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Amphbious Operations

By 2019 the People's Navy's active amphibious warships included six 071 large-scale amphibious landing ships, more than 30 ships of Type 072 and its improved amphibious landing ships, and more than 30 073-type and 074-type amphibious landing ships. The transport capacity of the landing fleet consisting of these landing ships is limited about two brigaes, or about 10,000 marines. Among these landing ships, the 071-type displacement is about 25,000 tons, and the six ships of the same class in active service can be fully deployed to deliver a Marine Brigade. The 072 series landing hull is slightly smaller than 4,000 tons, and more than 30 identical ships can deliver at least one medium/heavy mechanized infantry brigade.

The major ports such as Xiamen Port, Quanzhou Port and Fuzhou Port, which are across the sea from Taiwan and Taiwan, are between 160 nautical miles and 100 nautical miles from the coast of Taipei. These landing groups have at least the ability to travel back and forth between the two shores during the day. 2 times. In other words, the PLA is fully capable of delivering a group-level landing force to Taiwan Island in an amphibious assault within a dozen hours. And this is just an amphibious delivery through "general means." In fact, amphibious landing operations have never been limited to these "fixed" assets.

In wartime, any means of increasing transportation capacity can be used directly. Before the Normandy landing in 1944, the number of large-scale dedicated landing ships that the Allies can use for this landing operation is seriously insufficient. In order to alleviate this problem, the Allied Force quickly built a large number of landing ships of LSM, LST and other models. Although the name is "landing ship", in fact, these ships were only equipped with little more than a bow ramp for the infantry to board the ship and used for troops and vehicle landing on the beach. Due to the extremely simple process, the construction period of these ships is also very short. The LST landing ship usually took only five months from the laying of the keel to the completion of service. As the war progressed some shipyards only took as little as 53 days from the time an LSM keel was laid up through commissioning.

For China's military, if the Taiwan Strait situation changed, after the PLA entered a state of war mobilization, it might be entirely possible to produce hundreds of ships of the same type in two or three months with the production capacity of China's shipyards. This can directly upgrade China's military's single-wave amphibious assault capability from the brigade level to the group level.

Ships Taken Up From Trade (STUFT)At the same time, China is a big country in civilian vessels, known as Ships Taken Up From Trade (STUFT). The most common fishing vessels on the eastern coast of China can be modified in a few hours. Only one sturdy springboard is used to carry a light infantry platoon/row and one or two combat off-road vehicles for nearshore operations. In addition, a large number of civilian ships in China have already considered the need for temporary collection during the design and construction stage. The cross-strait warfare will be opened with large numbers of passenger ships and cargo ships that can be used directly as landing ships without any modification.

In addition, large-scale landing operations in history have never been possible by relying solely on amphibious landings. In the same way as the Normandy landing, the Allies prepared two plans for the follow-up forces to land ashore. The troops landing from Normandy directly attacked Cherbourg, Calais, France, and the important seaports such as Antwerp, Belgium, in order to make it possible to use these ready-made ports to conduct large-scale adminitrative [ie, not forcible entry] landings.

Second, the Allies customized two Mulberry prefabricated assembly ports for the landing operation. After the landing forces established the tidal bridgehead, the vessel dragged hundreds of parts of these ports to the landing position and assembled them into ports for subsequent use. After World War II, the method of rapidly building ports using prefabricated caisson similar to that of Sangha Port was also widely spread. Today, in China, where infrastructure construction capacity is substantial, the construction of such prefabricated module ports could use available special equipment such as semi-submersible barges and floating cranes. In wartime, this civil engineering equipment can be directly used for tidal flat operations through temporary construcion. Within a few days, it might be possible to build a temporary port with several ro-ro and hoisting docks at the landing site. With the ocean freight capacity in the forefront of China's world rankings, after the port construction is completed, the PLA could be capable of delivering hundreds of thousands of combat troops to Taiwan within a few weeks.

In addition, due to the long and short geographical features of Taiwan Island, the PLA also has considerable flexibility in choosing the location of the amphibious assault. In addition to the direct assaults on the northern largest towns such as the Danshui River Estuary, Taipei Port, and Keelung Port, there are quite a few strategic locations in the central and southern parts of Taiwan that are suitable for amphibious assaults. When choosing the southern attack, the Penghu Islands can become the natural springboard for the PLA.

The 2019 US DOD "Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the Peoples Republic of China" stated : "China has an array of options for a Taiwan campaign, ranging from an air and maritime blockade to a full-scale amphibious invasion to seize and occupy some or all of Taiwan or its offshore islands. PLA services and support forces continue to improve training and acquire new capabilities for a Taiwan contingency, but there is no indication China is significantly expanding its landing ship force necessary for an amphibious assault on Taiwan....

"Chinas investments in its amphibious ship force signal its intent to develop expeditionary warfare capabilities. The PLAN has five large YUZHAO-class (Type 071) amphibious transport docks (LPD), with three more under construction or outfitting during 2018. The YUZHAO LPD provides a greater and more flexible capability for long-range operations than the PLANs older landing ships. It can carry several of the new YUYI-class aircushion medium landing craft and four or more helicopters, as well as armored vehicles and PLAN Marines for long-distance deployments. The PLAN probably will continue constructing YUZHAO LPDs even as it pursues a follow-on amphibious assault ship that is not only larger but also incorporates a full flight deck for helicopters....

"Publicly available Chinese writings describe different operational concepts for an amphibious invasion of Taiwan. The most prominent of these, the Joint Island Landing Campaign, envisions a complex operation relying on coordinated, interlocking campaigns for logistics, air, and naval support, and electronic warfare. The objective would be to break through or circumvent shore defenses, establish and build a beachhead, transport personnel and materiel to designated landing sites in the north or south of Taiwans western coastline, and launch attacks to seize and occupy key targets or the entire island.

"Large-scale amphibious invasion is one of the most complicated and difficult military operations. Success depends upon air and maritime superiority, the rapid buildup and sustainment of supplies onshore, and uninterrupted support. An attempt to invade Taiwan would likely strain Chinas armed forces and invite international intervention. These stresses, combined with Chinas combat force attrition and the complexity of urban warfare and counterinsurgency, even assuming a successful landing and breakout, make an amphibious invasion of Taiwan a significant political and military risk.

The PLA is capable of accomplishing various amphibious operations short of a full-scale invasion of Taiwan. With few overt military preparations beyond routine training, China could launch an invasion of small Taiwan-held islands in the South China Sea such as Pratas or Itu Aba. A PLA invasion of a medium-sized, better-defended island such as Matsu or Jinmen is within Chinas capabilities. Such an invasion would demonstrate military capability and political resolve while achieving tangible territorial gain and simultaneously showing some measure of restraint. However, this kind of operation involves significant, and possibly prohibitive, political risk because it could galvanize pro-independence sentiment on Taiwan and generate international opposition."

Early Developments

China conducted its first joint amphibious operation in January 1955 against Yijiangshan Island, about 25 kilometers off the coast of Zhejiang Province. Since that time amphibious training has had an important place in the training of units stationed near the coast. China's successful occupation of the Xisha (Paracel) Islands, which were held by South Vietnamese forces in January 1974, was the most recent example of the PLA's ability to conduct amphibious operations.

In the 1970s China was assesed by the US as having the capability to conduct an amphibious operation involving three infantry divisions, their organic armor, artillery, and those personnel and equipment that would be required during the assault phase of an amphibious operation. In addition to naval amphibious ships and craft, merchant shipping and motorized junks would be used to support the effort.

Every spring China masses amphibious units on their coast facing Taiwan. The Pentagon normally dismisses Chinese amphibious exercises as "routine" though they could provide an opportunity for a standing start "out-of-the-blue" (OOTB) surprise attack. Taiwan has responded by having some warships at sea and some aircraft in the air during Chinese exercises.

In the 20th Century, China's amphibious exercises were mainly designed to intimidate Taiwan. The annual Dongshan drill started in 1996. In these exercises, the emphasis was on crossing the 130km-wide Taiwan Strait and landing on Taiwan itself. But with the new century, the PLA began to address logistical issues, questions of timing, and command and control problems.

Of particular note is the fact that the PLA has been frequently conducting offensive "integrated" (Yitihua) training with a focus on the use of armed forces against Taiwan and blocking the US military intervention. The concepts of integration (yitihua) and seamless operations (feixianxing zuozhan) are defined as tying together the five dimensions of warfare - air, land, sea, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum, integrating sensors with mobile missiles, air, and sea-based forces.

In June 2001 the numbers of Chinese forces massing in the "Liberation No. 1." exercise were three times higher than during previous exercises of this kind. The main goals of the exercises were reported to be practicing "attacking and occupying an outlying Taiwanese island and fighting off an aircraft carrier." The exercise, which lasted for four months, was the biggest since 1996.

China held two large-scale amphibious exercises in 2004 (division to group-army level in size), one of which explicitly dealt with a Taiwan scenario, bringing the total number of amphibious exercises to ten over the previous five years. In June and July 2004 exercises were conducted on Dongshan Island in southeastern Fujian province, just 150 nautical miles west of Taiwan's Penghu Island. The military wargames were aimed at "taking control of the Taiwan Strait", with 18,000 troops and the amphibious landing of a tank brigade. Soldiers deployed on Dongshan Island in mid-May 2004, with tanks and armoured personnel carriers practicing amphibious landings on Jinluan beach.

During July 2004 China conducted exercise "Liberation Number Two", commanded by Chief of General Staff General Liang Guanglie, an expert on amphibious warfare. However, during the 2004 exercise off the Fujian coast, the Chinese military tested its ability to capture the Penghu archipelago not far from Taiwan. This was the first time the chain of 64 islands, lying east of the midway line between Taiwan and the mainland, was the target. Observers sugggested that the People's Liberation Army had adopted a cautious, step-by-step approach in its preparations for a showdown with Taiwan. After the 'Liberation Number One' drill on Dongshan island in 2001, the PLA concluded that it would suffer significant losses if it failed to control Penghu.

In 2004 a computer simulation suggested that it would take China six days to complete the occupation of Taiwan. When this was publicly reported, "authoritative military sources" told Taiwan media that, in fact, Taiwan could hold out for two weeks. The logic behind this view is that Taiwan has to hold out until the US comes to its aid and, given the speed of US military deployment, the longer the better.

Early arriving forces, often involving warships stationed close to the Strait, would be of particular importance in a short conflict over Taiwan. At an expected average speed of 25 knots, over long Pacific Ocean distances, US submarines, aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers based in San Diego, CA would take nearly 10 days to reach an area east of Taiwan after setting sail. By contrast, a US warship based in Yokosuka, Japan, would take just under two days, one in Guam would take 2.2 days, and a ship sailing from Pearl Harbor in Hawaii would take more than seven days. The US Departement of Defense reported two amphibious mechanized divisions in the PLA Ground Forces and Marine Brigades in the PLA Navy as of 2012. The PLAs main amphibious forces are the six group armies (GA) nearest Taiwan, which total as many as 300,000 troops with varying degrees of amphibious equipment and proficiency. The specialized forces are the the 1st Amphibious Mechanized Infantry Division of the 1st GA of the Nanjing Military Region, and the 124th Amphibious Mechanized Division of the 42nd GA of the Guangzhou MR.

The PLA is believed to have a number of units which have been trained in amphibious operations. During an amphibious assault, these forces, organized into regiments, would spearhead the landing, conducting beach reconnaissance, clearing obstacles, and making the initial assault.

Over the first decade of the 21st Century, the PLA improved its capability to support operations within its borders and along its periphery. Frequent training in mobility operations; improvements to command, control and coordination; and standardization of warehouse systems have strengthened the PLAs overall ability to mobilize and support local military operations. Integration of automated logistics systems into PLA command and control systems and civil logistics capabilities into military support systems would further improve the PLAs logistics capability.

The absence of a true expeditionary logistics capability, however, would limit the PLAs ability to project and sustain military operations at locations distant from the mainland. First among these limitations is the capability to transport and sustain more than one division of ground troops and equipment by sea or air, according to the US DOD report to Congress on China's military [down from three four decades earlier]. The PLA Navys total amphibious lift capacity was estimated in 2009 to be one infantry division of approximately 10,000 troops and equipment at one time. Although the PLA Navy has gained some proficiency with underway replenishment and sustainment of long distance deployments, this capability remains limited by the PLAs small numbers of support ships.

The PLAs force projection capabilities would remain limited over the decade up to 2020 as the PLA replaces outdated aircraft and maritime vessels and adjusts operational doctrine to encompass new capabilities. These changes would require tailored logistics equipment and training that would take time and funding to develop. Although foreign-produced or civil sector equipment and maintenance parts may help to fill near-term gaps, continued reliance on non-organic assets would hinder PLA capabilities to sustain large-scale operations.

Concept of Operations

Amphibious operations would necessarily take place within range of shorebased aircraft and would aim to:

  • seize and secure a beachhead on a hostile shore from which largescale ground operations can be initiated,
  • assist the advance of ground forces by attacking the sea flanks of an opposing force,
  • seize and secure vilal areas such as islands and straits, and
  • conduct raids and reconnaissance.
A division conducting an amphibious operation is divided into two echelons: an assauh echo cIon, consisting of two reinforced regiments, and a support echelon, consisting of the remainder of the division's forces.

  • Airborne. An amphibious landing may be preceded by, or made simultaneously with, a parachute- or helicopter borne assault onto or near the beachheads.

  • Night. The approach is normally made at night or under other conditions of poor visibility. Amphibious landings are normally made at night or at first light.

  • Frontages. Frontages are similar to those for the attack described in section H of this chapter. Each battalion is allocated one landing point and these are at least 1 kilometer apart.

  • Control. Chinese doctrine prescribes a unified command for amphibious operations. The commander of such an operation is usually a senior army commander who is responsible for the execution of the operation. In addition, two subordinate commanders are designated and charged with specific responsibilities during each phase of the operation.

    (1) Naval Landing Commander. He is a senior naval officer responsible for embarkalion, movement by sea, and landing ground troops on the hostile shore. During this period of the operation he is in command.

    (2) Landing Force Commander. As soon as adequate communication and command facilities have been established ashore, command passes from the naval landing commander to the landing force commander. He is charged with direct command of ground force troops during the preembarkation period, coordination of ground force troops during the assault, and command of tactical operations ashore to seize and secure the beachhead.

  • Tactics and Fire Support. The tactics and fire support of an amphibious landing are similar to those employed by both other armies. Coordinated air and naval gunfire provides continuous fire support aimed at neutralizing or destroying enemy defenses. Artillery on nearby land masses may also be integrated into the overall fire plan.

In recent years, the landing ship flotilla of the Navy of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (PLAN) has taken the lead in organizing joint landing operation training and drill among the army amphibious force, naval aviation troops, destroyers and frigates, and innovated eight sets of tactics on joint transportation and operation. As various services and arms are integrated in implementing operations, and the troops joint combat capacity is effectively enhanced. Under the joint support and cover of the aviation force, air defense force and surface vessels, the transport formation composed of several new-type landing ships successfully broke through the heavy fire blockade of the Blue Army and delivered the landing force to a landing point on time in joint training in early April 2011.

A year later a landing ship flotilla under the South China Sea Fleet of the Navy of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) cooperated closely with a marine brigade and an aviation regiment of the PLA Navy and conducted the drill on such subjects as three-dimensional delivery of landing troops and capturing target position. In the waters where the landing ships assembled, the hovercraft carrying landing troops and amphibious assault vehicles left the dock for the beach at a high speed.

A comprehensive and sustained military modernization program has increased the range and sophistication of military options Beijing could employ in a cross-Strait conflict. The PLA still faces limitations in its ability to conduct a full-scale amphibious invasion of Taiwan. As 2011 ended, an improved amphibious assault vehicle had entered service in key PLA units. PRC literature describes different operational concepts for amphibious invasion of Taiwan. The most prominent of these, the Joint Island Landing Campaign, envisions a complex operation relying on coordinated, interlocking campaigns for logistics, air and naval support, and electronic warfare. The objective would be to break through or circumvent shore defenses, establish and build a beachhead, transport personnel and materiel to designated landing sites in the north and south of Taiwans western coastline, and launch attacks to seize and occupy key targets and/or the entire island.

The PLA is capable of accomplishing various amphibious operations short of a full-scale invasion of Taiwan. With few overt military preparations beyond routine training, the PRC could launch an invasion of small, Taiwan-held islands such as Pratas Reef or Itu Aba. A PLA invasion of a medium-sized, defended, off-shore island such as Mazu or Jinmen is within the mainlands capabilities. Such an invasion would demonstrate military capability and political resolve while achieving tangible territorial gain and simultaneously showing some measure of restraint. However, this type of operation involves significant operational and strategic risk. It could galvanize the Taiwan populace and catalyze a strong international reaction.

Operationally, large-scale amphibious invasion is one of the most complicated maneuvers a military can execute. An attempt to invade Taiwan would strain Chinas untested armed forces and invite international condemnation. These stresses, combined with the PRCs combat force attrition and the complexity of urban warfare and counterinsurgency (assuming a successful landing and breakout), make amphibious invasion of Taiwan a significant political and military risk. Taiwans investments to harden infrastructure and strengthen defensive capabilities could also decrease Beijings ability to achieve its objectives.

The PLA " ... conducted a joint amphibious exercise in the Eastern Theater in the early fall as well as numerous smaller force-on-force exercises, including an exercise between two newly reformed amphibious mechanized infantry brigades in the Southern Theater."

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