Japan ASDF ShinMaywa US-2 Amphibious Aircraft

Back to the Future?

Big ocean; lots of small islands; multiple roles to fulfil and lack of good infrastructure. Should we be thinking “Back to the Future”? Japan, Russia and China certainly are with a range of flying boats in the Defence and CoastGuard mix.

There’s been little serious discussion about New Zealand’s amphibious capability so I thought I’d throw this one out there for people to consider and, perhaps, to comment on. An amphibious air capability was a standard in the RNZAF for decades. The large concrete slipways and aprons at RNZAF Hobsonville (Auckland) and Shelly Bay (Wellington) as well as at Laucaula Bay in Fiji stand mute witness to that era. Were we to go back to this future, would we also then consider forward operating bases like Fiji? Or perhaps simply build the rather rudimentary structures they need to come out of the water for fuelling and servicing across the Pacific as part of our normal Foreign Affairs packages?

Here’s a wiki-eye view of some of those manufacturing and operating this type of aircraft at the moment:

  • China’s AVIC AG600 is intended for both civil and military roles. In civil use, as an aerial firefighter, it will be capable of dropping 12 tonnes of water, while in search and rescue operations it will accommodate up to 50 passengers. It is also intended to meet China’s strategic defence needs in the South China Sea area. According to Chinese media in 2015, NZ had expressed an interest in the aircraft.
  • Japan’s ShinMaywa US-2 is a large STOL amphibious aircraft designed for air-sea rescue (SAR) work. The aircraft is currently operated by the 31st Fleet Air Wing.
  • The Harbin SH-5 (literally “seaborne bomber”) is a Chinese maritime patrol amphibious aircraft intended for a wide range of duties, including aerial firefighting, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and air-sea rescue (SAR). One prototype and six production aircraft have been built.
  • Russia’s Beriev Be-200 Altair is a multipurpose amphibious aircraft designed for firefighting, search and rescue, maritime patrol, cargo, and passenger transportation It has a capacity of 12 tonnes of water or up to 72 passengers.
  • The Canadair CL-415, later known as the Bombardier 415, is a Canadian amphibious aircraft purpose-built as a water bomber. It is an aircraft designed and built specifically for aerial firefighting and is based on the company’s CL-215. It is widely in use around the world and also has a multi-role variant.

Does NZ need more amphibious capability and are flying boats part of the mix?