China has built the world’s first stealth amphibious assault drone boat for island warfare, the developer revealed recently, and Chinese military experts believe it could eventually be headed to the disputed South China Sea.
Built for island assault operations and capable of operating on land and at sea, the “Marine Lizard” amphibious drone ship was developed by the Wuhan-based Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group, a subsidiary of the state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC).
The 40-foot drone ship operates as a trimaran hydrojet in the water but switches to tracked propulsion as it treads ashore. The company claims it can maintain stealth at speeds up to 50 knots in the maritime domain. On land, though, the assault vehicle is limited to a little over 12 mph. Modifications, specifically increasing the size of the tracks, could offer improved mobility on land.
The vessel’s capabilities have not been publicly demonstrated.
The Marine Lizard, which carries its own onboard radar system, is equipped with two machine guns and vertical launch system cells capable of firing anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles.
It is capable of “rapid assault and beach landings in accordance with operational requirements,” CSIC explained, adding that it is able to “complete missions such as special operations troop transport, border patrol, near-shore warning operations, and island/reef airport protection.”
The Chinese military has eyes fixed on island warfare, be it a future fight for Taiwan or the contested islands and reefs in the East and South China Seas.
China’s Global Times, citing a Chinese military expert, wrote recently that “this amphibious drone boat is suitable for island assault operations as a swarm of such drone ships could lead an attack following a first wave of artillery and air strikes.”
Observers suspect the Marine Lizard could play a key role in a regional conflict. “In the South China Sea, it can be used to either seize a reef or guard a reef, both offensive and defensive,” Chinese military analyst Song Zhongping told the South China Morning Post.
He added that the craft could be used to launch a surprise attack on an enemy island outpost.
CSIC claims that its new stealth amphibious assault drone, which has an operational range of 745 miles, has the unique ability to lie dormant for up to eight months, activated remotely at ranges of up to 30 miles, and immediately called into action.
The Marine Lizard can also, according to the developers, integrate into Chinese networks for combined arms operations with other unmanned systems relying on China’s Beidou satellite navigation system.
Much like the US, China is preparing for the possibility of high-end conflict. But while Chinese warfighting has traditionally been characterized by the sacrificing of waves of Chinese troops in hopes of overwhelming an enemy, the country is now investing heavily in long-range weapons and unmanned combat systems, challenges that the American armed forces are actively working to counter.
Recently, US and Philippines troops participating in the annual Balikatan exercises practiced repelling an attempt by a foreign military power to seize an airfield on a small island, a not unfathomable possibility given persistent tensions in the South China Sea.
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