China: July 30, 2002



With the growing Chinese military capability again in the news, a  February 1, 2002 article in the Beijing "Jianchuan Zhishi" on organizing fishing vessels for sea-crossing operations is worth examining. The Chinese admit that their conventional amphibious assets are insufficient to support any serious moves, so they have plan to muster 200 to 250 fishing ships (each over 50 tons and carrying a platoon or squad). A civilian leader from the mobilizing area assumes the post of deputy fleet commander, with the overall commander designated by the military.

They figure that every fleet can carry a light infantry division of approximately 8,000 soldiers. The heavy weapons and heavy equipment can only be transported by naval transport amphibious craft or by mobilizing large civilian transport craft, although there are photos of a PT-76 (Type 63) Amphibious Tank driving up a ramp onto a coastal fisher's deck.

To outfit these rag-tag fleets for invasion, the article proposes fitting them with basic Electronic Warfare (EW) gear and weaponry. Every fishing boat uses about 100 meters of cable to tow one or two sampans, so each sampan would get a strong angle reflector. These would jam enemy radar and act as decoys for incoming missiles, and in the event of 'scramble' landings act as delivery boats. Every fishing craft uses a 150-meter cable to tow one or several helium (hydrogen) balloons that are painted with metal on the outside, again for jamming and decoy missions. A small smoke generator dangling from the balloons, which the fleet would all start up to jam infrared, laser, television, and other optically guided missiles. The plan also calls for every ship in the fleet to have one radar jamming device. 

Fleet navigation and intelligence would rely primarily on timely reports from superiors (an assumption that could lead to disaster). Internal communications and command would use of simplified signals (such as flashing lights and flag signals, allowing the group's specialized communication channels to remain unjammed.

This reverse-Dunkirk plan calls for arming every vessel: the smaller ships each with a 12.7mm HMG and one MANPAD for every 2 or 3 ships. Every ship would also be fitted with a medium-size weapon owned by the transported troops, or from stores in the civil militia system. Those on the outer edge of the fleet would have 85mm or 100mm guns to use against direct-fire targets, while those in the core would have various Multiple-Rocket Launchers.

Two-fifths of the larger boats will be equipped with rocket type anti-submarine deep water explosive launchers, while another 40% will be fitted with dual 37-mm or dual 25-mm artillery or 14.5 mm machine guns. These older weapons would be salvaged from the civil militia system, from retired troop storage or navy ships. 

So, is this Chinese fantasy, disinformation, or the real thing? They claim to be able to organize 50 fleets in their "first tier", with more than 10,000 fishing boats and carry 50 light infantry divisions into amphibious operations. That sounds like language leftover from the "old" Chinese army - low-tech, foot-mobile and large. In all liklihood, the "Jianchuan Zhishi" article articulates an updated version of a 1960's-vintage plan that, while still viable, is probably not Beijing's first choice for 21st century mischief. - Adam Geibel




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