Earlier this month, a Chinese shipbuilder unveiled an amphibious autonomous landing vehicle that could someday be part of the country’s military. Nicknamed the “Marine Lizard,” it can be used for assaulting beaches from the ocean in concert with other autonomous vehicles.
The state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Company says that the prototype of the landing craft has been successfully tested and delivered, and it’s the first such vehicle in the world. The vehicle is 12 meters long, and it has a top speed of 50 knots in the water and 20 kilometers per hour on land, according to China’s Global Times. Amphibious landers have long been used in warfare, operating first as a boat before crawling on land. This particular vehicle has three hulls, and once on land, it can deploy four tracks that can operate independently of one another to allow the vehicle to move around when on shore.
Military experts also told the Times that the vehicle can plot out its own route, swim to shore, avoid obstacles, and it can also be remotely controlled by an operator. The vehicle can also be equipped with a pair of machine guns and a missile launcher, although it’s likely going to rely on an external operator for those functions.
The vehicle doesn’t have to be used for frontal assaults. The company says that the Chinese military could essentially drop it off on an abandoned island and reactivate it later; the vehicle can lie dormant for up to eight months. It reportedly can also integrate with other autonomous systems, like drones or boats.
Amphibious landings are a particularly challenging location for militaries, as vehicles have to be able to operate both on land and in the water, all the while, any defender can take advantage of the local terrain against an attacker. An autonomous system could potentially mitigate some of the risk posed to Marines by providing some advance firepower or reconnaissance or be stationed in an area that just isn’t practical to keep a garrison for a strategically important location.
This could be particularly useful to the Chinese military, which has sought to expand its influence in the South Pacific in recent years, putting it in conflict with its immediate neighbors and the United States. One tactic that it’s employed is to create a number of artificial islands in the South China Sea, which it claims as sovereign territory, that it could use to support any forces that it fields in the region. This vehicle is an early prototype, and it’s certainly too early to say how well it functions in adverse conditions, let alone in combat.