BEIJING: China is building a new generation of large amphibious assault vessels, including a helicopter carrier, to strengthen its powerful navy as it plays a more dominant role in projecting the nation's power overseas, a media report said today.
The 075 Landing Helicopter Dock is now under construction by a Shanghai-based ship building company, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
The amphibious vessel is far larger than similar ships previously constructed for the People's Liberation Army Navy.
The 075 can serve as a form of aircraft carrier and military experts said it would give China's navy the ability to launch various types of helicopters to attack naval vessels, enemy ground forces or submarines in the East or South China Sea.
Japan has recently launched its helicopter carrier which could carry a number of attack helicopters on its deck.
The introduction of the vessel comes as China is placing increasing importance on its navy as it makes more assertive claims to much of the South China Sea, the report said.
The PLA has also increased the number of naval patrols near Taiwan, amid strained ties with the independence-leaning government of the island, which Beijing considers a breakaway province that has split from the rest of the nation.
China's navy commander, Vice-Admiral Shen Jinlong, visited the Hudong Zhonghua Shipbuilding Company on Sunday, which specialises in building Landing Helicopter Docks, the company said. One source close to the navy said Shen's inspection trip confirmed construction work was underway on the new class of vessel, the report said.
"Construction of the Type 075 ships will take two more years. The first vessel may be launched as early as 2019 and put into full service in 2020," the official said.
As overseas ambitions expand, China plans 400 per cent increase to marine corps numbers from the present 20,000 to one lakh to be deployed in overseas bases like Gwadar in Pakistan and Djibouti in Indian Ocean.
Beijing is also due to launch its first home-built aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, on April 23, as part of its strengthened naval forces, the report said.
April 23 marks the 68th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army Navy and President Xi Jinping may attend the launch ceremony, it said.
China currently has one aircraft carrier, which is a refurbished vessel from former Soviet Union. It is building a second one with the third in the pipeline.