Marines: China Gets More Amphibious

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December 20, 2013: For the last decade China has been diligently building more amphibious ships. This was largely an effort to replace aging Cold War era relics while upgrading the amphibious fleet overall. Currently China has three LPDs (the U.S. has nine), 90 landing ships (LSMs and LSTs) and 160 landing craft. The LPDs and landing ships can cross oceans while the landing craft can reach Taiwan and are mainly coastal but are often carried by larger ships for long distance voyages.

Most of the smaller amphibious craft actually belong to the army and, until recently you could tell that because the army ships were painted blue, while the navy ones were gray. But now the army is also painting its ships gray so you will have to get a closer look to tell who owns what. That is even more difficult now that the army is building more large ships, like new one the army officially describes as a RO/RO (Roll On/Roll Off) ship but on closer examination it is an LSM that can carry a dozen vehicles and about two hundred troops. In other words a mechanized infantry company. The new LSM was built in an army shipyard, has ramps in front and back and is armed with four 14.5mm machine-guns.

The Chinese LSTs (landing ship, tank) can carry 2,000 tons. The Type 067 LCU can carry 50 tons for up to 800 kilometers and remain at sea for ten days at a time. These seagoing LCUs can operate in rough water while using its own navigation system. These Type 067s have been around for a long time. The first version began building in the 1960s and 130 were put into service. A scaled up version of the Type 067, the Type 271, can carry the latest, heavier (50 ton) Chinese tanks.

China also keeps track of hundreds of commercial ferries and barges that can be mobilized by the military and used for amphibious operations against Taiwan. It is believed that there is sufficient lift for over 300 infantry and mechanized (tank and mechanized infantry) battalions. That’s about 24 divisions. There is additional shipping (mostly civilian) for moving support units.

Over the last decade more landing craft have been built that can operate far at sea. This shows that the Chinese had their eyes on the South China Sea for some time and built all these long-range amphibious ships in anticipation of going after small islands and reefs far from the coast.

 

 


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