Why is China Rigging Artillery to Cargo Ships?


Categorie: Asia, David Axe, Naval |
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Chinese sea artillery. Photo via China Defense.


Photos are circulating showing the Chinese military firing artillery and even tanks from the decks of commercial freighters. “At first glance these pictures appear confusing,” Stephen Miles notes. No kidding. Needless to say, cargo ships don’t make great platforms for tanks, and tanks don’t make great naval artillery. So why bother?

Miles, writing for China Defense, has two competing theories. The makeshift sea arty could “represent an emerging amphibious tactic” or “just more of the same ‘we will liberate Taiwan’ saber-rattling.”

Miles goes on to explain that the whole Chinese navy can currently carry only around 15,000 troops, far fewer than the 65,000 it would take to even gain a toehold against Taiwan’s beach defenses. That means pressing into service lots and lots of civilian cargo ships to help carry more troops. Those ships could need weapons to bolster the navy’s meager shore-bombardment capability.

If the strapped-on firepower really does represent a legitimate capability rather than a propaganda ploy, it could be a reflection of Beijing’s continuing desperation regarding the China-Taiwan military balance. China has a much bigger and, in many categories, more modern military than Taiwan, but Taiwan has one huge, nearly overwhelming advantage: It’s far easier to defend a beach than it is to capture one. No tank-freighter combo is going to change that.

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8 Responses to “Why is China Rigging Artillery to Cargo Ships?”

  1. sanem says:

    useful when invading Taiwan, and you’re short of military vessels. kind of like the allies converting merchant ships into carriers in WWII

    on accuracy, any type of guided ammunition would be great in this situation. assuming the Chinese don’t have any of these, sheer numbers would also help, if only for psychological effect ;-)

  2. FooMan2008 says:

    everything old is new again they have been using artillery on amphibious ships since the invasion of Salerno during WWII. We couldn’t hit anything due to the size of the landing craft and they were mostly used for smoke and starshells. In Viet Nam we would anchor LSM8′s in the river estuaries and use guns aboard for portable fire support, and keep the guns away from the bad guys.

  3. WarLord says:

    Kind of an interesting anti pirate strategy couple tanks on the deck launching cannister would be quite a surprise for your AK wielding bad guy

  4. Kyle Mizokami says:

    What bothers me is that resorting to this sort of ghetto mashup doesn’t really seem like the PLA/PLAN of 2010, more like the PLA/PLAN of 1990.

    China is starting to look beyond the dispute with Taiwan, and I wonder if such a shift in perspective is useful here.

    Chinas has been very eager to get ships to coast of Somalia to deal with the Somalia situation, point taken, PLAN. But doing so does tie up valuable surface combatants, and the Somali piracy situation doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon.

    Theory: China is testing the Q-ship concept, and is experimenting with putting ad-hoc gun platforms, like obsolete Type 62 tanks, on the decks of merchantmen. Call it an economy of force measure. Chinese military history is one episode after the other of the Chinese trying to “teach the enemy a lesson”. A few pirate boats getting blasted apart is not going to end piracy off Somalia, but lately I’m getting the impression that the Chinese don’t understand their opponents (like Google, for example.) Perhaps they feel like, like their own people, the pirates just need a demonstration of force and then everyone will fall in line.

  5. cbd says:

    If I’m not mistaken, those photos (and the experiments) are several years old…maybe an attempt to emphasize the threat China poses to Taiwan?


  6. Galrahn says:

    cbd is right. These are not recent photos.

  7. [...] Via War is Boring: China is mounting artillery on cargo ships in the Taiwan Strait. Cardboard tanks or naval [...]

  8. GPS says:

    Photoshopped. All of you idiots!

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