China’s growing amphibious force

May 22, 2010

Here’s an article that should prove worrisome to anyone concerned with China’s role in international affairs. The growth and modernization of the Chinese PLA’s amphibious forces seems to indicate ambitions beyond a possible invasion and conquest of Taiwan, to a projection of Chinese military power into Southeast Asia and beyond:

There has been significant soul-searching over the past year in the U.S. Defense Department about the viability of the Marine Corps’ amphibious assault mission, tied to the controversy over the troubled General Dynamics Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) program. No such doubts about amphibious operations exist in China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Since the early 1990s, the PLA has developed and deployed two generations of amphibious armored assault vehicles, and more recently developed a range of specialized amphibious assault and support systems. While this effort is largely focused on preparing for a possible invasion of Taiwan, it will also help the PLA undertake long-distance amphibious assault operations as the PLA Navy (PLAN) builds a number of large amphibious transport ships later this decade.

The remainder details recent Chinese developments in weapons and transportation systems, which, given the growth of the PLA Navy and its increasingly long-distance missions, point to an almost inevitable challenge to US naval dominance in the western Pacific and even the Indian Ocean. American planners have to bear these future possible challenges in mind while dealing with the current (and likely to last for decades) challenge from jihadist Islam. It’s by no means certain that China and the US will come into violent conflict, but we need be honest and admit that China is a strategic competitor, not a friend. With Chinese hyper-nationalism on the rise and the US Navy shrinking thanks to the need to feed President Obama’s domestic programs, it’s not inconceivable that Beijing could could consider using intimidation or even force to achieve its objectives, just as Japan used the humiliation of Russia to claim its place among the powers of the Earth. Rather than reducing our navy, we should be enlarging it both to project our own confidence and to send a message to the Chinese leadership. Not to give them pause, but to tell them “Don’t even think about it.”

Given the administration’s ideological preference for American meekness, however, I don’t have much hope for change until at least 2013.

(via reader Lance)