While most of the recent focus in the Asia-Pacific has centered on China’s aircraft carrier development or the deployment of the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to Singapore, some of the real regional investment is in the more midrange amphibious ship fleets and their mobile ability to launch fixed-wing aircraft.
“The A-P (Asia-Pacific) region is the clear growth leader for the amphibious platform segment, with 117 new ships and craft expected for the region at a market value of over $13 billion,” naval investment consultancy AMI International says. “By hull count, the 16 nations in AMI’s A-P region are set to acquire more of these types of platforms than the rest of the world combined (outside the United States). Of particular note are ongoing and future large amphibious ships capable of operating both landing craft from floodable well decks and fixed-wing strike aircraft from hull-length flight decks. Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Australia all have programs for these designs of large amphibious ships.”
The “top-five” Asia-Pacific spenders for amphibious ships in craft over the next 20 years are, in order: China, India, Australia, the Republic of Korea and Indonesia, AMI says.
“As A-P navies develop larger balanced fleets, amphibious and logistics ships will become even more important parts of their fleet mix,” AMI says. “Many A-P nations are increasing their investments in larger amphibious ships and support platforms as their fleets increase in both size and operational reach. These types of ships are key to sustaining more distant naval operations. They also provide a flexible capability to respond to a wide range of missions — from peacetime disaster relief to power projection ashore by both ‘marine’ land forces and ship-based aircraft.”
Indeed, of all the recent U.S. moves made as part of its Pacific pivot, one of the most troublesome for China is the basing of additional U.S. Marines in Darwin, Australia, only an amphibious-ship hop away from other Asian shores, according to William Choong, the Shangri-La Dialogue senior fellow at the Singapore-based International Institute for Strategic Studies-Asia (IISS). “Australia is a formal defense ally of the U.S.,” Choong notes.
“Our ability to [conduct] amphibious operations is an asymmetric capability,” says Adm. Jonathan Greenert, U.S. chief of naval operations.
There is little doubt about the importance China’s People’s Liberation Army puts on amphibious operations.
“The PLA Navy also increased its amphibious force in 2012,” the Pentagon says in its recent annual China report. “Two Yuzhao-class amphibious transport docks (LPD) (Type 071) were accepted into service during the year, bringing the total of Yuzhao LPDs to three.”
U.S. Navy officials say the Chinese have been looking to developing amphibious and other logistical capabilities to support their more far-flung naval operations.
Officially, China says much of its naval resurgence is meant to protect what it considers to be its territories in the Pacific. But many defense analysts and others who study the region say the Asian giant is trying to establish and protect additional transit routes for the transportation of natural resources and trade.