The People’s Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps is in the midst of a massive reorganization and build out that will greatly enhance China’s ability to project power abroad.
At the center of the plan multiplying the relatively small force five times—from about 20,000 uniformed personnel to potentially over 100,000 Marines. This force increase is largely accomplished through folding up to eight PLA amphibious brigades, which were Army units responsible for amphibious missions, into the PLANMC order of battle. This expansion will make the PLANMC more of a full spectrum expeditionary force like the Marine Corps in the United States. Historically, China’s Marine Corps was an elite light infantry formation akin to the British Royal Marines.
Let’s take a look at what the PLANMC has right now, and the heavy equipment it could soon gain:
The heavy hitters of the PLANMC are likely to be the ZTZ-96 (pictured above) main battle tank (which has equipped PLA forces) and the ZBD-05 infantry fighting vehicles (IFV). The ZBD-05 is the only fast amphibious IFV in the world, carrying eight infantry and three crew at speeds of over 15 miles per hour in the water and 40 miles per hour on land. It achieves its high speed by hydroplaning (using flat surfaces to reduce hydrological drag).
For long range fire support needs, the PLANMC can count on the 122mm PLZ-07 and 155mm PLZ-05 self propelled howitzers (pictured above). The lighter PLZ-07 can fire 50-pound shells to a range of about 17 miles, making it a perfect fit for organic brigade artillery, while the larger PLZ-05 can fire special ammunition with a range of about 62 miles.
While hovercraft for rapid amphibious landings will continue to be controlled by the PLAN proper, the massive Zubr and Yuyi landing craft air cushion (LCACs) will be a key part of PLANMC landing capabilities. Buoyed by massive air cushions, the LCACs can rush in at speeds of over 70 miles per hour onto land, rapidly landing heavy armor and Marines to storm defenses and hold the beaches for reinforcements. The Russian origin Zubr can carry 145 tons of cargo, and is armed with 30mm Gatling cannons and 140mm rocket artillery. The Yuyi LCAC, while smaller (a 60-ton payload), can be launched from the well decks of the Type 071 landing platform dock, which are the premiere amphibious warfare ships for the PLANMC.
While the PLANMC currently has no aircraft, there exists the strong possibility that Chinese Marines will field its own organic aviation attack assets, as opposed to relying on PLA and PLAN helicopters. Army Z-10 attack helicopters are already operating from landing ships in support of Chinese amphibious exercises. The Z-10’s battery of guided anti-tank missiles and chain cannon make it a useful system for both supporting amphibious and inland combat, as well as operations against lightly defended enemy shipping.
In air defense roles the PLANMC could use HQ-17 SAM tracked launchers for frontline air defense. The HQ-17, a Chinese modified variant of the Russian TOR short range SAM, uses high tech radars to guide 7-mile-range missiles against hostile aircraft, drones, and missiles.
The expansion and reorganization of China’s Marine force is another key aspect of China building up the traditional tools of global power. Akin to the role that U.S. Marines play, they can be stationed at home, potentially based abroad (such as in a future at ports like Gwadar, Pakistan or Dijibouti, to secure Chinese trade routes), or aboard PLAN ships. Focus on the maritime will enhance China’s ability to carry out amphibious landings as well as deploy light expeditionary forces. A force with the motto of “Tiger of the land, dragon of the sea” is taking a big step forward.
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