05 Januari 2015
Armored vehicles of the PLA's Amphibious Mechanised Infantry Division. (photo/Xinhua)
The People's Liberation Army has doubled the size of its Amphibious Mechanized Infantry Division (AMID) to boost its combat capabilities in the event of a conflict with Taiwan or in the East or South China seas, reports our Chinese-language sister paper Want Daily.
The PLA originally had two AMIDs — one in the Nanjing Military Region and another in the Guangzhou Military Region — comprising a total of 26,000-30,000 soldiers. Between 2007 and 2012, Nanjing's 31st Army Group's 86th Motorized Infantry Division and Guangzhou's 41st Army Group's 123rd Mechanized Infantry Division were both reformed into AMIDs, doubling the total personnel to 52,000-60,000.
The four AMIDs will reportedly strengthen China's combat power as they can cooperate with the 20,000 troops from the PLA Marine Corps to conduct landing assault operations. Each AMID has three battle groups and can carry up to 300 amphibious transport vehicles.
The PLA appears to be looking to diversify the capabilities of its amphibious ground forces as opposed to simply fortifying its Marine Corps as a means to strengthen its authority in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, where it is embroiled in a number of territorial disputes.
A Pentagon report on the Chinese military from 2008 noted that the PLA has been increasing the mobility of its troops in the event of a conflict with Taiwan. The idea of boosting amphibious battle capability was raised in the 2014 version of the report, which said that one of the PLA's strategy options is to quickly take over Taiwan before other countries can intervene.
However, not everyone is convinced that the doubling of AMIDs will necessarily pose a bigger concern to Taiwan. Former Republic of China Marine Corps colonel, Yi-Jia Shiah, said AMIDs are fundamentally different to marines and that the threat is not as serious as publicized, though increased cooperation between the two units will have to be closely monitored.
The PLA's AMIDs and Marine Corps have not yet established a joint command system, he said, adding that in a potential conflict with Taiwan, command of the AMID will still belong to its military region to as opposed to the PLA Navy, which controls the Marine Corps.
The AMIDs also have insufficient battle experience on the seas and cannot simply rely on their ZBD-05 amphibious assault vehicles to cut cross the Taiwan Strait, he said, adding that the PLA will still need its Navy's Type 071 Yuzhao class amphibious transport dock and Type 081 landing helicopter dock or amphibious assault ships to carry out a proper landing assault.
The AMID's development is based on "coast-to-coast" warfare such as crossing rivers, lakes and difficult terrain while still maintaining its combat power, he said, while the Marine Corps is focused on "sea-to-land" warfare, which is more concerned with how to project the military's combat power across the seas.