• The Donghaidao (868) lies docked at Zhanjiang Naval Base in Guangdong Province.

The Donghaidao (868) lies docked at Zhanjiang Naval Base in Guangdong Province. (Photo : CCTV/USNI)

With tensions increasing between China and neighboring countries over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have added a domestically developed semi-submersible ship named “Donghaidao” to the South China Sea Fleet, the Want Daily newspaper reported on Tuesday.

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Aside from its main duties of maritime construction and troop transport, the Donghaidao is also capable of carrying the Zubr-class air-cushioned landing craft (LCAC), which China acquired from Russia in 2014, that can launch offensive landing attacks against small islands, the report said.

The largest of its kind in the world, the Zubr-class LCAC can transport tanks and other heavy equipment and can support itself for five days at sea without resupply. It is also capable of crossing the Taiwan Strait and return to the mainland in just four hours.

The recent deployment of the semi-submersible drew criticism from China's rival claimants in the disputed South China Sea territories, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, over fears that China will use the ship and its other naval assets to land on reefs and islands they currently control. Analysts in Taiwan have also suggested that China may use its ships to launch an attack on Taiwan itself.

If the Zubr LCAC was deployed to the East China Sea, alongside the indigenous roll-on/roll-off (RORO) ships, they could form the first and second wave of an island assault team and would change the nature of potential combat scenarios in the region, the Canada-based Kanwa Defense Review said in a report.

According to the state broadcaster CCTV, the Donghaidao can also serve as a portable maritime base that can aid the PLA to launch large-scale offensive landing operations as well as a makeshift dock where PLA personnel can carry out repairs on damaged ships.

The Donghaidao will be useful for the PLA in its territorial disputes with other nations in the region, U.S.-based political journal The National Interest said on its website.

Measuring 175.5 meters long and with a displacement of 20,000 tons, the Donghaidao features a semi-submersible ballast system that enables it to sink its large deck in the water. This allows it to carry amphibious landing craft, helicopters, speedboats and armored vehicles.

The CCTV report said that the ship is based on the U.S. mobile landing platform (MLP), although it is smaller than its Western counterpart.