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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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International

China’s new ‘Bison’ hovercraft a beast on the sea

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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The world’s largest navy is getting bigger. China added two new hovercrafts to the People’s Liberation Army navy.

Both of the new hulls are Zubr-class amphibious assault hovercraft. Images of the new hulls first appeared online in Chinese social media. It’s estimated China now has at least six of the Zubr-class ships, and it’s a safe bet the Chinese military will build more.

The name Zubr is Russian for “bison.” The Soviet-designed Zubr is the largest class of hovercraft in the world. It’s 187 feet long and displaces about 555 tons of water when fully loaded. It’s designed to carry troops and equipment across water quickly, and then make an amphibious landing where it can deploy those troops and equipment quickly as well. The Zubr itself is also armed. It can carry two anti-air missile batteries and two mounted gatling guns.

The Zubr is big enough to haul three main battle tanks or eight to 10 armored personnel carriers. It also can transport up to 300 Marines, or a combination of troops and equipment. The five gas-powered turbine engines give the Zubr a range of about 500 kilometers and a top speed well over 50 knots. That means it would take a little over an hour for a Chinese Zubr-class hovercraft to reach, say, the shores of Taiwan.

Tensions between China and almost every other country with interests in the Pacific have been mounting for months over Taiwan. The semi-autonomous self-governing island used to be a part of China, and the Chinese Communist Party wants it back.

Officially, the U.S. government doesn’t formally recognize Taiwan as a separate nation from China. However, the U.S. government maintains a robust unofficial relationship with Taiwan and agreed to supply Taiwan with weapons and armaments for its defense. President Joe Biden said the U.S. would intervene if China invaded Taiwan.

Diplomatic efforts to restore a more peaceful relationship between the U.S. and China are ongoing, but both nations are still preparing for the possibility of war.

For the United States, that means a total reshaping of the United States Marine Corps. Called “Force Design 2030,” the initiative aims to transition the USMC away from essentially being a land-based army and go back to its roots as an island-hopping force of American lethality.

Under the Force Design 2030 plan, Marines need to prepare for war with China and Russia in coastal areas, called littorals, or on islands. Two Marine littoral regiments will be assigned to the Pacific. A third will go to the Baltics.

In the event of a conflict, the littoral regiments would disperse into smaller subunits armed with electronic warfare sensors, drone jamming technology, as well as anti-ship and air-defense missiles.

Speed and agility will be key to the success of the littoral regiments. So, the Marine Corps is trading in tanks and artillery for more missiles and drones. The Marines are buying more HIMARS, which have seen wide use in Ukraine. The Corps is also adding NMESIS robotic vehicles armed with the new Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile. It gives the Marines a ground based anti-ship capability, which is what one wants if a herd of Zubr-class hovercrafts is barreling toward their coast.

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THE WORLD’S LARGEST NAVY IS GETTING BIGGER. CHINA ADDED TWO NEW HOVERCRAFTS TO THE PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY NAVY.

BOTH OF THE NEW HULLS ARE ZUBR-CLASS AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULT HOVERCRAFT. CHINA NOW HAS AT LEAST SIX OF THE ZUBR-CLASS SHIPS, AND IT’S A SAFE BET THEY’LL BUILD MORE.

THE NAME ZUBR IS RUSSIAN FOR BISON. THE SOVIET-DESIGNED ZUBR IS THE LARGEST CLASS OF HOVERCRAFT IN THE WORLD. IT’S DESIGNED TO CARRY TROOPS AND EQUIPMENT ACROSS WATER QUICKLY, AND THEN MAKE AN AMPHIBIOUS LANDING. THE ZUBRS THEMSELVES ARE ALSO ARMED. THEY CARRY TWO ANTI-AIR MISSILE BATTERIES AND TWO MOUNTED GATLING GUNS.

ZUBRs ARE BIG ENOUGH TO HAUL THREE MAIN BATTLE TANKS OR EIGHT TO TEN ARMORED PERSONNEL CARRIERS. THE FIVE GAS-POWERED TURBINE ENGINES GIVE ZUBRS A RANGE OF ABOUT 500 KILOMETERS AND A TOP SPEED WELL OVER 50 KNOTS.

THAT MEANS IT WOULD TAKE A LITTLE OVER AN HOUR FOR A CHINESE ZUBR TO REACH, SAY, THE SHORES OF TAIWAN.

TENSIONS BETWEEN CHINA AND PRETTY MUCH EVERY OTHER COUNTRY WITH INTERESTS IN THE PACIFIC HAVE BEEN MOUNTING FOR MONTHS OVER TAIWAN. THE SEMI-AUTONOMOUS SELF-GOVERNING ISLAND USED TO BE A PART OF CHINA, AND THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY WANTS IT BACK.

DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS TO RESTORE A MORE PEACEFUL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE U.S. AND CHINA ARE ONGOING, BUT BOTH NATIONS ARE STILL PREPARING FOR THE POSSIBILITY OF WAR.

FOR THE UNITED STATES, THAT MEANS A TOTAL RESHAPING OF THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS. CALLED FORCE DESIGN 2030, THE INITIATIVE AIMS TO TRANSITION THE USMC AWAY FROM ESSENTIALLY BEING A LAND-BASED ARMY AND GO BACK TO ITS ROOTS AS AN ISLAND-HOPPING FORCE OF AMERICAN LETHALITY.

UNDER THE FORCE DESIGN 2030 PLAN, THE MARINES NEED TO PREPARE FOR WAR WITH CHINA AND RUSSIA IN COASTAL AREAS, CALLED LITTORALS, OR ON ISLANDS. TWO MARINE LITTORAL REGIMENTS WILL BE ASSIGNED TO THE PACIFIC, A THIRD WILL GO TO THE BALTICS.

IN THE EVENT OF A CONFLICT, THE LITTORAL REGIMENTS WOULD DISPERSE INTO SMALLER SUBUNITS ARMED WITH ELECTRONIC WARFARE SENSORS, DRONE JAMMING TECHNOLOGY, AS WELL AS ANTI-SHIP AND AIR-DEFENSE MISSILES.

SPEED AND AGILITY WILL BE KEY TO THE SUCCESS OF THE LITTORAL REGIMENTS. SO, THE MARINE CORPS IS TRADING IN TANKS AND ARTILLERY FOR MORE MISSILES AND DRONES. THE MARINES ARE BUYING MORE HIMARS, WHICH HAVE SEEN WIDE USE IN UKRAINE. THE CORPS IS ALSO ADDING NMESIS ROBOTIC VEHICLES ARMED WITH THE NEW KONGSBERG NAVAL STRIKE MISSILE, GIVING THE MARINES A GROUND BASED ANTI-SHIP CAPABILITY. WHICH IS WHAT YOU WANT IF A HERD OF ZUBRS ARE BARRELING TOWARD YOUR COAST.

FOR MORE UNBIASED, STRAIGHT FACT REPORTING ABOUT U.S. AND CHINA MILITARY OPERATIONS, BE SURE TO CHECK OUT SAN.COM.