China should develop special barges or repurpose civilian cargo vessels to carry only artillery and rapid-firing anti-air close-in weapons system (CIWS), a leading Chinese social media propagandist has suggested.
The propagandist says that this would enable the Chinese armed forces to let loose a massive artillery fire on Taiwanese targets and protect against fast-flying anti-ship missiles, especially if fired in a salvo.
China commands a massive conventional superiority over Taiwan regarding technology, numbers, and defense industrial base. However, specific tasks during a military recourse on the island will likely get complicated owing to the steady flow of Western weapons to Taipei and the inherent risk and complexity of operations like an amphibious landing.
Therefore, the Chinese propaganda bureau officials suggested on social media what she described as a simple, unorthodox, technically easy, and cheap solution by repurposing non-military platforms for specialized war roles.
A version of this approach has been seen in the Russia-Ukraine war and by China itself. Ukraine and Russia successfully adapted commercially available, off-the-shelf UAVs for basic battlefield tasks like surveillance and artillery fire correction. Ukraine has pioneered retrofitting small and heavy-duty drones with explosives and warheads to use them as kamikaze drones/loitering munitions and slamming into Russian targets.
China, too, employs civilian roll-on/roll-over (RoRo) vessels to transport land vehicles like trucks, tanks, armored fighting vehicles, and troops, possibly across the Taiwan Strait in case of a war.
The RoRo fleet will be used regardless of whether China has all the Type 075 Landing Helicopter Docks (LHD) ready to maximize its hauling capability across the straits. The suggestion, therefore, to modify cargo ships as naval artillery and close-in short-range gun-based air defense flows from this line of thinking.
Civilian Ships For Simple Naval Roles
Zhao DaShuai, a member of China’s People’s Armed Police Propaganda Bureau (PAP), posted a thread on X (formerly Twitter), saying how “placing onto ships will be a game changer for a Taiwan contingency and make amphibious landing much easier.”
While landing troops on Taiwan’s beaches after crossing the 150-kilometer-long Taiwan Strait, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) must carry out “deep saturation salvos” behind the shore defenses. Taiwan Strait is 150 km wide on an average.
China’s 300-mm PHL-03 artillery tube rocket can’t reach Taiwan’s land targets since they can only strike the beaches with their range that is just a little over 150 km. This can only be “great for clearing the landing zone.”
The newer modular PHL-16 rocket artillery can be armed with the 370-mm BRE6 guided rocket, with a range of 300 km-plus, which can reach even Taiwan’s eastern shores by flying over the island and being fired from the mainland. But “they are rather expensive” and bring a disadvantageous cost-to-benefit ratio.
The only solution, therefore, is stockpiled older 122-mm unguided rockets, which, with an add-on guidance kit, become guided munitions. “Placing 122-mm rocket artilleries onto ships will provide landing units with “precise fire support in large volumes.” These are the first types of re-oriented dual-use ships Zhao suggests.
— The Shadow of the Eagle (@clemente3000) September 27, 2021
However, they might be vulnerable since they do not have any other air defense from anti-ship missiles that Taiwan might use to sink them. Zhao suggests using autonomous barges with several CIWS on them to secure them from aerial attacks, “forming a defensive wall of lead.”
Zhao refers to the PLAN’s seven-barreled 30-mm rotary Type 730 Gatling gun seen on many of its frontline destroyers like the Type 052C, Type 052D, or the latest Type 055. The Chinese even adapted it for land-based use, with a video emerging in September 2021 showing it on the back of a truck.
While the Type 730 can be roughly comparable to the US Phalanx CIWS, the Dutch Goalkeeper, or the Russian Kashtan twin-Gatling gun-missile hybrid systems, its land-based variant is similar to the C-RAM. With the general rate of fire behind each of the guns being between 3,000 to 9,000 rounds a minute, the idea is to saturate the immediate airspace with thousands of bullets, like a shotgun, and ensure no missile gets through.
China Has Put SPGs & AA Guns On Barges Before
Zhao posted older pictures of Chinese soldiers on a simple civilian cargo vessel, carrying three twin-barrelled manned AA guns, like the Russian ZSU 23-2. This appears to be a dedicated air-defense ship meant exclusively for tackling incoming aerial threats after they have possibly crossed layers of boats and their anti-air missiles.
Another photo showed six to eight self-propelled guns (SPG) on the main deck of a simple ship with a flat deck, secured in pits where the tracks wedge and stabilized with chain links. They are shown releasing rounds in what appears to be mass fired on land for a Taiwan contingency.
The photos from an older PLAN era show that such ships can be revived but with more modern, automated, accurate, and minimally-manned close-range air defense guns and tube rocket artillery.