It was a Cold War cliche, that whenever an international crisis flared, the U.S. president would ask, “Where are the carriers?”
“Where are the amphibs?” he might ask these days. Instead of the massive firepower that aircraft carriers bring to bear, it’s amphibious ships’ ability to carry Marines, aid workers and engineers to the world’s troubled coastal zones that we need most.
It’s noteworthy that the select club of navies with large aircraft carriers hasn’t gained any important new members in decades. But everyone and their uncle is building new amphibs, including Japan, Korea, Australia and — most importantly — China. The People’s Liberation Army Navy has launched a crash program to build six dock landing ships and a hospital ship (for medical support duties). The first landing ship and the “Ship 866″ hospital vessel (pictured) entered service this fall.
The question is: why exactly? What kinds of missions does China have in mind? Are we talking conventional warfare … or U.S. Navy-style “soft-power” taskings? Or, more likely, both? It’s an issue I explore in my latest column for World Politics Review. Check it out.
(Photo: Chinese Internet)