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Amphbious Operations

Type 075 LHD1,750131,7505,250
Type 071 Yuzhao LPD5008124,0006,000
Type 072 Yuting LST25028287,0007,000
Type 072 Yukan LST20000-...
Type 073 Yudeng/Yunshu LSM 50000......
Type 074 Yuhai/Wuhu LSM 25030307,5007,500
Type 079 Yuliang LSM 2504-1,000-
Type 271 Yupen LCM 75++++????
Type 067 Yunan LCM 300**????
* = reserve

Analysis of China's amphibious assault capabilities must unavoidably focus on scenarios other than Taiwan. And in the 21st Century, China's amphibious shipbuilding activity has focused on ships that are rather larger than might be required by Taiwan. History must be a guide. One of the things that amazed the world about HMS Dreadnaught was the rapidity with which she was built - about a year from start to finish, versus the several years normally required for such large ships. The Allied assault on Normandy in June 1944, and the subsequent US Pacific Fleet island hopping assaults, were both conducted by amphibious ships that were little more than a year out of the shipyard, if that.

China is the leading shipbuilding country in the world. As of 2010, China's production completion of shipbuilding was about 50 million deadweight tons (dwt). The Type 074 Yuhai Landing Ship Medium is little more than sheet metal and an engine, with a capacity of 250 troops and a displacement of less than 1,000 tons. Production of 1,000 such vessels, to carry 250,000 troops, would require diversion of just 2% of China's shipbuilding capacity. In principle, China is never much more than a year away from a ten-fold enlargement of her medium range amphibious assault capacity.

The US Marine Corps has long worked with the Navy to reach the resource constrained, programmatic goal to maintain 12 Amphibious Ready Groups, each with about 2,000 Marines, with a 2.5 Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) equivalent in amphibious lift. The requirement remained at 3.0 MEB equivalents. Typically, the active commissioned amphibious fleet force structure in recent years could only lift 2.0 MEB equivalent of vehicles, and about 20,000 Marines. The Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) is the principal warfighting MAGTF in the active force structure of the Marine Corps and is normally built around a Division/Wing team. The Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) was formerly called Marine Amphibious Force (MAF). There are three standing MEFs, along with another Division in the Marine Corps Reserve. The total US Marine Corps headcount is about 240,000 Marines, only a tenth of which could be employed in the first wave of an amphibious assault.

Traditionally the US Navy and the PLAN have faced rather different amphibious lift requirements. America's founding fathers, with great foresight and wisdom, placed the United States on the opposite side of the planet from most amphbious assualt objectives. Hence, a fleet of large ocean-going amphibious ships was required. China faces amphbious assualt objectives that are conveniently close at hand, Taiwan and the South China Sea, and thus most of her amphibious sealift was concentrated in smaller vessels of types [LST, LSM, LCM] that had long passed from the American inventory. By 2020 this was changing, as the PLAN began to field a high seas fleet aiming to operate beyond the First Island Chain.

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 was limited about two brigades, 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 People’s 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....

"China’s 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 PLAN’s 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 Taiwan’s 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 China’s armed forces and invite international intervention. These stresses, combined with China’s 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 China’s 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."

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Page last modified: 08-06-2021 19:10:28 ZULU