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China using civilian Ro-Ro barges for power projection.


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What are ro-ro freighters normally used for?  Areas that don't have docks I guess?


For almost everything in the Southeast Asia region really. Ro-Ros are really common in Indonesia, the Philippines and other nearby countries because you can have them dock on pretty port rudimentary facilities - no need for a pier or a large crane. The Philippines and Indonesia use them so much because we have a huge number of islands and most of them can't support a proper port - with the Ro-ros generally carying both passengers and freight. It took us only about 2-3 years to setup a Ro-Ro network for most of our 7,000 islands for instance; when previously most of those relied exclusively on smaller wooden vessels.


Problem is Ro-Ros are not really that seaworthy, and the article frankly misses the real story - which is that China in fact has pretty terrible sealift capability if it has to rely on civilian Ro-Ros and needs them ready for mass mobilization in case of war.  


If you had actual military sealift capability you'd rely instead on LSTs - which operate in a similar manner to the civilian Ro-Ros with a large forward opening; but the LSTs are generally more seaworthy and they have the added advantage of being able to offload cargo on a beach without even a rudimentary dock (some beaches can also support Ro-ros directly, but not all).


This is why the Philippine Navy still has an LST that literally saw action on D-day even though we're never going to do an amphibious landing. And that's because despite their age they're still more seaworthy (one - the Benguet - was a veteran of Operation Dragoon, suffered a grounding in 2004, and yet is still in service today) than most of the flimsy civilian ro-ros plus they can offload supplies in case the dock is destroyed by a disaster as was the case in Yolanda.

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