China’s shipyards have launched the PLA Navy’s first two Type 075 amphibious assault ships, which will form the spearhead of an expeditionary force to play a role similar to that of the US Marine Corps. And like the Marines, the new force will be self-contained – able to deploy solo with all its supporting weapons to fight in distant conflicts or demonstrate Chinese military power.
The 40,000-tonne Type 075 ships are a kind of small aircraft carrier with accommodation for up to 900 troops and space for heavy equipment and landing craft, according to Western military experts who have studied satellite images and photographs of the new vessels. The first Type 075 was launched last September and the second in April, according to reports in China’s official military media. A third is under construction. Eventually, the PLA Navy could have seven or more of these ships, according to reports in China’s official military press.
The military rivalry between China and the United States is only growing sharper. Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared most of Beijing’s claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea illegal, throwing Washington’s weight behind the rival claims of Southeast Asian nations over territory and resources in the strategic waterway that were supported by international law. China said the US position raised tensions in the region and undermined stability.
China’s nascent amphibious forces still lag far behind those of the United States, but the speed of China’s military rise has already shifted the balance of power in Asia. Over the past two decades, China has deployed an arsenal of missiles and a massive surface and sub-surface fleet to deter potential enemies from sailing in its coastal waters. Now, as part of an accelerated modernization of the PLA since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, these new amphibious ships and the specially trained marines they carry will boost Beijing’s firepower and political influence far from its shores, according to Chinese and Western military analysts.
As shipyards churn out amphibious vessels, China is expanding its force of marines under the command of the PLA Navy. These troops are being trained and equipped to make landings and fight their way ashore. China now has between 25,000 and 35,000 marines, according to US and Japanese military estimates. That’s a sharp increase from about 10,000 in 2017.