Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Yes, China Can Conduct an Amphibious Invasion

China has perhaps reminded North Korea that it is vulnerable to Chinese attack from the sea; and has reminded others that China really can invade Taiwan without a "million-man swim."

Why yes, indeed:

Perhaps as an effort to persuade North Korea to drop its nuclear weapons program China recently allowed public discussion of the current size of its “civilian reserve fleet” that would be mobilized quickly for a major amphibious operation. This fleet is huge in large part because since 2000 China has offered subsidies to shipping companies to make a few modifications to ferries and other RO/RO ships and agree to make them available to the military for short periods of amphibious training and extended use during wartime. For decades before 2000 China had used a system where it kept track of hundreds of commercial ferries and barges that could be mobilized by the military and used for amphibious operations against Taiwan or, it is now implied, North Korea. It is believed that there is now sufficient lift for about a dozen divisions plus non-specialized ships (mostly civilian) for moving support units.

In the West this practice goes back centuries and came to be known as STUFT (Ships Taken Up From Trade) and the current size of that Chinese fleet of recently built (with modifications for military use) ships could quickly assemble and move over 100,000 troops and 20,000 or more vehicles (combat and support) in one trip.

People like to point out the lack of large numbers of specialized ships to argue China can't mount an amphibious invasion. But this mistakes America's commitment to specialized amphibious warfare ships in large numbers as the norm rather than a unique capability in history (and forgets that America could only land two brigades with all of our ships concentrated for one landing).

I noted this program for special-built civilian ships back in 2015. Twice.

And for my older invasion scenario, I relied on the older Chinese practice of mobilizing pure civilian ships plus using older warships to carry light infantry into Taiwanese ports for the first wave of an assault.

With China taking off most weapons of older warships and transferring them to the Chinese coast guard, I wouldn't be surprised at all if those ships were used in large numbers to open the ports for the RO/RO ships to sail in and unload vehicles and heavy weapons.

China can invade Taiwan. The question is will they? Although for China the question is when, unless Taiwan surrenders before the choice is made.

And sure, as I mentioned in passing, a Chinese invasion of North Korea combining an overland assault across the Yalu River with an amphibious invasion on the west coast is possible.