Chinese Transport "Workhorses" Extending Military's Reach
HONG KONG | Mon Feb 25, 2013 4:17pm EST
(Reuters) - China is expanding its long-neglected fleet of supply ships and heavy-lift aircraft, bolstering its military prowess in support of missions to enforce claims over disputed territory and to defend Chinese interests abroad.
These transport workhorses are unlikely to arouse the same regional unease as the steady rollout of high performance fighters, long-range missiles or potent warships, but they are a crucial element of the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) three-decade military build-up, defense analysts say.
Over time, the air and sea support will give the world's second-largest navy greater geographical reach and will enhance the PLA's capacity to assist troops on distant battlefields, potentially including Taiwan if Beijing were to launch a military assault to take control of the self-governing island.
China's state-owned shipyards last year launched two 23,000-tonne type 903 replenishment ships, according to reports and photographs published on Chinese military affairs websites and blogs, with further orders in the pipeline.