PLA may not be ready for major amphibious attack on Taiwan before 2030: ex-US Navy intelligence officer

by Laura Zhou at

The Chinese military started using regular “deck cargo” ships in drills last year but the vessels may not give much of an immediate logistics boost to any efforts to attack Taiwan, according to a retired US Navy intelligence officer.

The integration of deck cargo ships into People’s Liberation Army exercises last year was “the most significant innovation” in the PLA’s coordinated efforts and interactions with civilian maritime assets, J. Michael Dahm, now senior resident fellow at the US-based Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, said in the latest China Maritime Report.

Deck carriers – vessels that move cargo on open, flat decks – could help the PLA to address its shortcomings in transporting troops and equipment in large-scale operations. But more assessment is needed to know just how effective they would be, according to the report published on the US Naval War College website last week.

Despite some progress in integrating civilian vessels with military exercises, the PLA may still not have the range of amphibious landing capabilities or the over-the-shore logistics needed for a major cross-strait attack on Taiwan before at least 2030, the report said.

“The PLA continued to make progress in 2023 to reduce its potential risk and losses,” Dahm wrote.

“However, this report assesses that at least through 2030, the PLA’s reserve civilian merchant fleet is probably unable to provide significant amphibious landing capabilities or the maritime logistics in austere or challenging environments necessary to support a large-scale, cross-strait invasion of Taiwan.

“That said, if current trends in training and exercises continue, the PLA may be able to effectively leverage civil maritime shipping on a large enough scale to support a major amphibious operation by the mid-2030s.”