China is about to buy a six pack of heavily-armed hovercraft, Defense News reports. Sino-hawks here are already starting to freak out over the sale."A few years ago, the 'dont worry, be happy' school of analysis of the PLA [People's Liberation Army] said that we should all be reassured that the PLA couldnt attack Taiwan because it didnt have enough hovercraft. Clearly, this is changing," University of Miami's June Teufel Dreyer tells the military trade.
The 540-ton Zubr LCAC, the worlds largest amphibious assault hovercraft, can reach speeds in excess of 60 knots, can travel 300 nautical miles and can shoulder various large loads: 130 tons of cargo, 500 troops, three 50-ton medium battle tanks, 10 BTR-70 armored personnel vehicles or eight BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles."The Zubr will greatly enhance the PLA Navys capability to launch a large scale amphibious assault operation," Sinodefence.com observes.
At the moment the PLA has to rely on conventional landing ships for such an operation. The slow process for the troops and vehicles to swim from their carrier ships to the beachhead makes them highly vulnerable to enemy firepower. The LCACs ability to deliver troops, vehicles and cargos directly to the beach makes a huge advantage. China has developed several models of its own indigenous LCACs, but most of these are unarmed small designs carrying no more than 20 soldiers.The deal to buy the hovercraft from Russia's Almaz Shipbuilding has been in the works for five years. And the initial order is teeny: just six ships. But "there are signs that China plans to build its own version of the Zubr-class craft," Defense News says."It could be that the Chinese want to test the vehicles or purchase a few and then begin... produc[ing] them in the PRC [Peoples Republic of China]," Dreyer observes. "The amount ordered here, six, wont be enough to mount an invasion. But its a start."