An AG600 flying boat and a Y-20 heavy airlifter are seen on the apron of Zhuhai's airport. File photo: Wikimedia

It has been revealed that the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy Marine Corps may soon place orders for the AG600 heavy-duty amphibious aircraft, merely a few months after the indigenous flying boat soared into the sky in its first water takeoff in October.

The plump, four-engine turboprop plane with cantilevered high wings is the largest of its kind, boasting a maximum takeoff weight of more than 50 metric tons, and its developer, the state-owned Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC) has reportedly kickstarted small-batch production at its plant in the southern coastal city of Zhuhai.

The Kanwa Defense Review reported in its March issue that the PLA may use the versatile AG600 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 AG600 can carry 100 troops or 12 tons of cargo in one go and cruise at 560km/h, with a service ceiling of 6,000 meters and range of 4,500 kilometers.

An AG600 prototype in a water landing test. Photo: Xinhua

Other than the PLA’s outposts in these disputed waters, the AG600 could lead a spearhead offensive targeting Taiwan, in particular its Pacific-facing east coast, to airdrop marine commandos in infantry brigades for precision assaults against prime targets such as army command and control and radar installations on the island.

The plane’s capabilities of landing in choppy waters and buzzing the ground at a minimum height of 50 meters also make it ideal to maneuver through Taiwan’s air and littoral water defense.

Countries such as New Zealand and Malaysia have expressed their interest in the AG600, according to the People’s Daily.

The Y-20 is currently the largest aircraft in service with the Chinese military. Photo: Xinhua

The Y-20, aka “chubby girl,” is China’s answer to the US Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster III, with a whopping maximum takeoff weight of 220 tons. There have been reports that AVIC is also developing a Y-20-based tanker airplane at its plant in Xian, where mass production of the base model is already under way. The Y-20 incorporates a shoulder wing, T-tail, rear cargo-loading assembly and heavy-duty retractable landing gear.

China’s Y-9, a medium-sized and midrange airlifter, is considered a rough equivalent to the Lockheed C-130 Hercules. The aircraft is capable of transporting 25 tons of cargo and 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 plane with a saucer-like antenna atop its airframe.

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