A recent series of exercises to test the capabilities of a civilian semi-submersible vessel to support military helicopter operations has been held by an aviation brigade of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Troop transport, attack and assault helicopter types rehearsed landing, transit and take-off operations from the vessel and a series of casualty evacuation missions were also simulated, according to coverage by state-owned CCTV television in late August. Fule and ammunition replenishment and emergency repair missions were also part of the training scenario.
Officials are reported as having expressed satisfaction at the results of the exercise, stating that it proves the viability of Army helicopter cross-sea operations, improves pilot skills in landing on maritime platforms and provides comprehensive opportunities for training maintenance personnel under quasi-operational conditions.
The vessel in question showed three separate helicopter landing spots, apparently suitable for WZ-10, WZ-19 and Z-8 helicopters, according to the broadcast, which also stated that China has “dozens” of dual-use semi-submersible vessels.
Observers see in this currently rather understated programme an evolving answer on the part of Chinese military planners to the emergence of the USN’s Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB) concept. The use of a relatively stable semi-submersible platform as an aviation asset could bring the PLA notable tactical advantages, especially in a conflict scenario in which China has achieved air dominance.