For most militaries around the world, a combo of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are preferable to a seaplane. But flying boats can still be useful, and China seems to recognize that – the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China just introduced the biggest seaplane of any modern military.
Roughly the size of a Boeing 737 passenger airliner, the AG600 is smaller than the hulking, eight-engine H-4 Hercules, better known as the Spruce Goose, that Howard Hughes developed during World War II. Still, it can cover 2,800 miles before refueling – the Spruce Goose had a range of just under 3,000 miles, but since it only flew once, we think the AG600's figure is more impressive.
The AG600 will be "very useful in developing and exploiting marine resources" and in "environmental monitoring, resource detection and transportation," but will mainly serve as a firefighter and marine rescue craft, China's Xinhua news agency reported, according to The Guardian. Then again, the bigger concern is what an aircraft the size of a 737 with a range of 2,800 miles and the ability to land anywhere means as China continues to push its claims in the South China Sea.
The PRC could use the AG600 to supply its artificial islands, even if they don't have airfields. That could further increase tensions amongst the PRC and its neighbors, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines, which have expressed annoyance at China's belligerence in the South China Sea.