The new Chinese Type 075 amphibious assault ships can transport main battle tanks from ship to shore for amphibious attack, a combat capability scenario capable of threatening Taiwan, Japan or even remote hotspots throughout the world. These new ships accomplish this by bringing an ability to rapidly deploy heavy armor from the sea in ways that were not previously possible.
What is striking, yet likely not surprising about this, is that China’s new amphibious assault ships can launch air-cushioned landing craft. These crafts are apparently engineered to parallel the performance of the U.S. Navy’s new Ship to Shore Connector (SSC).
As the decades old, yet combat tested, Landing Craft Air Cushions begin to sunset, the U.S. Navy has in recent years been making rapid progress building a new fleet of SSCs to replace them. While the SSCs incorporate many technological enhancements and systems not seen on the LCACs, one of its distinguishing features is its ability to transport an Abrams tank from the sea. This kind of ship-launched maritime tank deployment offers an immediacy and potential rapid-response option to a contingency which typically requires heavy ships, complex logistics and much planning. Therefore, the SSCs, in development for many years now, have long been known for this ability to carry main battle tanks to warfare from the ocean, changing the paradigm for shore attack in many respects.
Certainly, Amphibious Combat Vehicles (ACVs) can bring armor and firepower to an assault from the sea, yet an ability to send a small contingent of armed tanks could completely change the equation when it comes to penetrating enemy fortifications and defenses once on shore. For instance, should a beachhead or landing point be secured following an initial amphibious assault or attack landing, an ability to hold the territory or even advance would likely rely heavily upon the speed and effectiveness with which the attacking amphibious force can reinforce its landing forces with heavy firepower.
Perhaps this very scenario wound up providing the inspiration for why China’s new Type 075 amphibious assault ships are also equipped with tank-transporting “air-cushioned landing craft,” a fact cited by the Chinese government-backed Global Times newspaper as part of a report about progress with its third new Type 075 being built. The paper says the new amphibious assault ships, which are emerging in rapid succession, can also transport helicopters, troops and other armored vehicles from its hangar deck.
An ability to send tanks ashore from amphibs seems to present a specific strategic significance in the Pacific, given its vast maritime expanse and the number of potential attack points. Any kind of a massive Chinese, ship-driven ocean deployment of main battle tanks would be highly recognizable to U.S. and Taiwanese forces, yet an ability to send groups of them individually on landing craft could present an entirely new sphere of complications.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.