Exercise demonstrates PLA Army Aviation ability to use commercial ships as temporary flight decks

by Andrew Tate

An aviation brigade of China’s People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) has conducted an exercise at sea showing its ability to utilise a commercial semi-submersible heavy-lift ship as a flight deck: a move that would provide the service with an additional capability to support amphibious landing operations in case of a conflict.

Video footage released on 19 August on the js7tv.cn website of the state-owned China Central Television 7 (CCTV 7) channel, shows Z-19 and Z-8 helicopters landing on and taking off from the vessel’s deck, which was marked with three operating spots.

A screengrab from CCTV 7 footage released on 19 August showing a PLAGF Z-8 helicopter about to land on a commercial semi-submersible heavy-lift ship. (CCTV 7 via js7tv.cn)

A screengrab from CCTV 7 footage released on 19 August showing a PLAGF Z-8 helicopter about to land on a commercial semi-submersible heavy-lift ship. (CCTV 7 via js7tv.cn)

From the video it is clear that the exercise included serials for aircraft refuelling, using conventional fuel bowser lorries embarked on the ship, and re-arming the attack helicopters with missiles.

The video was edited to conceal the name of the ship involved, but Rod Lee, Director of Research at the China Aerospace Studies Institute (CASI) of the US Air Force’s Air University, identified it as Zhen Hua 28, which is registered in Hong Kong and operated by Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries (ZPMC). The ship is 232 m long with a beam of 42 m and a gross tonnage of over 40,000 tonnes.

Using online ship-tracking data, Lee established that the ship had arrived at the Yellow Sea port of Lianyungang on 5 August and sailed for the exercise on 8 August, with the work required to configure the temporary flight deck undertaken during the period alongside.

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An aviation brigade of China’s People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) has conducted an exerci...

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