Yesterday, August 24, 2009, 12:46:18 AM (ASIAN DEFENCE)
China's navy is to purchase four Ukrainian military hovercraft in a 315-million-dollar deal potentially shifting the South China Sea naval balance, the Interfax news agency reported. A shipbuilding firm in Ukraine's Black Sea port Feodosia will construct two Zubr (translation - Bison) class craft, and a second pair of vessels will be built in China under the supervision of Ukrainian technicians.A Ukrainian government publication listing state contracts confirmed the order without giving its value. Officials at the Morye shipyard in Feodosia declined comment. The Zubr hovercraft is designed to carry three tanks, 10 armoured personnel carriers, or as many as 500 troops at speeds exceeding 63 knots. The vessel can due to its larger size operate in rougher seas than smaller hovercraft.The Russian, Ukrainian, and Greek navies currently operate the Zubr, with a total ten hovercraft produced since 1988. China's navy currently lacks heavy capacity hovercraft of the Zubr type. The most modern Chinese naval hovercraft in operation, the Jingsah II, has a maximum capacity of 70 troops.The Zubr hovercraft's capacity to deliver substantial combat forces by water at speeds doubling conventional landing ships would, once in Chinese inventory, complicate defence planning for South China Sea nations particularly Taiwan, according to the report.Feodosia's Morye shipyard as co-developer of the Zubr hovercraft with St. Peterburg's Almaz naval design bureau technically is banned from selling Zubr's military technologies to a third party, without Almaz management agreement. China in 2006 was in talks with Almaz on the purchase of six Zubr hovercraft without result. Management at Ukraine's Morye shipyard, actual production of site of all Zubr-class hovercraft, began talks with Chinese naval representatives in 2008, a naval source told Interfax.