Surface Forces: China Builds Big Floaters


August 11, 2009: China is buying four Zubr hovercraft from Ukraine. The 555 ton watercraft were developed by the Soviet Union during the 1980s. But when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, three years after the first Zubr entered service, the shipyard the built the Zubrs went to Ukraine, where it was located. After years of marketing the Zubr, Ukraine finally got its  first export sale, to Greece, in 2000. Before that, only four were in service (two in the Russian Navy, and two in the Ukrainian.) These craft are expensive. The Greeks paid $50 million each for four of them. When the Chinese order is completed in the next three years, there will be 14 Zubrs in service.

The Zubrs can carry about 150 tons of cargo, including tanks (three of them). Alternately, ten smaller armored vehicles can be carried, or trucks, or up to 500 troops. The big advantage of the Zubr is that it moves over coastal waters at speeds of up to 110 kilometers an hour (nearly a hundred kilometers an hour sustained.) Range is about 480 kilometers, mainly because a craft like this consumes enormous quantities of fuel. Armament consists of a 30mm autocannon for defense against anti-ship missiles, and two quad launchers with SA-N-5 anti-aircraft missiles (with 6,000 meter range.) Zubr is also designed to carry 140mm unguided rockets, or up to 80 naval mines. Zubrs have a crew of 31, and usually stay at sea for less than six hours per sortie.

The Chinese are buying two Zubrs to be built in Ukraine, and another two built in China, with the help of Ukrainian engineers and technicians. Apparently the Chinese are buying, licensing or stealing the Zubr construction technology. China is paying about $80 million each for their Zubrs. China has a long coast, and the Zubrs will have plenty to do. The Zubrs will be something else for Taiwan to worry about, and would come in handy if the communist government in North Korea collapsed, and China wanted to rush in forces to seize ports along the west coast of the Korean peninsula.

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