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The Next Big Gator

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Does anyone know the Mandarin for “Gator?”

Official details about the Type 076, which the U.S. military now also refers to as the Yulan class, remain limited. The first evidence that the PLAN was interested in such a ship emerged in 2020. The Type 076 moniker reflects reports that the design may be derived, at least in part, from existing the Type 075.

From what we can see now of the Type 076, which looks to have been under construction since around October 2023, it is a substantially larger vessel in all regards. A review of satellite imagery from Planet Labs indicates that it is roughly 864 feet long and 141 feet wide (263 and nearly 43 meters, respectively). By comparison, again based on satellite imagery, the Type 075 is 784 feet long and 105 feet wide (almost 239 and 32 meters), while the Fujian is 1,036 feet in length and 275 feet in width (close to 316 and almost 84 meters).

That is a little bit longer than the America class amphibs and WAAAAYYY beamier (141′ vs. 106′). That may sound just like a different sized rectangle and while that’s not wrong, exactly, in practice it means a MUCH bigger flight deck. The Type 075 amphibs (the PLAN has three and is projecting five more) are also beamier (121′) than the big American amphibs; this seems to be a case where US shipbuilding remains ever so slightly limited by need for ships to transit the Panama Canal. Of course big amphibs don’t fight one another, but it’s nevertheless a useful metric for comparing maritime ambition. Word from the WarZone is that both the Type 075 and Type 076 will be specialized for the operation of UAVs, which makes a great deal of sense. Any vision for how UAVs are supposed to affect naval warfare has to include an account of how the UAVs make it to the combat theater (most useful “swarming” drones are far too small to make it to Taiwan from China on their own) and the traditional answer to the question of “how do we get planes where they need to be?” has been “build flat decked ships that they can operate from.” In context of a contested invasion big amphibs like this would act as mobile airfields, providing both direct combat support and acting as waypoints for airborne and marine reinforcement of an established beachhead.

In other words, China is building a world-class (defined here as Top Two) amphibious assault capability, probably for no specific reason whatsoever.

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