CONTENT PREVIEW
Military Capabilities

China practices Taiwan invasion with civilian ferries, bomber flights in Bashi Channel

16 June 2015
Two PLAAF Xian H-6K strategic bombers flew over the Miyako Strait on 21 May. Source: Japan Air Self-Defense Force

A series of Chinese military exercises between late May and early June showcased the ability of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to project land, air, and naval power into the area around Taiwan.

While China has made no official connection, the exercises also coincided with the 29 May to 3 June visit to the United States of Tsai Ing Wen, the leader of the anti-unification Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who could win the presidency in elections scheduled for 2016.

Perhaps the most interesting was the PLA Daily 's 10 June review of a mobility exercise from late May in which a 20,000-ton civilian roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) ferry was assigned to the Transportation Department of the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). It transported personnel and trucks from the Bohai Sea to the South China Sea.

To compensate for the relatively small size of its formal naval amphibious transport fleet the PLA has co-funded construction of a large number of ferries used by civilian companies. They will be made available to the PLA during emergencies and are a frequent element in civil-military transport exercises.

The PLA Daily article featured an image of an officer giving a briefing with a digitally barely concealed map of Taiwan. In early 2014 an Asian government source told IHS Jane's that with combined military-civil transport, the PLA could move eight to 12 divisions to Taiwan.

China also conducted a series of exercises sending air and naval forces through the Bashi Channel and then to the region east and south of Taiwan. On 10 June PLA Navy spokesman Liang Yang confirmed the naval deployments.

These "imitated real combat conditions in waters east of the Bashi Channel, south of Taiwan," according to a Chinese press report. The naval formation included a Type 052B destroyer, a Type 054A frigate, and a Type 904 underway replenishment ship.

On 21 May PLA Air Force spokesman Shen Jinke confirmed that the PLAAF had conducted exercises through and beyond the Bashi Strait. This included the first PLAAF deployment of the Xian Aircraft Corporation H-6K bomber in this region.

The H-6K is a highly modified version of the bomber that can carry six KD-20 land attack cruise missiles on wing pylons plus one or more in its bomb bay. It can also carry a wide range of new precision-guided munitions available from four Chinese weapon manufacturers.

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