Are China and the US Destroying Each Other’s Amphibious Warships?

On April 11, 2020, as the world was in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic; while the American political system was seizing between the infighting of the two political parties, China’s Type 075 amphibious warship, the first of many such warships that Xi Jinping’s regime intends to build over the next few years, was resting peacefully at the Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding facility in Shanghai. Much to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) chagrin, the warship caught fire.

According to Tyler Rogoway of The Drive, it is unclear as to how the fire broke out on the ship but it appears to have emanated from the warship’s well deck. As Rogoway described it, the “well deck is a floodable garage-like space that is used on amphibious assault ships for launching and recovering ship-to-shore transport boats and hovercraft, as well as amphibious fighting vehicles.”

The Chinese PLAN Type 075 amphibious warship burning in port.

Think of amphibious warships as miniature aircraft carriers. If, as China’s Communist rulers have long threatened, China’s military were to invade nearby Taiwan, they would need these amphibious warships to lead the charge. Toward that end, Xi Jinping has gone on a shipbuilding spree. Since 2019, China has built three of these mini-aircraft carriers, with an indeterminate number planned. Given Beijing’s commitment to becoming a true naval power, and that China is engaged in standoffs with its neighbors in the South and East China Seas, as well as Taiwan–to say nothing of its growing rivals with the US Navy–one can assume that China is planning many more of these warships.

The United States has eight of these amphibious warships.

That one of China’s precious amphibious warships randomly caught fire while docked was not only hugely embarrassing for Beijing, but it also represented a real threat to China’s growing near-term aspirations for maritime power projection. If Beijing is to take Taiwan any time soon, it needs as many amphibious warships as it can get. Very little official information was disseminated to the curious international public about this event. Although, it seems that the fire, while severe, was short-lived. The ship was not seriously damaged by the conflagration.

Still, it was an odd event that could have temporarily stunted China’s obsessive quest for greater amphibious capabilities in order to invade Taiwan or capture more of the South and East China Seas from their regional rivals.

Almost exactly three months after the Type 075 warship fire in Shanghai, on July 12, 2020, the USS Bonhomme Richard, one of America’s eight amphibious warships, was docked in San Diego Harbor undergoing upgrades when it caught fire. The blaze lasted for four days, with toxic smoke billowing far beyond San Diego Harbor, leeching into the civilian areas beyond.

What’s more, the fire was so devastating that the $4 billion warship had to ultimately be decommissioned. More ominously, the US Navy has released an official statement in which they announced that an as-yet-to-be-named sailor–a crew member of the Bonhomme Richard, no less–has been arrested on charges of arson, pending court-martial. Nearly 160 sailors and officers were reported to have been aboard the warship when the fire began.

More than 60 sailors were treated for injuries resulting from the fire.

The USS Bonhomme Richard burns in San Diego on July 11, 2020. Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images.

It is important to note that the US Marines rely disproportionately on the Navy’s paltry number of eight (now, seven) amphibious warships to conduct training and missions. As an expeditionary force, and in light of the drawdowns in the Middle East and the concomitant rise of China’s threat in the Indo-Pacific, the amphibious warship capability is key for the Marines in effectively conducting their primary mission of being an expeditionary force.

The loss of one of these warships will undoubtedly complicate an already-strained US Navy capability to deter the rising Chinese threat while also deterring other foes around the world. And replacing this warship will be hugely expensive (in an age of flat defense budgets) and time-consuming (it could take anywhere between three and five years to build a new amphibious warship).

Meanwhile, China’s amphibious threat grows.

Yet, one must ask why the Navy has been so tight-lipped about the details surrounding the suspected arsonist behind the Bonhomme Richard‘s fire? Are they covering something up? Why is there not a greater investigation being taken up by the United States Congress?

Another, more ominous question must be posed: is it at all possible that the spontaneous combustion of China’s Type 075 amphibious warship while in port was in any way related to the arson aboard the Bonhomme Richard three months later in San Diego Harbor?

This is not meant to be a conspiratorial post. But in today’s age of #FakeNews and disinformatziya, when there are actual shadow wars being waged between the United States and its enemies, whether it be Russia, Iran, or even China, using unconventional and indirect methods, the question simply must be raised (especially since official sources are so unwilling to provide actual answers on this critical matter).

This is an excellent ‘splainer from Sean McFate while speaking to the excellent Westminster Institute from a few years back.

Sadly, answers are not forthcoming. Given how important the amphibious warship capability is for both the United States and China–and how few both sides have at the moment–it does seem reasonable that both sides would be targeting these systems before the actual shooting war erupted (and it will. Soon). And, if these events are related to some ongoing shadow war between the United States and China, how much longer until it escalates…and what happens when Chinese or American sailors or Marines are killed?

Personally, I’m not sure which is more frightening, that both China and the US are clearly already waging war upon each other in cyberspace, space, trade, etc. Or, that China is clearly better at this style of asymmetrical warfare than the US is (after all, if my theory is correct, then China somehow managed to destroy one of our amphibious warships while theirs got away with seemingly superficial damage. Let’s hope I’m wrong and this is just one big coincidence).

Keep an eye on this one. I know that I will.

Brandon J. Weichert’s new book, “THE SHADOW WAR: IRAN’S QUEST FOR SUPREMACY” will be released soon from Republic Book Publishers.

Be sure to pick up the book that Dennis Prager has called, “Truly Important” today…

Republic Book Publishers.

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