While digging through the archives due to the recent development discussion on the 076 LHD, I've decided to revisit this:
Not sure whether this has been posted here, but here goes.
First saw this on Deino's Twitter posting yesterday:
Interestingly, this (note the red underline) from one of the replies:
To me, the document looks like a ship construction project tender for a drone carrier testbed ship for the PLAN. Dimension-wise similar to 071 LPD, although around 10k tons lighter.
I can confidently say that China is dead serious in procuring UCAV carriers for future use in the PLAN.
Maybe this is one of the steps towards finalizing the 076 LHA design?
In particular, this one (especially the bolded sentences):
two possibilities in my mind
1) This is just a test platform to try out certain technologies they want to deploy on 076
2) Second one is actually a mass produced flat top ship
that probably has lower protection
, speed requirements
, crew rest spacing
and damage control system
. It probably has very high degree of automation so that it wouldn't need a large crew.
2) is more interesting and fun to speculate about. It would give them an attritable
flat top program that can be deployed all around first island chain. Significantly adds to the strike ability to those places. I see it as a more souped up version of this.
These bolded words and phrases remind of the features which have been used to describing a specific type of flat-top from the history books: Escort carriers from WW2
Uniformly-applicable features of escort carriers i.e. Bogue, Casablanca and Commencement Bay-classes include:
1. Only half the size and one-third the displacement of the fleet carriers (Yorktown and Essex-classes);
2. Slower top speed (~20 knots);
3. Lightly-armed and armored; and
4. Carry much fewer planes onboard.
Thanks to these features, escort carriers only pack small amounts of firepower, weak defense capabilities, higher attrition rates and lower survivability rates than fleet carriers (because they are easier to be knocked out or sunk by enemy action).
However, their smaller size and reduced complexity means that escort carriers can be built in massive quantities (115 vs 19 from Sept 1939 to August 1945) and at astounding speeds (~1 year or less vs ~2+ years) compared to fleet carriers. The abundance of escort carriers (mainly from late-1943 onwards) means that fleet carriers can be deployed to theaters and regions to focus on fighting higher-intensity naval battles, while escort carriers were used to plug gaps where fleet carriers aren't available and be relegated to lower-intensity duties (ASW patrol, merchant escort).
Plus, escort carriers were also considered more expendable compared to larger fleet due to the fact that they can be replaced more easily compared to larger fleet carriers. Losing one escort carrier from enemy action will not bring as much negative impact on the course and strategy of battle and war plans than losing one large fleet carrier.
Therefore, the above discussion brings to the testbed ship contract tender from September last year and @tphuang
's possibility #2 in the quoted post above.
Perhaps this testbed ship could serve as a blueprint for China to procure "escort carriers" of the 21st-century in the coming years/during wartime, while playing largely similar roles as their WW2 counterparts?
~15 thousand tons of displacement, largely similar footprint as Type 071 LPD, 16 knots top speed, 18 months delivery period... This "escort carrier" isn't that much "different"
compared to her WW2 counterparts, to be honest.
The key points - Should the situation during times of unprecedented tension and/or war resulted in the larger CVs (003, 005, 005) and LHDs (075, 076) not being able to be procured in time, China can procure many of these "escort carriers" quickly - And use them to plug the gaps with (maybe) 10+ mid- or high-performance UAVs that can be launched from these "escort carriers".
Instead of focusing on conducting naval strikes, these UAVs will be more focused on the AEW, ASW, ELINT and EW roles. Thus, the UAVs will become helpful eyes and ears for allied warships, when allied land-based and/or carrier-based AEW, ASW, ELINT and/or EW aircrafts aren't available.
Like my post in the High Intensity WestPac conflict thread a few months ago, @大包CG probably has described this "escort carrier" better than I do through his 3D-modelling skills:
... largely based on his own interpretation on what a further development of the testbed ship into the "escort carrier" for PLAN use could look like.
071 LPD alongside for size comparison.