China has the ability to deploy 2,000 troops to the disputed Diaoyutai islands (Diaoyu to China, Senkaku to Japan) in just five hours using its four Zubr-class air-cushioned landing craft purchased from Russia, according to an Apr. 2 report in the Wall Street Journal.
Although Lieutenant General John Wissler, the commanding general of the US Marine Corps in Okinawa, says that the United States is capable of wiping out invading Chinese forces without mobilizing ground forces, Western military expert have begun to question whether Washington and Tokyo are capable of defending Okinawa from a potential PLA invasion.
A single Zubr-class landing craft can transport 500 soldiers and 150 tonnes of equipment.
The Bell Boeing MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, deployed by the US in Okinawa, is four times faster than the Zubr-class landing craft; however, it would still be unable to stop a full-scale Chinese invasion of the islands because a single tiltrotor aircraft is only able to carry 24 combat personnel and six tonnes of equipment, according to the paper.
According to the Tokyo-based Diplomat magazine, if the islands were to be taken by the PLA, the next likely step would be for China to launch another invasion against Okinawa.
James Fanell, director of the US Navy's Intelligence and Information Operations told the magazine that the PLA Navy has been carrying out amphibious assault drills to practice taking territory in the East China Sea in a "short sharp war" against Japan aimed at reasserting their claim over Diaoyutai. If the uninhabited islands came under Chinese control, the PLA could then attack Okinawa to remove the facilities of the US Air Force and Marine Corps from the island, according to Fanell.
Major General Zhu Chenghu, dean of China's National Defense University, told the state-run Global Times that statements from US secretary of defense Chuck Hagel and Wissler suggest that Washington has decided to side with Tokyo on the issue. "The threat of China has always been used by the United States as an execuse to deploy more of its troops to East Asia," Zhu said.