As part of its growing ‘Gray Zone’ warfare tactics I just wrote about, and in anticipation of a potential future invasion of Taiwan, China is ramping up its training in amphibious helicopter assault tactics. In a noticeable change, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is shifting its helicopter focus from their “original supporting role to a main force in cross-sea operations,” notes China’s semi-official mouthpiece, Global Times (GT).
Integral to this new focus are the PLA’s Z-10 attack helicopters and the Mi-171 transports. GT added:
Based in Southeast China’s coastal regions, an army aviation brigade attached to the PLA 73rd Group Army recently conducted a cross-sea assault exercise in a sea region south of East China’s Fujian Province with multiple types of helicopters…
Z-10 attack helicopters and Mi-171 transport helicopters skimmed over the sea in formations to break up defense positions, as they fast-maneuvered to an unknown island on the high seas…
During the exercise, the army aviation brigade acted as a main combat force rather than support force as it has in the past, under the assistance of combined arms, special operations, radar and drone forces…
As I have explained previously, the deployment of the PLA Navy’s (PLAN) new Type 075 amphibious assault ships, akin to the older U.S. Tarawa class helicopter assault ships I served on three decades ago, is providing the PLA and PLAN substantial new capabilities. GT notes, quoting an anonymous Chinese defense source, that “helicopters will become more important in amphibious landing operations.”
“Army aviation forces could integrate with the Type 075s and maximize their combat potential, the expert said.”
GT was also not shy about specifically mentioning Taiwan as a potential target of these new capabilities and tactics, as well as islands in the South China Sea: “Amphibious assault ships mainly conduct vertical deployment and landing missions on islands and reefs like the island of Taiwan and those in the South China Sea, analysts said.”
While still far behind U.S. capabilities, and using PLA and PLAN forces together, these new Chinese amphibious forces are improving rapidly and closely mirroring U.S. Marine Corps vessels and tactics. The PLAN could soon try to convert the Type 75 into something similar to the Marines’ new America-class ‘Lightning Carriers.’
As Kris Osborne notes in The National Interest:
Chinese tactics, exercises and combat strategies appear to closely mirror, if not fully replicate U.S. activities. The use of amphibious assault ships as mini aircraft carriers…continues to accelerate. This is particularly true when it comes to the U.S. America-class amphibious assault ships and the arrival of the Marine Corps F-35B.
Take note Pentagon: the Chinese may not be that far behind.