technology for developing a heli- copter carrier are all mature. Because the superpowers have encircled China’s periphery, and the opportunity for developing a fixed-wing aircraft carrier is not mature, the author believes that firmly grasping the opportunity to develop a helicopter carrier is the correct choice. China’s Navy should reasonably call [the carrier] its own ‘Moskva’ class. I hope this day arrives soon!”80 Among the mod- els reportedly under consideration is a fifteen-to-twenty-thousand-ton LHD-like amphibious assault ship, featuring a large deck that can handle heavy transport helicopters and a mix of amphibious landing craft.81


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