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China could use modified civilian ships for beach assault on Taiwan

Scholar says converted civilian ships could boost China's amphibious capabilities

Chinese navy ship in Pacific Ocean. 

Chinese navy ship in Pacific Ocean.  (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Chinese military is using civilian cargo ships to bolster its amphibious landing capabilities, a report published by Washington D.C.-based Jamestown Foundation has said.

Connor Kennedy, a research associate at the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute, published a paper titled “Ramping the strait: Quick and dirty solutions to boost amphibious lift” last month. He said that though the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has made some advancements in beach landing abilities, such as with the commissioning of its first Type 075 amphibious assault ship, it still lacks sufficient ship numbers to conduct successful large-scale amphibious operations.

This leaves many people wondering whether China is able to follow through on its threats against Taiwan, he said. However, Kennedy pointed out that the PLAN has begun utilizing merchant roll-on-roll-off (RO-RO) ships to supplement its military transport vessels.

These ships are fitted with built-in ramps that allow tanks and amphibious assault vehicles to load and offload with ease. He said such boats “have the potential to deliver a significant volume of force, providing access to port terminals.”

The scholar said this capability was publicly revealed in 2020 when the PRC-flagged vessel Bang Chui Dao, an RO-RO owned and operated by COSCO Shipping Ferry Company, participated in a Chinese Marine Corps training exercise. The ship was observed to have a modified stern ramp that enabled amphibious launches.

Kennedy said these converted ramps could be installed on China’s fleet of 63 RO-RO ships for a “potentially fast and cheap method of surging amphibious lift capabilities without raising concerns.”

Kennedy also said there is a likelihood the Chinese military will deploy these modified ships in a military conflict. He added that if this strategy is adopted on a larger scale, the PLA would only require enough converted RO-ROs to “fill in the gaps” of its beach assault capabilities.

Updated : 2021-10-26 12:31 GMT+08:00