China’s new amphibious plane reportedly designed for firefighting and water rescue has been successfully tested, but experts said this week they believe the huge aircraft will actually be used to ferry troops, supplies and equipment back and forth from the country’s artificial island fortresses in the South China sea, Business Insider reported.
The AG600, or Kunlong, is the first of its kind to be built in the country and features a range of impressive specs.
The new aircraft is roughly the size of a Boeing 737 and has a maximum weight of 53.5 tons, The South China Morning Post reported.
It’s four turbo engines allow the AG600 to transport up to 50 people in rescue missions and the aircraft also has the ability to scoop up to 12 tons of water in 20 seconds for firefighting emergencies.
However, experts are more interested in what role the new aircraft would play in the shifting balance of power in the South China Sea.
“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,” said Collin Koh, a research fellow at the Maritime Security Program at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, according to the South China Morning Post.
“Beijing will also use it to justify any further build-up in the region, saying the aircraft can be used for the common good, such as providing support to foreign vessels in the area and for search and rescue,” he added.
There have been longstanding territorial tensions in the South China Sea, a large section which is claimed by Beijing.
Over the last two years China has been fortifying several islands, which was demonstrated earlier this year when reports emerged that Beijing installed radar on the Spratly Islands.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies reported that this could “significantly bolster China’s ability to monitor surface and air traffic across the southern portion of the South China Sea.”
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