Incubators of Sea Power: Vessel Training Centers and the Modernization of the PLAN Surface Fleet

Chinese Maritime Studies Institute – The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is building modern surface combatants faster than any other navy in the world. Before these new ships can be deployed, however, their crews must learn how to effectively operate them across the range of missions for which they were designed. In the PLAN, this “basic training” largely occurs at specialized organizations called Vessel Training Centers (VTCs). Since their creation in 1980, VTCs have played a key role in generating combat power for the fleet. But as China’s naval ambitions have grown, the VTCs have been forced to adapt. Since the early 2000s, and especially since 2012, they have faced tremendous pressure to keep pace with the rapid expansion and modernization of the PLAN surface fleet and its growing mission set, improve the standards and quality of vessel training, and uphold the integrity of training evaluations. This report argues that the PLAN’s VTCs have generally risen to the challenge, ensuring that new and recently-repaired ships can quickly reach operational units in a fairly high state of readiness.

Mind the Gap Part 2: The Cross-Strait Potential of China’s Civilian Shipping Has Grown

War on the Rocks – In August 2021, I discussed how China’s civilian roll-on/roll-off car ferries and vehicle carriers could significantly enhance its ability to launch an amphibious assault on Taiwan. Having updated the numbers and looked more closely at how they translate into military potential, I believe the capacity of China’s civilian fleet is considerably greater and more threatening than it appeared at that time. 

The Type 075 LHD: Development, Missions, and Capabilities

China Maritime Studies Institute – When the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) commissioned its first Type 075 class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) in April 2021, it represented an important advance in power projection capability for China’s maritime forces. For the first time, the PLAN had an amphibious warship capable of hosting significant rotary wing forces while acting as the flagship for an amphibious task force. Now with three Type 075 class ships either in or soon to be in service, the PLAN has expanded its amphibious capability even further. The Type 075’s dedicated aviation support capability, ability to conduct wet well operations, and expanded command and control and medical facilities reflect capabilities that previously did not exist within the PLAN amphibious fleet. With the Type 075 LHD, the PLAN clearly intends to bolster its ability to project power from the sea in order to protect China’s overseas interests, but will require time for amphibious task forces to become fully proficient.

Not So Fast: Insights From a 1944 War Plan Help Explain Why Invading Taiwan is a Costly Gamble

War on the Rocks – In 1944 U.S. military planners drafted a plan to invade Taiwan: Operation Causeway. The plan was ultimately rejected by senior leaders due to the high costs and risks relative to alternatives for advancing against Tokyo. Analyzing Causeway provides a historical baseline against which to assess the enduring challenges of joint forcible entry operations, particularly those executed from the sea. Put simply, crossing a contested sea only to fight on complex, canalizing terrain against a deliberate defense-in-depth makes amphibious assault in Taiwan a more complex operation than even the famed 1944 Operation Overlord — the D-Day landings. A mix of Taiwanese defense planning and the reality of modern battle network competition compound these challenges, making an invasion likely harder in 2022 than in 1944.

The Second Anglo-Icelandic Cod War (1972–73)—Analysis of a Modern Sea Dispute and Implications for the South China Sea

US Naval War College Review – Analysis of the strategies employed by the British navy and Icelandic coast guard during the third Anglo-Icelandic sea dispute, in 1972–73, and the context in which they did so illuminates how modern sea disputes exist in the realm of competition for limited objectives, not warfare, and how the use of force can jeopardize recognition of the claims involved.

Countering China’s “Trident” Strategy—Frustrating China’s Aims in the East and South China Seas and the Indian Ocean

US Naval War College Review – China is trying to construct a naval strategy to deny U.S. forces freedom of action in the western Pacific Ocean. Looking back to the U.S. Navy’s last major strategic contest, against the Soviet navy during the Cold War, provides comparisons between Soviet and Chinese strategies that yield insights and analogies that can help develop more effective countermeasures against undesirable Chinese initiatives.

Hedging With Humility: Reassessing China’s Power Projection Capabilities Against Taiwan

War on the Rocks –  We offer a broader analysis of how China’s industrial base and civilian fleet might catalyze other operational approaches and timelines for taking Taiwan by rapidly erasing these supposed deficits in lift and firepower. With U.S. intervention, Taiwan can be defended and China can be deterred through this decade and beyond, but China’s capabilities should first be seen holistically for what they are and appreciated for what they can soon become.

PLA aircraft carrier Shandong holds drills in South China Sea in full combat group

Global Times – The Shandong, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s second aircraft carrier and the first domestically built, recently held comprehensive drills in the South China Sea in a group consisting of full combat elements, which analysts said on Thursday showed the carrier is becoming ready for far sea operations.

For 1st time China sends ground, naval, air forces to join Russian Vostok drills

Global Times – The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has dispatched forces to join the upcoming Vostok-2022 in Russia, with PLA ground and air forces having already arrived at the designated drill region and naval forces being rendezvoused with Russian warships at sea. This is the first time the PLA has sent three of its forces to participate in a single Russian drill, observers said.

Decisionmaking at the Speed of the Digital Era

CSIS – The United States has stated it is in a strategic competition with China. Analysts and actors identify the need to rapidly iterate through concepts and capabilities to develop new, more effective means of engaging in that competition. At present, however, the Department of Defense underutilizes publicly available data and the software development community to build tools that enable faster modeling, hypothesis testing, and variability analysis than traditional wargaming or modeling alone. This brief describes the speed and utility of developing a simple software tool to stress test a hypothetical People’s Republic of China (PRC) surprise attack against U.S. facilities in the Indo-Pacific.

Implications of a Coercive Quarantine of Taiwan by the People’s Republic of China

RAND – China’s coercive options for Taiwan range from routine violations of Taiwan’s declared Air Defense Identification Zone to a full-scale invasion. Within the spectrum are efforts to isolate Taiwan to prevent it from sending exports or receiving imports. Typically, this would be called a blockade. However, because China does not view the government on Taiwan as sovereign and thus rejects the idea that a state of war could exist, blockadeis not the correct term. Therefore, in this report, the authors examine how China might implement a quarantine of Taiwan. Unlike in a blockade scenario, China’s goals for the quarantine would not be to completely cut off food and supplies to Taiwan, but rather to demonstrate de facto sovereignty by controlling the air and maritime space around the island, as well as which cargo deliveries, ships, aircraft, and people have access to Taiwan.

The Return of Great Power War: Scenarios of Systemic Conflict Between the United States and China

RAND – The authors develop two scenarios of systemic U.S.-China conflict. The first scenario features a low-intensity conflict that unfolds across much of the world, across many domains, and over many years. The second features a high-intensity war that evolves out of the low-intensity war. The high-intensity war scenario envisions aggressive actions by both countries to destroy the warfighting capability of the adversary and carries an extremely high risk of escalation to the most destructive levels.