CMSI China Maritime Reports


J. Michael Dahm



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This report provides a comprehensive assessment of Chinese civilian shipping support to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), examining civil maritime-military activities in 2023. As of 2023 and probably through at least 2030, the PLA’s reserve fleet of civilian ships is probably unable to provide the amphibious landing capabilities or the over-the-shore logistics in austere or challenging environments necessary to support a major cross-strait invasion of Taiwan. However, 2023 activity has demonstrated significant progress toward that end. In addition to the extensive use of civilian ferries, this report identifies the first use of large deck cargo ships to support PLA exercises. While not as capable as large, ocean-going ferries, China’s civil fleet boasts dozens of large deck cargo ships and may provide the PLA with the lift capacity necessary to eventually support a large crossstrait operation. This report also discusses other civil maritime-military activities including “surge lift events,” coordination and synchronization of multi-theater events, floating causeway developments, and the dedicated use of civilian ships for intra-theater military logistics.

Publication Date

February 2024


China Maritime Studies Institute, U.S Naval War College


Newport, Rhode Island


China, PRC, China Maritime Studies Institute, CMSI, People’s Liberation Army, PLAN, cargo deck ships, RO-RO ships, civil maritime support

China Maritime Report No. 35: Beyond Chinese Ferry Tales: The Rise of Deck Cargo Ships in China's Military Activities, 2023