China appears to be building its own Zubr-class assault hovercraft

According to various news outlets, China can now build its own Zubr-class hovercraft domestically using acquired blueprints.
Christopher McFadden
The Zubr-class is the world's biggest hovercraft.

Presidential Press and Information Office/Wikimedia Commons 

Recently released images reveal that China has acquired two new Zubr-class assault hovercraft. Built for speed and capable of carrying tanks and troops, these Soviet-designed hovercraft could give China a significant tactical advantage for amphibious assaults. While out of production for decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the existence of these new units may, analysts surmise, indicate that China has the blueprints to make its own.

Six in total

Called the Type 728-class hovercraft by the Chinese, these heavyweight hovercraft can carry up to three tanks or nearly 400 ground troops. China now has six of them, including four supplied by the former Zubr-class shipyards in Crimea. The lightning-fast tank carriers could complicate Taiwan's defense plans by reducing the time of any assault on the main island.

The Zubr-class (Russian for "European Bison") attack hovercraft was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1980s. It is 187 feet (75 meters) long and has a maximum weight of 555 tons. Each Type 728 has five gas turbine engines, two providing lift and three driving three huge 18-foot (5.5-meter) diameter rearward-facing propulsion fans. This gives the Type 728 a top speed of 60 knots, or almost 70 miles per hour (113 kph), on land. Russia, Greece, and China use Zubr-class ships or their derivatives.

The Type 728 can transport up to 130 tons, including two main battle tanks, ten light armored vehicles, or 386 Marines. It is equipped with four portable surface-to-air missile systems, two AK-630 six-barreled, 30-mm Gatling guns, and two rocket launchers capable of bombarding coastal defenses with salvos of 44 140-mm rockets at a time. After the end of the Cold War, Ukraine inherited shipyards that produced the Zubr. Ukraine agreed in 2010 to build two Zubrs for China, with Ukrainian supervision. China, Popular Mechanics reports, eventually received Zubr blueprints to construct the craft.

Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 complicated things for the Zubr shipyard, which was located there. China eventually received all four hovercraft, but the last one was not delivered until 2018. With just four Type 728s, China had limited capability in an all-out invasion of Taiwan, their most logical purpose. Given China's massive industrial capacity, something seemed to be holding it back from producing more.

To attack Taiwan?

Type-728 hovercrafts help transport troops from the Chinese mainland to Taipei. Six hovercrafts making two daily trips could land 4,632 Chinese Marines in Taiwan.

However, military analysts believe China may target Kinmen Island to coerce Taiwan into surrender rather than launching an all-out invasion of Taiwan. Kinmen Island, with a population of 127,000 and under Taiwanese control, is located just six miles off the coast of China and can be reached in ten minutes by a Type-728 hovercraft.

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