More than 30 months after its first flight, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) AG600 Kunlong seaplane made its first ocean flight in the waters off the city of Qingdao on July 26. Though the test flight was conducted in relatively calm waters, AVIC said, it was technically more challenging than the October 2018 flight from a freshwater lake in Jingmen due to the salinity of the waters. Deliveries for the world’s largest amphibian are expected to begin in 2022.
With an endurance of 12 hours, the AG600 is able to depart from the Chinese military base in Hainan Island and reach anywhere in contested areas or its reclaimed bases in the South China Sea for resupply missions or maritime patrol. Ships would require around a week to navigate from Hainan to the southernmost point of China’s areas of interest. The aircraft has a maximum takeoff weight of approximately 117,700 pounds (53.6 tonnes) and is about 11 percent larger than the Shinmaywa US-1A and more than twice the size of the Canadair CL-215.
Meanwhile, the China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) has responded to a series of requirements for the latest amphibious carrier for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), unofficially known as the Type 076. Some items, including an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) and a 30-tonne aircraft elevator, suggest that the Chinese are planning to place fixed-wing aircraft on their amphibious assault ships.
Military analysts put the ship at 60,000 tonnes displacement, 50 percent larger than the current Type 075, and believe it would operate China’s wide array of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) such as the GJ-11 Sharp Sword.
One of the PLAN amphibious force’s drawbacks is its inability to project air power for its landing forces. With no S/VTOL aircraft, China’s quest to overcome this challenge with a stealthy UCAV is a reasonable and cost-effective one, since the country’s jet-powered UCAVs are developing at a faster rate than their Western counterparts. The lighter UCAV may also require less energy for the EMALS to operate since the carrier would still be powered by 21MW-class diesel gas turbine engines.
The Chinese are working fervently on the two Type 075 vessels, with the first due for sea trials soon. Numerous mock-up aircraft—such as the Z-8 heavy-lift helicopter, naval Z-20 utility helicopter, and an unmanned rotary aircraft—have been seen on the deck.