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Sunday, April 28, 2013

WIG aircraft – a new joint project between Russia and China

Recently the Chinese press announced the first test flights of the new Chinese Wing In Ground Effect (WIG) aircraft CYG-11. In its appearance and technical characteristics it completely replicates the Russian WIG aircraft Ivolga, as Vasily Kashin, an expert at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, points out.

Thus, one can state that the Russian-Chinese cooperation in the area of WIG aircraft development has begun to bear fruit. Ivolga WIG aircraft, which was designed by a group of engineers headed by Vyacheslav Kolganov, is produced by the Polet group, which is primarily focused on space technologies.

It is a known fact that Polet has had contacts with the Chinese and Kalganov himself made a long business trip to China in 2011. Prior to that, other experts in this area, employees of the Alexeyev Central Design Bureau, which even back in the USSR days was the main center for the WIG aircraft design, had visited China as well. With the help of those experts China already designed a few types of WIG aircraft in the past few years.

The organization of WIG aircraft production in China can hardly present a problem, especially given the fact that Ivolga utilizes two ordinary automobile engines BMW S38, the acquisition of which by the Russian or Chinese producers is not difficult. More interesting is another issue – will the Chinese WIG aircraft meet with demand.

The history of WIG aircraft in the USSR and in Russia was not very successful. The USSR was the leader in WIG aircraft design. Famous in this area was the breakthrough work of Rostislav Alexeyev. The giant WIG aircraft called KM (The Kaspian Monster) was made by his team. The KM aircraft had the takeoff weight of 544 tons and for a long time remained the largest aircraft in the world. In addition, several large airborne troops WIG aircraft Orlyonok capable of transporting 150 paratroopers and an experimental WIG aircraft carrier of Loon ballistic missiles were built for the Naval forces.

However, despite the rapid progress of WIG aircraft, even back in the Soviet days the military got disenchanted with this type of technology and refused to finance its development. From the point of view of the military specialists, due to their lower speed WIG aircraft are a lot more vulnerable to fighter planes and enemy's missiles than airplanes. In addition, they are hopelessly inferior to ships in terms of their range, carrying capacity and armament. Large WIG aircraft are also quite expensive. The combination of ordinary ships and aviation allows the military to achieve their goals with lesser means. One must point out that WIG aircraft have not gained popularity with the US Armed Forces or other large Western countries. Obviously, the military there have arrived at a similar conclusion.
At the same time, in China WIG aircraft could find their niche with the Armed Forces due to the unique geographic conditions, which are not found in Russia or in the Western countries. In the South China and East China Seas China is engaged in territorial disputes over the islands that are too small to host airports and are located too far from the continent for helicopters to be used to fly there. Compared to hydroplanes WIG aircraft can land in less favorable sea conditions and transport people and cargo at a lower cost. WIG aircraft can be useful for transportation and delivering of supplies for the airborne troops in conditions when the Chinese Air Force already has advantage in the air, for example during an airdrop operation against Taiwan. Thus, there is a hope that China becomes a global center of WIG aircraft development.

Vasily Kashin

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