Even if they have been very discreet since the rise of helicopters, military seaplanes are nevertheless of definite military interest, and even tend to come back into the plans of strategists. For example, US SOCOM, the US Special Forces Command, is once again working on an amphibious C-130 concept (the MAC project for “MC-130 Amphibious Capability”, which could be nicknamed “Sea-130”). So why this renewed interest in seaplanes ?
Need for tools for amphibious warfare
The seaplane had its golden age between 1930 and 1960, first in the civilian field and then during the Second World War, where dozens of models were designed, because their use was essential for all the belligerents: anti-submarine warfare, maritime patrols and, above all, rescue operations, because the conflict saw an unprecedented number of men to be recovered from the sea…
In 2021, SOCOM unveiled a few hybrid aircraft projects that could interest it in the near future for its maritime operations. Among them are tiltrotors and hybrids (and even the return of the Ekranoplanes?), but also the “navalized” C-130 project. In fact, the MAC project, which has been on the drawing board for decades, could become a reality as early as 2022 or 2023.
The reason is of course the strategic interest of the USA in the Indo-Pacific theater, where China is displaying its ambitions. As in the Pacific War, it is necessary to have aircraft that are neither dependent on airfields on islands, which can be taken or destroyed, nor on aircraft carriers. Moreover, in this region, where distances are very long, the C-130 Hercules is, because of its range, an ideal departure platform, a Swiss Army knife plane, controlled and robust.
Others did not wait…
While U.S. Special Forces may soon be conducting infiltration or exfiltration missions in this manner, other countries have never abandoned this air-amphibious capability.
This is particularly the case for the Chinese, who since 2017 have purely and simply the largest seaplane in the world: the AG600. With a wingspan of 38m, it is the size of a Boeing 737 and perfectly serves the Chinese strategic designs in their close maritime environment.
On the other hand, Japan, as an island nation, relies on the superb Shinmaiwa US-2, a 47-ton rescue seaplane suitable for maritime patrol, which has a short take-off time of only 280 meters.
Finally the Russians. If, during the Soviet era, multiple pharaonic projects were imagined, in particular by the manufacturer Beriev, without finally seeing the light of day, the Russian navy can on the other hand always count on the Be-200, the only jet-powered amphibious aircraft in the world, as much at ease in anti-submarine warfare as in fire-fighting.
Relatively ignored, military seaplanes can be an interesting tool for video games, especially in special forces scenarios.