The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is looking for new ways to expand its maritime logistical capabilities. While the PLAN has focused on both denying enemy naval forces access to waters near China, as well as operating in said water, China needs a significant maritime transport capability to move forces and materials that can decisively influence events on lands separated from the Mainland by oceans. This can be achieved with both specialized platforms, as well as through ships taken up from trade (STUFT), which is the practice of naval forces adding merchant marine ships to their order of battle in wartime.
The "H1183" is a 50,000 ton displacement cargo ship with a giant staging platform installed at its waterline, which can accomodate a wide variety of hovercraft, helicopters, fast craft and armored fighting vehicles. Soon after its May 2015 commissioning, the H1183 was spotted carrying a Zubr class heavy amphibious assault hovercraft. The H1183 was launched by Huangpu Wenchong Shipyard, as the smaller Chinese equivalent to the U.S. Mobile Landing Platform. Its 33 meter by 120 meter submergible platform is large enough to carry up to three Type 726 hovercraft, which can transport one main battle tank from sea to land. MLP type vessels are intended to complement traditional landing platform docks by providing additional, cheaper sealift capacity for seabasing away from existing land bases, peacetime prepositioning, special force operations and disaster relief.
On June 17, Chinese government issued orders for civilian shipbuilders to ensure that five types of civilian ships, container, roll-on/roll-off, multipurpose, bulk carrier, and break-bulk cargo carriers, will be technically compliant for emergency mobilization during wartime. The official China Daily newspaper notes that the Royal Navy took similarily advantage of augmented civilian shipping during the Falklands War. Additionally, the U.S. military used Special Middle East Shipping Agreements to book air cargo space during the Gulf War.
|China has one of the world's biggest shipbuilding industries by volume, which produced 39.05 million dry weight tons in 2014.|
These technical changes will likely include the ability to install military grade communications and defense systems when needed, as well as stronger damage control mechanisms such as additional firefighting equipment. Such militarized new ships would likely be used not for limited skirmishes in the South or East China Seas, but rather in support of sustained maritime, amphibious and regional power projection campaigns, such as around the Taiwan Straits, Gulf of Aden or North Korea. Given China's status as one of the world's largest shipbuilder by displacement, including those five categories of transports, and a large merchant marine fleet, the PLAN will not come up short when mobilizing immediate SHUFT capacity.
|While most people would be familiar with RO/RO ferries and transports as a way to get across the English Channel, or onto Nantucket, the PLA uses mobilized RO/RO ferries as a way to cheaply and quickly move troops and vehicles by sea.|