In what is described as a "significant boost" to the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army's (PLA) reach in South China Sea and over Taiwan, China's military may soon place orders for the AG600 heavy-duty amphibious aircraft from state-owned Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC), Asia Times said in a report.
The AG600, which is manufactured at AVIC's facilities in Zhuhai, could be used by the PLA to haul weapons and other equipment as well as injured troops and their stretchers in aeromedical evacuation configuration to and from the many islets and atolls occupied and fortified by the Chinese military, such as those in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, the Kanwa Defense Review reported in its March issue.
Multiple use aircraft
According to a recent report in the People’s Daily, countries such as New Zealand and Malaysia have expressed their interest in the AG600, which can carry 100 troops or 12 tonnes of cargo and cruise at 560km/h and has a range of 4,500 kilometres.
Codenamed "Kunlong," the AG600 has also been designed to assist with fighting forest fires and water rescues. It is capable of carrying 50 people during a maritime search and rescue mission.
Xinhua reported this week that to facilitate its certification schedule, AVIC will conduct a flight test programme with four AG600 prototypes this year and focus on three aspects to push forward the AG600 project - the flight test of No.001 aircraft, the aircraft design optimisation, and parts manufacturing.
Tanker aircraft might come next
If the PLA's Navy Marine Corps places its order for the AG600, the aircraft will join China's other indigenously-designed and manufactured transport aircraft, the Y-20 and Y-9. The former, aka “chubby girl,” is China’s answer to the U.S. Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster III, with a maximum takeoff weight of 220 tonnes. Asia Times reported that AVIC is also developing a Y-20-based tanker aircraft at its plant in Xian, where mass production of the base model is already under way.
As for the Y-9, this is a medium-sized and midrange airlifter and an equivalent to the Lockheed C-130 Hercules. This aircraft can carry 25 tonnes of cargo or 106 troop seats in its troop-transportation role or up to 132 armed paratroopers in its para-drop role. Key variants include an airborne early warning and control aircraft with a saucer-like antenna atop its fuselage.
Bloomberg reported this week that China's defense budget this year will be 1.19 trillion yuan (US$186 billion), a growth of 7.5%, down from last year's 8.1%. Although China is the world's second-largest military spender, it still lags far behind the U.S., which has a defense budget of US$716 billion this year.
Nol van Fenema