See my earlier post More on Wing in Ground where I quoted the following
China, a great power in the Pacific, is particularly interested in WIG Air-Mech technology. Chinese analysts attribute the following advantages to WIG craft over conventional ships and aircraft:And they do make them, see here. In fact, on that site is this photo:
--Superb Mobility. A WIG Air-Mech craft travels above the water's surface to travel in the air whose density is 800 times less than that of water. This greatly decreases the drag exerted on ordinary vessels and greatly increases its speed. Fast transports have a top speed of 20 knots. A conventional warship has a maximum speed of 30 to 40 knots, and although the hulls of hydrofoil craft and hovercraft travel above the water, their hydrofoils and their aprons still come in contact with the water. Thus their speed is limited to between 70 and 80 knots or less. But a WIG Air-Mech craft can travel between 300 and 400 knots.
--Superb Airworthiness. A WIG craft can fly around bad weather or fly above a stormy sea. Since a WIG craft is not pounded by the storm waves it is remarkably seaworthy. It is also very airworthy.
--Ease of Operation. A WIG craft is controlled through its vertical rudder, its elevator, and its wing flaps. It is simpler to fly than an airplane, and it turns easily. The WIG craft's speed and altitude are easily controlled by the flaps.
--Economical operation. Pressure under the wings of a WIG craft increases greatly by flying fairly close to the water surface. Consequently, only 80 to 130 horsepower are required to propel each ton of weight. The large lift-drag ratio means that fuel-consumption is less and the cruising radius is expanded when compared to similar-sized aircraft. WIG craft are far superior to ordinary aircraft and helicopters in carrying capacity, speed, and cruising radius when using the same power.
--Convenient Maintenance. WIG craft do not need permanent shore bases. Unlike other high-speed craft, they are able to come ashore under their own power and do not need cranes or chutes. Furthermore, since they have no aprons, like hovercraft, maintenance is very convenient. WIG craft do not have to make a gliding takeoff from the water or land on the water like seaplanes. This lessens the corrosive effect of seawater on the hull.
--Diverse Flight Modes. Not only can WIG craft fly quickly and steadily above water, under radar detection but they can also fly above beaches, marshes, grasslands, deserts, glaciers, and snow-covered land.
--Flight Safety. Should the engines fail, the WIG craft can travel on the water like a conventional ship. They are stable craft, which have operated safely over the years. Some WIG craft vent their engine exhaust forward beneath the wings of the craft to create an increase in dynamic lift. This not only assists takeoff and improves amphibious performance, but also improves flight safety.
--Military applications. The speed, maneuverability, amphibious capability, and reduced signature of WIG craft are greater than that of other craft. Their fast, low-altitude approach may allow them to become the next generation of fast attack craft replacing hydroplanes and hydrofoils. Since WIG craft usually fly within 50 meters of the surface, they are in the radar sweep and search blind zone. The ultra-low altitude of WIG craft leaves no traces on the water surface and is difficult to detect by radar. WIG craft are not optically trackable from space like conventional surface ships. This greatly increases the concealment and surprise attack capabilities of the craft. This extraordinary concealment capability has extremely important military significance. WIG craft may be used as Air-Mech landing craft and for the rapid and effective movement of Heavy AFVs, Gavins/Ridgway and M8 Buford AGS Armored Fighting Vehicles and troops in a campaign. The low-flying altitude, the long cruising radius, and the AFV carrying-capacity of WIG craft are second to only ships. WIG craft are also suited for anti-submarine patrol craft, high-speed minelayers, minesweepers, and rescue craft.
That looks like a big WiG. Similar to the older Soviet models...
(see this for more photos).
High speed, low radar profile and hard to spot from space. Makes more sense to me than filling up a container ship... of course they may already have container ships...
Update: The China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics features a WiG. And, here, in a Jamestown Foundation publication from 2002, is a sign that I'm not completely off-base here:
In addition to slower conventional transports, the PLA is also developing unconventional and far faster transport systems for its amphibious troops. One such system under development is the large Wing-In-Ground-Effect Landing Craft (WIGELC), which fly close to the sea but carry large loads and can land on a beach. Kanwa has also learned that the PLA is planning on at least two large type WIGELCs, a 400-ton craft and a 370-ton one. The latter is a passenger-cargo transport version with a loading capacity of two wheeled armored vehicles and 250 soldiers. With a fleet of such craft the PLA could launch surprise amphibious attacks against ports or other strategic areas where geography might block conventional assault ships.
Kanwa has also learned that Russia is currently helping China to establish a production line in Guangzhou be capable of producing large WIGELC for both civil and military use. It is not yet known which type of Russian WIGELC China will buy. One possibility is the ORLYONOK, which weighs 140 tons and can carry 20 tons at a speed of 375 knots. China has also expressed strong interest in Russia's Beriev Be-200 amphibious jet transport aircraft. Sales negotiations are underway. The Be-200 has a speed of 420 mph and a cargo capacity of 8 tons of goods or eighty soldiers.
A couple of Orlyonoks:
Speed is important.
Update2: An older (1998?) Sea Power article by the then US Naval attache' to China:
Although the PLAN has approximately 60 tank landing ships and medium landing ships--including relatively capable Yuting, Yukan, and Yuliang classes--its aggregate lift capability is only about 5,000 to 10,000 troops.
This limited lift capability is inadequate to support any major amphibious operation. Recent improvements in the Navy's amphibious capabilities have included the acquisition of Jingsah-class air cushion vehicles. The PLAN also has shown an interest in developing a wing-in-ground-effect craft. These hybrid aircraft have the capability to cruise one meter above the water at speeds of 120 knots or more, and in the future such craft may prove capable of supporting amphibious operations.