“Its operational range of more than 4,000 km and ability to land on and take off from water put China’s islands in the South China Sea well within range,” said Huang.
The plane, codenamed “Kunlong” according to state news agency Xinhua, took off from the southern city of Zhuhai and landed after roughly an hour-long flight.
Its name “Kunlong” stands for a high expectation in Chinese culture with the “kun” meaning an enormous legendary fish and “long,” a dragon.
China has stepped up research on advanced military equipment as it adopts a more muscular approach to territorial disputes in places such as the disputed South China Sea, rattling nerves in the Asia-Pacific region and the United States.
State television showed live images of the AG600 lifting off from Zhuhai airport in the southern province of Guangdong, which sits on the South China Sea coast.
Xinhua news agency said the aircraft was the “protector spirit of the sea, islands and reefs”.
It had previously been scheduled to make its first flight earlier this year but it is unclear why it was delayed after ground tests took place in April.
State-owned Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC) has spent almost eight years developing the aircraft, which is roughly the size of a Boeing Co 737 and is designed to carry out marine rescues and battle forest fires.
However, state media has also noted its potential use in the South China Sea, where China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei all have overlapping claims.
The AG600’s chief designer, Huang Lingcai, was quoted in the official China Daily earlier this month as saying it can make round trips without refueling from the southern island province of Hainan to James Shoal, claimed by China but which is located close to Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo.
Powered by four turboprop engines, the AG600 can carry 50 people during maritime search-and-rescue missions, and can scoop up 12 metric tons of water within 20 seconds for fire fighting trips, according to state media.
The aircraft has received 17 orders so far from Chinese government departments and Chinese companies. It has a maximum flight range of 4,500 km (2,800 miles) and a maximum take-off weight of 53.5 tons.
It can use conventional airports and also land and take-off from the sea.
China is in the midst of a massive military modernization program, ranging from testing anti-satellite missiles to building stealth fighters and the country’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, to add to an existing one bought from Ukraine.
China’s military expenditure in 2016 was an estimated $215 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, putting it in first place in Asia, well ahead of India ($56 billion), Japan ($46 billion) and South Korea ($37 billion)
The aircraft will be used mainly in the South Chins Sea, to deliver to the smaller Islands that China has built.
Huny Badger is a Veteran who served our country as an Army Combat Medic.
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