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China’s Militarization of contested islands driving Countries to develop Amphibious Capability including Assault Vehicles

China recently has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers and other equipment on the Spratly Islands, and landed a bomber aircraft at Woody Island. Several islands were constructed with airstrips and harbors capable of accepting military aircraft and warships. China has also deployed antiship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and long-range surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to at least three of its structures in the Spratlys – Fiery Cross Reef, Mischief Reef, and Subi Reef. The SAM systems, believed to be the HQ-9B, have a range of over 200 kilometers. Meanwhile, China’s YJ-12B ASCM is a supersonic missile with a range of nearly 300 kilometers. Both missiles could be used to close off a large portion of the eastern South China Sea to shipping and threaten other naval forces

 

The Spratlys are a chain of mostly coral reefs in the eastern South China Sea that barely break the ocean’s surface, but they are adjacent both to major sea lanes of communication (SLOCs) and to potentially lucrative maritime natural resources, such as fisheries and oil and gas deposits. Consequently, several countries in addition to China – including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – have laid claim to various parts of the Spratlys, and nearly all have attempted to enforce these claims by establishing garrisons and other structures on the islands.

 

“Deploying troops and weapons on islands in the South China Sea is within China’s sovereign right to do and allowed by international law,” said He Lei, a lieutenant general with the People’s Liberation Army. Mr Mattis said Beijing was intimidating and coercing others in the region by putting weapons systems on manmade islands. The threat of conflict over South China Sea is driving the Navies to boost their amphibious capability.

 

US Marine Corps and the US Navy’s amphibious capabilities are a key element of the US forward-deployment strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. And that is set to see significant transformation as the US moves to incorporate the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing variant of the Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter into its amphibious-force structure.  According to Lt. Gen. David Berger, commander of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, “We need to be prepared for large-scale amphibious operations.” He continued, speaking to the sold-out National Defense Industrial Association Annual Expeditionary Warfare Conference, “We might do it differently in the future, but we can’t ignore it.”

 

China, meanwhile, continues to strengthen its amphibious capabilities, with the fifth of its 20,000-tonne Type-071 amphibious assault ships (LPDs) likely to enter service during 2018, and a sixth launched in January. South Korea is building a second, improved version of its first LHD Dokdo. Indonesia is adding to its LPD fleet and Malaysia and the Philippines also have aspirations for similar ships.

 

Japan is boosting its amphibious and coastal defense capabilities, shifting security personnel to outer islands and converting ground forces into amphibious units capable of defending those islands from attack. Japan’s Ministry of Defense has contracted BAE Systems to supply it with 30 amphibious assault vehicles, or AAVs. The acquisition of the AAVs supports the ongoing development of an amphibious capability within the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force, the company said. Australia is also in the process of growing an amphibious capability of its own.

 

The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) is increasing its amphibious capability with an eye on its southwestern-most islands – past Okinawa, all the way to its farthest inhabited island of Yonaguni, which sits closer to mainland China than it does to Okinawa. With only two Japan Air Self-Defense Force radar sites between Okinawa and Yonaguni, the Japanese ground force has taken a renewed interest in protecting these islands, Col. Masashi Yamamoto, military attaché at the Embassy of Japan in Washington, said  at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event.

 

Additionally, an infantry regiment in the Western Army is being converted to an amphibious regiment – one of two that will create the first amphibious brigade. Whereas the infantry regiment is designed to deploy to an island and protect it from foreign invasion, the amphibious regiment would have the capability to move from island to island, landing in contested environments if an enemy – specifically China, though Yamamoto did not single the country out – were to take Japanese territory. Yamamoto, an armor officer by trade, said the Ministry of Defense will procure 17 MV-22 Ospreys and 52 AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles, also called amtracks, between fiscal years 2014 and 2018.

 

But a further driver for amphibious ambitions globally, and perhaps particularly among navies in the Asia-Pacific, is the growing regional significance of the humanitarian-assistance and disaster-relief (HADR) mission, and the value amphibious assets hold for that.

China Amphibious Capability

People’s Liberation Army (PLA), its Marine Corps (PLAMC)  is equipped and trained to assert Chinese authority over the disputed islands in the South China Sea, Taiwan, and the Senkaku islands owned by Japan.  The size of the PLAMC is planned to increase to 100,000 through the addition of other units within the PLA. The PLA Navy (PLAN) is also believed to be capable of landing divisional formations through amphibious operations, which would likely represent all 12,000 marines. However, it is more likely to focus on brigade sized – 6,000 personnel – deployments to maintain surprise and maximise chances of achieving anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) effects in the South China Sea.

 

PLAMC  is equipped with an entire family of tracked amphibious vehicles; the Type 05, which includes the ZBD-05 armed with a 30 mm cannon, the ZTD-05 armed with a 105 mm direct-fire gun, and the PLZ-07B armed with a 122 mm howitzer.

 

The Type 05s are intended to be deployed at sea from a naval ship and conduct an opposed landing. The vehicles are designed around their amphibious capabilities. The infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) variant is capable of travelling in Sea State 4, and has a buoyancy reserve equivalent to 27% of its 26.5 tonne gross vehicle weight.

 

The vehicle is powered by two waterjets at the rear of the vehicle and steered through a combination of closing one water jet and by a section of the side skirt, which can be opened out towards the front of the vehicle.It is reported to  reach  speed of 40 km/h (21.6 kt) on water. The Type 05 includes unique amphibious design features. Prior to entering water, the bow blade at the front of the vehicle (when folded it gives the bow a distinctive sharp nose) is hydraulically extended, and the driver’s periscope is elevated so they can see above the blade. Bilge pumps are activated and a second flat blade is lowered at the rear of the vehicle as it enters the water. Once an appropriate water depth is reached the suspension raises the road wheels to reduce drag. A snorkel is also elevated at the rear right of the platform to provide the engine with oxygen. The bow blade and blade at the rear create a hydroplane effect that elevates the body of the vehicle above the water during travel to reduce water resistance.

 

The amphibious capability of the Type 05 family means that the vehicles can be used by the PLAMC to reach a location – a disputed island for example – from beyond the horizon. Once there, the PLAMC would seek to establish an A2/AD bubble. Essentially, an area with a large concentration of air-defence and anti-ship assets, as well as the capabilities provided by the PLAMC and its armour, would make the prospect of intervention extremely costly and unpalatable for many forces.

 

There are three key variants of the Type 05 family that also present significant capabilities. The first is the ZBD-05, an IFV armed with a stabilised 30 mm dual-feed cannon capable of firing two ammunition natures while stationary and on the move. It is also reportedly accurate while at sea. The maximum rate-of-fire is 330 rds/min and the cannon is effective against medium-weight armoured targets up to a range of 1,500 m. The exact performance specifications of the ammunition are unknown, although the Russian equivalent of the armour-piercing, discarding sabot – tracer (APDS-T) round is capable of penetrating 25 mm of armour set at a 60° angle from a range of 1,500 m.

 

This capability also feeds into what PLAN Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo described in January 2013 as a “short, sharp war”. The Rear Admiral’s speech outlined how an attempt to retake the Senkaku (Diaoyu to China) Islands would by necessity be unconventional, stating that “The keys to winning the war are quick actions, and good planning”. This indicates the importance placed on the Type 05 family; its over-the-horizon abilities would be well-suited to such a short and unconventional conflict.

 

As for Air power, China successfully tested its first domestically built amphibious aircraft ( AG 600, codenamed Kunlong ) with a series of water taxing and low-flight trials. Designed and built in China by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), the AG600 is reportedly set to be the largest amphibious aircraft in the world, roughly the size of a Boeing 737.

 

When full operational , the AG600 would shift the balance of power in the disputed region with its ability to quickly transport troops and supplies, as well as provide other support, such as shifting garrisons in the south china sea. The aircraft can also be used to support foreign vessels for search and rescue missions.

 

The small quantity of aircraft (in comparison with the combined USMC and USN assets) makes the PLAMC reliant upon the PLAN for its air support, and the majority of that air support is reliant on land-based air strips to be effective. This latter element is mitigated to some extent by the construction of a 3,300 m airstrip at Fiery Cross Reef. Runways have also been constructed on Subi and Mischief reefs, giving China three air facilities in the region. The US Department of Defense (DoD) noted, “The infrastructure China appears to be building would enable it to establish a more robust power projection presence into the South China Sea.” China has built reinforced hangars at all three sites, each of which has hangar space for 24 fighters plus 3–4 larger aircraft, according to US-based research groups.

 

China builds world’s first armed amphibious drone boat that can lead land assault

China has built the world’s first armed amphibious drone boat which military analysts said could be used in land assault operations and is capable of forming a combat triad with aerial drones and other drone ships. Built by Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group under China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), the drone ship, named Marine Lizard, successfully passed delivery checks and left factory on April 8 in Wuhan, capital of Central China’s Hubei Province, CSIC revealed in April 2019 via Sina Weibo.

 

In ship form, the 12-meter-long Marine Lizard is a trimaran propelled by a diesel-powered hydrojet and can reach a maximum speed of 50 knots while maintaining stealth. When approaching land, the amphibious drone ship can release four continuous track units hidden under its belly, and travel at 20 kilometers an hour on land, the Hubei Daily reported on Sunday, citing an unnamed company manager.The manager also noted the maximum land speed can be increased if larger track units are installed.

 

The Marine Lizard’s payloads include an electro-optical system and a radar system. In the weapon department, it is equipped with two machine guns and a vertical launching system for anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles, the manager said, noting it can autonomously sail, avoid obstacles and plan routes. This amphibious drone boat is suitable for island assault operations as a swarm of such drone ships could lead an attack following a first wave of artillery and air strikes, an anonymous military expert told the Global Times.

 

Approaching land from the sea is a dangerous task, and the Marine Lizard can take advantage of its unmanned nature to discover enemy positions and provide suppressive fire as troops follow, the expert said. The drone boat is also a great choice for coastal defense. The company manager said it can remain dormant on an uninhabited island for up to eight months before engaging in combat once it receives orders, according to the Hubei Daily report. Provided with world-class navigation by China’s independently developed BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, the Marine Lizard can cooperate with other battle units in an integrated command system, the manager said.

 

The anonymous expert also pointed out the amphibious Marine Lizard can possibly form an unmanned sea-land-air integrated combat system with aerial armed reconnaissance drones and other drone ships, which can engage in combat with great efficiency and low risk of casualties. Having a maximum operation range of 1,200 kilometers, the Marine Lizard can be remotely controlled via satellites, the company manager said.

 

The drone is available for export, as it is developed with the needs of international clients in mind, according to a statement released by Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group.

US Marine Amphibious  Capability

The US Marine Corps (USMC) employs a much greater level of armour than others, but its most potent land asset – the M1A1 main battle tank – is reliant on large and vulnerable Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) landing craft.

 

According to Jane’s Armoured Fighting Vehicles , the M242 is believed to be capable of penetrating the rolled homogeneous armour (RHA) equivalent of 25 mm when set at a 60° angle from a range of 1,300 m. The mortar variant has a range of 5,700 m and can achieve a burst fire rate of 30 rds/min for two minutes. Furthermore, there are several missiles available for the LAV-AT.

 

The LAV-25 is an 8×8 vehicle capable of land and sea operations, although it is not a true assault amphibian as it lacks the ability to navigate the surf zone. As a result, it is reliant on calm seas or a transport from ship-to-shore, which minimises the shock effect that can be achieved by the vehicles. It was designed to provide the US with a Rapid Deployment Force that could be deployed anywhere in the world at short notice to defend US interests rather than for an opposed assault landing capability. LAV-25 family has considerable firepower, including the LAV-25 armed with a 25 mm cannon; the LAV-M, a mortar carrier with an 81 mm mortar; and the LAV-AT anti-tank vehicle armed with the capable TOW missile system.

 

The most effective anti-tank variant is the TOW-2B, which is a top attack missile armed with two explosively formed projectiles. Alternatively, the TOW-2A is armed with a tandem high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warhead that can penetrate 1,000 mm of RHA behind explosive reactive armour (ERA). If faced with entrenched infantry or fortified positions the launcher can also fire the TOW-BB, a high-explosive-armed missile capable of penetrating 203 mm of double reinforced concrete.

 

The USMC is scheduled to receive 340 F-35C Lightning IIs, and the West Coast Marine Attack Squadrons will be the first to replace its Harriers with the fifth-generation aircraft. The F-35 provides the USMC with an significant air combat capability, while the GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II precision-guided munitions will enable them to engage moving targets on the ground with precision and lethal effects. In air engagements the AIM-120C range of air-to-air missiles provide a maximum engagement range of 105 km.

 

At a tactical level, the USMC operates the AH-1Z attack helicopter. Once the AH-1Z reaches its initial operational capacity in 2020, it will be armed with the Hellfire missile with fire-and-forget capabilities and a prospective maximum range of 12 km. Further firepower is provided by the KC-130J Harvest HAWK (Hercules Airborne Weapons Kit). The Harvest HAWK mission kit is a modular, roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) weapons system that provides the USMC baseline KC-130Js with an offensive air-to-surface capability. It includes an AN/AAQ-30 Target Sight Sensor mounted under the port-side wing fuel tank and a launcher for four AGM-114P Hellfire II laser-guided air-to-surface missiles (ASMs) mounted on the port-side refuelling pylon. The MBDA GBU-44/E Viper Strike munition and Raytheon Griffin ASMs can also be fired from a ramp-mounted 10-round launcher, dubbed the ‘Derringer Door’.

 

Supporting the USMC during its operations is a vast fleet of support helicopters based around the V-22 Osprey and the CH-53 Sea Stallion. With a total of 483 airframes between just these two helicopter types, the USMC is likely to be well-supported during ground operations. The USMC also, of course, could be expected to operate alongside enormous US carrier groups and the thousands of aircraft that the US Navy (USN) has at its disposal.

 

US-Japan Advance New Amphibious Capability

The amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) became the first U.S. Navy ship in the 7th Fleet to conduct amphibious operations with the newly established Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF) Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB) troops and their equipment Oct. 2018.

 

JGSDF assault amphibious vehicles were recovered by Ashland Sailors and embarked Marines from 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) during humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) training as a part of exercise Kaagapay Ng Mga Mandirigma Ng Dagat (KAMANDAG) 2. The ARDB, formed on March 27, 2018, brings new capability to the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) by combining ground forces, aviation support and logistical capabilities into a cohesive unit capable of operating from the sea and reacting to a variety of scenarios, including self-defense and humanitarian assistance-disaster relief.

 

“This is a milestone achievement and a significant step forward in capability development for Japan’s newly established amphibious force,” said Rear Adm. Brad Cooper, commander, Amphibious Force 7th Fleet. “The JGSDF and JMSDF (Japan Maritime Self Defense Force) have made enormous strides in their amphibious capability since establishment of the ARDB just six months ago. We are proud to work side-by-side with our friends from Japan and the Philippines during this exercise and look to the future with great anticipation to train together.”

 

KAMANDAG 2 is a bilateral, U.S., Philippine, military training exercise with U.S. forces being led by the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. This year, Japan Self-Defense Forces are participating in HADR portions of the exercise to expand the capabilities of their newly formed ARDB. Ashland will be working with allied nations and their marine forces conducting various amphibious operations focused on humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR) during the exercise. In addition to HADR, exercises conducted during KAMANDAG 2 will consist of amphibious operations, counterterrorism, live-fire training, as well as jungle survival and combat lifesaving training.

 

Ashland, part of the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group, with embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, is operating in the Indo-Pacific region to enhance interoperability with partners and serve as a ready-response force for contingency operations.

 

Amphibious Combat Vehicle from BAE and SAIC to replace Assault Amphibious Vehicle (AAV)

The Marine Corps chose BAE and SAIC from a field of five competitors to build competing prototypes for the long-awaited Amphibious Combat Vehicle. After early doubts about the ACV candidates’ capabilities, the Marines are now confident the winner will be as fast on the water as the old AAV and vastly better on land, with mobility similar to the Army’s eight-wheel-drive Stryker and — perhaps most importantly — protection equal to an MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected) vehicle.

 

Each of the two winners will build 16 vehicles to be delivered from January through April 2017. That unusually large number of prototypes will speed up testing and development of tactics, By the time the program enters its formal operational evaluation (OPEVAL) in late 2017 (early fiscal year 2018), said Garner, “the Marines will have already learned how they’re going to operate these vehicles.”

 

The Assault Amphibious Vehicle (AAV)—official designation AAV-P7/A1 (formerly known as Landing Vehicle, Tracked, Personnel-7 abbr. LVTP-7)—is a fully tracked amphibious landing vehicle manufactured by U.S. Combat Systems and FNSS Defence Systems. It is used by U.S. Marine Corps Assault Amphibian Battalions to land the surface assault elements of the landing force and their equipment in a single lift from assault shipping during amphibious operations to inland objectives and to conduct mechanized operations and related combat support in subsequent mechanized operations ashore. It is also operated by other forces. Marines call them “amtracks,” a shortening of their original designation, “amphibious tractor.”

 

The AAV-7 has served beyond the USMC with the forces of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Italy, South Korea, Taiwan, Spain, Thailand, Venezuela and Indonesia. LVTP-7 was heavily used in the 1991 Gulf War and Operation Restore Hope. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, AAV-7A1s were criticized for providing poor protection for the crew and passengers compared with other vehicles such as the M2 Bradley. Eight were disabled or destroyed during the Battle of Nasiriyah, where they faced RPG, mortar, tank and artillery fire. At least one vehicle was destroyed by fire from friendly A-10 Warthog attack planes. In August 2005, 14 Marines were killed when their AAV struck a roadside bomb in the Euphrates River valley.

 

The existing fleet, which is designed to execute a wide range of amphibious attack missions from ship-to-shore, is now receiving new side armor (called spall liner), suspension, power trains, engine upgrades, water jets, underbelly ballistic protections and blast-mitigating seats to slow down or thwart the damage from IEDs and roadside bombs, Maj. Paul Rivera, AAV SU Project Team Lead, told Scout Warrior. “The purpose of this variant is to bring back survivability and force protection back to the AAV P-variant (existing vehicle),” he said.

 

The new AAV, called AAV “SU” for survivability upgrade, will be more than 10,000 pounds heavier than its predecessor and include a new suspension able to lift the hull of the vehicle higher off the ground to better safeguard Marines inside from being hit by blast debris. With greater ground clearance, debris from an explosion has to farther travel, therefore lessening the impact upon those hit by the attack. The AAV SU will be about 70,000 pounds when fully combat loaded, compared to the 58,000-pound weight of the current AAV.

 

“By increasing the weight you have a secondary and tertiary effects which better protect Marines. We are also bringing in a new power train, new suspension and new water jets for water mobility,” Rivera said. The variant also provides improved mobility, command, control, and repair capabilities while transporting troops and cargo from ship to shore.

 

BAE Unveils 1st Amphibious Combat Vehicle for Marines

BAE Systems has unveiled the first production model of its 34-ton, eight-wheel-drive Amphibious Combat Vehicle at the Modern Day Marine show. BAE and SAIC are competing to replace the Marine Corps’ aging, ungainly, and thinly armored Amphibious Assault Vehicles.

 

The AAVs are huge tracked machines with boat-like hulls, which proved deathtraps when they hit large roadside bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq. BAE says its 8×8 ACV is more survivable and more agile on land than the current AAV, with equal performance on the water. That’s huge.

 

BAE’s ACV offering is simply an upgraded SuperAV; BAE and IVECO took the Italian SuperAV design and tweaked it for the Marines. Most notably, they added bigger tires, upgunned the transmission, and rebored the engine to add 40 percent more horsepower. Those changes allows the ACV to carry more protection, more troops — a full squad of 13 Marines, plus three crew — and more future upgrades, such as bigger gun or add-on armor.

 

Because the swim from ship to beach is a relatively short part of an amphibious operation, followed by much more maneuvering ashore, the brass were willing to sacrifice some performance on the water to get better survivability and mobility on land. At least, they were willing to sacrifice in the short term: The current ACV 1.1 competition allows limited amphibious capability, but the ultimate ACV 1.2 will have to equal the old AAV.

 

FNSS to Develop New Armored Amphibious Assault Vehicle for Turkish Navy

The contract for the Armoured Amphibious Assault Vehicle (ZAHA) Project was signed between SSM and FNSS, the vehicles will be developed and produced by FNSS based on an indigenous development model. Program was initiated by the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSM) to meet the amphibious armoured vehicle requirement of the Turkish Naval Forces Command.

 

The FNSS will deliver a total of 27 vehicles, including 23 personnel carriers, 2 command and control vehicles and 2 recovery vehicles. The technical characteristics of the Armoured Amphibious Assault Vehicles were determined by taking into consideration the operational concept and mission requirements defined by the Turkish Naval Forces Command.

 

As vehicles that have a dual nature due to their mission requirements, armoured amphibious assault vehicles need to exhibit superior performance both at sea and on land. Only a few countries around the world have such vehicles in their inventories. Among NATO countries and allies, only a single company other than FNSS produces vehicles of this class.

 

In addition to enabling the safe landing of units during landing operations, armoured amphibious assault vehicles also serve as armoured combat vehicles or armoured personnel carriers after reaching shore. During the landing phase of an operation, these vehicles are launched from landing helicopter dock (LHD) approaching the coast, and rapidly cover the several kilometres distance in between, allowing units to land with minimum delay. Once on land, they can continue taking part in operations side by side with other armoured vehicles.

 

Compared to similar examples, these vehicles are expected to be superior in the following respects:
— Number of personnel transported by the vehicle,
— Level of ballistic and mine protection, and
— Performance criteria on land and in water.

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