Created: 3/3/1987

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directorate of intelligence


china's marines: in search ot professionalism

the chinese probably see the visit to china of us marine corps commandant, general p. x. keiiev. as an opportunity to study the organization and tactics ot the united states marine corps, possiblyodel for china's fledgling marine forces beijing seems most interested in the us marine corps" rocruit selection and training, coordination ot combined-arms operations, and logistics and organizational setups. we believe beijing could institute maior reforms in us amphibious training and tacticsesult of close contacts with the us marine corps that could significantly enhancechinas amphibious warfare capabilities over the nextearsh

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sources or methods involved

oerived from multiple

Beijing has almost no experience in modern amphibious operations and created its first Marine brigadeen in the South Sea Fleet0 The Chinese Marines have been Involved in increasingly realistic training but still lack adequate naval guntire support and ihe experience in complex combined-arms operations toanding against anythingightly defended beachhead. Beijing has worked to ensure its Marines have adequate amphibious lift capability and the South Sea Fleet now has enough landing ships to transport the entire Marine brigade mm

US allies in the Pacific almost certainly will express concerns anew if China makes significant improvements in Its Marine force, especially if the United States is perceived as aiding this development. Nonetheless, the evidence suggests that Beijing's primary concern is defense of the Paracels and we see no Indications that the Chinese intend to use their amphibious forces to support major offensive operations against Taiwan or


The Chinese military has almost no experience in modern amphibious warfare (see the inset) and only beganarine assault force for its Navy in the, largelyesult of escalating tensions with Vietnam. According to Chinese press accounts, the Navy formed its first dedicated force of Marines in the South Sea Fleetfter China's border war with Vietnam

We believe Beijing's primary concern is defending the vulnerable Paracel Islands, seized bv China from Vietnam4 but still claimed by Hanoi. Over the past several years, the new Chinese Marines have held several exercises aimed at reinforcing the Paracels. The largest of these took place in late May and earlyOint Soviet-Vietnamese amphibious exercise in the Gulf of Tonkin.

(naval facilities in southernas those at Zhaniiang. Yulin, and an thethem effective lumping-off points should Beijing decide to threaten Vietnamese holdings in the South China Sea Beijing claims the Spratly Islands, for example.f which are occupied by Vietnam, eight by the Philippines, one by Taiwan, and three by Malaysia.

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Tht History of Chinese Amphibious Warfare

All of China's amphibious assaults have buen earned out by units of the Chinese ground forces cross-trained in amphibious assault, not by Navy-subotdmated assault units Immediately after their seizure of power, tho Chinesetactics derived largely from riverinewoodon junks and US landing ships captured from trie Nationalists to stage amphibious assaults on Nationalist-held islands along the Chinese coast;

o Inirst major assault ended in failure when Communists troops, landing In lightly armed junks and rafts, took several thousand casualties in an aborted attack against Jlnmenho Taiwan Strait

o Inho Communists successfully seized Hainan Island byiversionary landing at the city of Heikou but conducting iho main assault on boaches to the west and east of Ihe city. Communist casualties were high, however, as hundreds of Chinese troops drowned when their rafts towod by motorized junks capsized. |

Beijing's most impressive assault occurred in5hinese soldiers using four amphibious landing ships and numerous junksarrisonationalist troops on Yijiang island, just north of the Taiwan Strati This was the first coordinated assault with air and naval gunfire. andUSobservers noted that the operation was earned out in textbook fashion |

Beijing's most rocont experience with amphibious operations was an assault in4 on four islands in tho Paracel Islands, then held by South Vietnam Eyewitness accounts indicate thai Chinese infantry units simultaneously attacked the islandsoordinated, well executed attack Six hundred PLA soldiers, supported by naval gunlire. landed usmg rubber rafts Once ashore, the units quickly overwhelmed the defenders and employed reconnaissance-by-lire techniques during sweeps across the islands. Their use of this potentially dangerous technique, coupled with their ability to use identifiable terrain features to delineate unit boundaries, indicated that the assaults were well rehoarsed I

The development ol the Navy Marine force in the South Sea Fleet appears toriority of Chinese Navy Commander Liu Huaqing After Liu look charge of the Navye believe he spearheaded several professional reforms, including an increase In realistic training (see thee believe that llu's interest In the Marines stems from his expenence as Oflputv Chief of the General Staff, when he reportedly was

assigned th the Paracels

o seize

tha Chinese had

planned in the early tyaus to torm truee Marine Oivi$ions--onehe North, East and South Sea Fleet areas, but China's military reduction-in-force probably delayed plans for building more than one unit5 only one Marine division had been formed in the south This unit was subsequently reorganizedrigade

Lift Capacity

Beijing has also worked to ensure that Its the needed oceangoing amphibious lift capability

fledgling Marine force in the south has


built three the

ship (LST| tor the East Designated the Yukan-class.

We believe that the South Sea Fleet Marine division was probably still in the process of fleshing out its ranks and was nowhere near divisional size when the military began to reorganizehe move to brigade echelon therefore was almostosmetic change rathereduction in size,

tut'm t

the LSI is slightly larger1 -class 1ST and can liftanksroops in combat We estimatell three of its fleets Beijing has the capability to lift two to three lightly armed infantry divisions0 men) or two Marine brigades--if they haden each with tanks, armored personnel carriers, and heavy weapons (see the table)

China's Amphibious Warfare Ships

North SeaSea Fleet South Sea Flool








Total tablo is Secret Noforn Wnintel.

Chinese naval planners are also closely studying the role of air-cushion vehicles (ACVs) and helicopters in modern amphibious assaults, but are still in the experimental stage with such assets. Beijing has published photos of small numbers of Chinese troops disembarking from an ACV and helicopters during amphibious exercises China's experiment* with ACVs since theave producedozen variants for

Major Deficiencies Limit Power Projection

Despite the formationarine force, we believe China's ability to project power ashore remains extremely limited Besides the small size ol us one Marine brigade major deficiencies in China's training program and fire support for the Marines are apparent:

Chinese Commandos Disembarking From an Air Cushion Vehicle

The US Marineole Model lor the Chinese

The visit of US Marine Corps Commandant General P. X. Kelley to Ctilna this month will constitute the first significant contact between the Chinese military and the US Marine Corps. We behove the Chinese Navy views the visit not only as an opportunity to further enhance US-China naval relations, but also as an opportunity to improve China's Marines by studying their US counterpart. The Chinese haveimilar approach with other US service arms

develops closer contacts with the Chinese Marine force Bv studying US Marine Corps organization, tactics, training, logistics, and equipmentong period, the Chinese could make major improvements to their fledgling Marine force and significantly enhance its amphibious assault capability In our opinion, if properly (rained and organized for amphibious assault. Beijing's small Marine force would be capable of small operations such as seizing disputed islands in the South China Sea. raiding Vietnamese installations in the northern Gulf ol Tonkin, or even spearheading an assault on the Taiwan-occupied Pescadores

We have no evidence, however, that Boiling intends to use its amphibious forces to support major offensives operations against Taiwan or the Vietnamese

lacks the amphibious forces for

* Bei|ing hasow military profile along the Taiwan Strait since announcing its poiicy ol peaceful reunificationlthough Chinese leaders have on occasionaval blockade if Taiwan continued to ignore Beijing'sovertures, an amphibious assault is seen onlyast resort

A senior Chinese official has admitted that Beijir an assault on Taiwan

however, stopped building landing shipsnd shows no inclination to resume construction

Wo boliove that Beijing sees its Marines as primarily defending Hainan Island and the Paracels against aggression from Hanoi. Strong Vietnamese coastal defenseshinese assault on Vietnam highly unlikely. In addition to deficiencies in training and fire support for China's Marines. Chinese warships lack an effective sir defense capability, severely limiting the ability of the South Sea Fleet to project power Into the South China Sea. Any amphibious task force operating in the Spratlys. for example, would be out of range of Beijing's land-based fighters. |

Political costs would also weigh agamst Beijing's attempting to take the disputed islands in the Spratlys by force The Philippines. Malaysia, and Taiwan also have garrisons in the Spratlys. and any Chinese assault-even one directed solely against the Vietnamese-heldsour relations with Southeast Asian nationsime when China seeks their support against Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia and the USSR who bankrolls Vietnam's military machine. We believe Beijing is unlikely to risk poisoning its growing political ties to these statesonfrontation in the Spratlys with Vietnam unless severely provoked aaYaVAVjaWS

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