The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Marine Corps are taking aggressive measures to conduct next-level expeditionary warfare and project power beyond the Pacific theater, according to a 2021 Defense Department report on China.
China’s ambition to become a dominant global power has prompted the communist country to reach beyond the region where it has exerted its authority for centuries. The report, titled Military and Security Developments involving the People’s Republic of China, notes that PLA weapons developers have been focused on producing platforms “focused on mobility and ease of transport” in recent years. The report says that China’s “PLC-171 assault-vehicle based 122-millimeter howitzer, the PCL-181 wheeled howitzer, 3rd-generation Dongfeng Mengshi assault vehicles, and the Z-8L wide-body transport helicopter” are good examples of Beijing’s intentions.
China has built tactical trucks armed with mobile artillery, VT 5 light tanks and several expeditionary transport vehicles—specifically designed for high-altitude combat operations.
The PCL-181, for instance, weighs only twenty tons whereas China’s legacy howitzer weighs nearly twice as much, making transportation a more daunting challenge. The new weapon is lightweight, which gives it “an edge in high altitude areas when the lack of oxygen could impact the power of the engine, and it is also very agile and fast in quick-reaction deployments,” according to the Chinese government-backed Global Times.
Despite China’s focus on fast-tracking armed land platforms designed for quick transport, it seems to operate with a helicopter deficit. China only operates roughly nine hundred helicopters, according to Global Firepower. That’s a small number when compared with the thousands operated by the U.S. Army. Although China relies on Xi’an Y-20 military transport aircraft, the number of helicopters in its inventory would likely hinder any effort to enter a hot zone, seize an airfield, or reinforce a ground assault with air-delivered infantry. Should China find itself engaged in a major land engagement, it will likely need to deliver soldiers, supplies and ammunition from the air. China reportedly has as many as 975,000 active-duty forces but may not be able to move them all to one place due to its transportation limitations.
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 Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.