Will China use the world’s largest seaplane for military purpose?

BY SILVI WRITER

 

The AG 600, the China-made world’s largest amphibious plane, will mainly be tasked with performing maritime search, rescue operations and firefighting activities, China’s central media reported.

Forecast says that the market will need about 280 AG600s in the coming decade, China Daily reported.

International media have earlier said that the Boeing-737 sized jumble seaplane “could be used to advance the country’s ambitions in the disputed South China Sea”.

Developed and built by State-owned aircraft giant Aviation Industry Corp of China, the AG600 carried out its first water-based takeoff and landing at Jingmen Zhanghe Airport, one of China’s leading amphibious airports in Jingmen, Hubei province, on Saturday.

Leng Yixun, a senior project manager in charge of the AG600, said on Saturday after the water test that AVIC is poised to speed up the aircraft’s flight tests and plans to deliver it to users as soon as possible.

Once delivered, the AG600, code-named Kunlong (鲲龙), will mainly be tasked with performing maritime search and rescue operations as well as firefighting activities, China Daily said.

It can also be refitted to conduct environmental inspections, resource surveys, anti-smuggling operations as well as personnel and supply transport, said Huang Lingcai, chief designer of the AG600.

Lu Guangshan, AVIC’s chief engineer, explained that the seaplane is very suitable for maritime operations as it is much faster than ships and is more flexible, being able to land on waters that some ships have difficulty approaching.

Powered by four domestically designed WJ-6 turboprop engines, the seaplane has a maximum takeoff weight of 53.5 metric tons. These specifications make it the world’s largest amphibious aircraft, surpassing Japan’s ShinMaywa US-2 and Russia’s Beriev Be-200.

The aircraft is designed for land and water takeoffs and landings, and has an operational range of more than 4,000 kilometers. It is capable of carrying 50 people, besides the crew.

When assigned to fight forest fires, it can collect 12 tons of water from a lake or sea in 20 seconds and then use the water to douse blazes over an area of about 4,000 square meters, according to AVIC.

A market prospect report by AVIC forecasts that the market will need about 280 AG600s in the coming decade.

Development of the AG600 was approved by the central government in June 2009. Construction of the prototype began in March 2014 and was completed in July 2016.

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The seaplane made its maiden flight in December in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, taking off and landing at an airport, and it has conducted many land-based test flights since then.

The amphibious plane is one of three large-sized aircraft to emerge from the nation’s effort to become a top-tier player in the global aviation sector, joining the Y-20 strategic transport plane — delivery of which began in July 2016 to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force — and the C919 narrow-body jetliner, which is being flight-tested.

The AG600 has become China’s second amphibious aircraft after the SH-5, which was developed in the 1970s for military use. More than 10,000 researchers and engineers took part in the AG600 program, AVIC said.

while its primary purposes are firefighting and water rescue, this new aircraft could be used to advance the country’s ambitions in the disputed South China Sea, Business Insider reported earlier.

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Experts suggest that it could be used to move troops and equipment into the disputed South China Sea, where China has built militarized outposts armed with various point defense systems, jamming technology, anti-ship cruise missiles, and surface-to-air missiles. China even landed a heavy bomber at an outpost earlier this year.

“The AG600 would be suitable for the quick transport of troops and materials, and could also provide other support such as evacuating garrisons in the South China Sea or even out to the Spratlys,” Collin Koh, a research fellow in Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University’s Maritime Security Program, told the South China Morning Post.

A Beijing-based military expert suggested that the AG600 can link countless islands in the South China Sea and play a big role in law enforcement, emergency rescue and even reconnaissance.”

Ching Chang, a research fellow at Taiwan’s ROC Society for Strategic Studies, argued three years ago that the aircraft could play a role in “all the government functions that may signify its substantial governance in the South China Sea,” thus bolstering its previously discredited claims to the highly-contested region.

The world’s largest China-made amphibious aircraft is capable of landing on and taking off from Beijing’s outposts in the South China Sea, the Philippine Star said.

Chinese media earlier reported that the aircraft also has military applications. Reports have also noted its potential use in the South China Sea, where China and Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, have overlapping claims, the paper said.

However, the aircraft reportedly can also be deployed for military operations including transporting military personnel and supplies to remote military outposts in the South China Sea.

Assuming, as claimed by the plane’s developers, that the AG600 only requires a water depth of 2.5 meters for landing and take-off, it would be an ideal aircraft to supply some of China’s artificial features in the Spratly Islands given that they are surrounded by shallow waters,” Franz-Stefan Gady, a senior editor with the Diplomat, wrote.

 

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