Watch Chinese Frogmen Fire Their Special Underwater Guns

Not many countries field specialist underwater firearms. Now we have a chance to see these exotic weapons in the hands of China’s naval commandos.

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Video released by China’s state-affiliated People’s Daily shows a training exercise by naval special warfare operators from the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s Jiaolong Commandos. With a name that translates as “Sea Dragon,” this elite unit is tasked with various underwater operations — and it’s equipped with specialist equipment for the task, including some unusual weaponry. 

According to state-run media outlet CGTN, the Jiaolong Commandos are based in Sanya, the southernmost city on Hainan Island, in the South China Sea. The same source identifies some of the unit’s apparently broad areas of expertise as coastal infiltration, jungle patrol, and urban counter-terrorism.

While personal combat below the waves has always been part of the military frogman’s repertoire, only a few armed forces have adopted specialist firearms for anti-diver purposes or diver self-defense. Weapons of this type are, by their nature, a niche capability. And this video does a good job of showing why: the commandos have to approach very close to their targets to compensate for their firearms’ strictly limited range.

Among the weapons in question are QBS-06 underwater assault rifles, broadly speaking a Chinese equivalent of the APS rifles employed by Russian naval commandos.

The APS dates back to the Soviet Union, where it was apparently tailored to combat American frogman assaults. The APS — a Russian acronym standing for “Special Underwater Assault Rifle” — adopted the same size and configuration as the tried-and-tested AK-47 assault rifle, with a huge banana-style magazine containing 26 rocket-like 5.66mm x 120mm dart cartridges. 

The original APS was followed in the 1990s by the APS-DM, which differed in that it could be used both underwater and above the surface, providing the combatant with much greater utility. Its twin magazines accommodated both 26 5.4mm darts, which have a maximum effective range under water of fewer than 100 feet, and standard 5.45 x 39 cartridges. A yet more modern Russian proposition is the ADS, which has a bullpup layout and is again capable of use above or below the surface of the water; its major innovation is the use of 5.45 x 39 ammunition for both domains, making the overall design simpler and more compact.

According to Western accounts, the QBS-06 seen in the hands of the Jiaolong Commandos fires special 5.8mm DBS-06 ammunition, each round carrying a long, needle-like projectile. These are loaded in detachable plastic magazines each with a 25-round capacity. Its cyclic rate of fire is reportedly around 600 rounds per minute. 

Also making an appearance in the video is the QSS-05 underwater pistol. This weapon — chambered for 8mm ammunition — is apparently inspired by the Soviet-era breach-loading SPP-1 4.5mm underwater pistol, which also features dart-type ammunition and. While the Soviet firearm has a quad-barrel arrangement, the QSS-05 has three barrels.

It’s worth noting that these elite Chinese commandos appear to be using what looks to be commercial scuba gear, not more specialized breathing devices that combat divers around the world use, including rebreather designs. A rebreather improves the efficiency of the system and recycles breathing gas, allowing the diver to remain submerged longer. The closed-circuit arrangement also doesn’t release any bubbles, which could give away the diver’s position.

As tensions skyrocket in the South China Sea and Beijing builds up its naval capabilities at a breathtaking pace, Chinese frogmen will clearly be an increasingly critical part of amphibious warfare in the future. Will this include undersea diver-versus-diver combat? That is a tough question to answer, but at least we know that the Jiaolong Commandos are well-armed for such an eventuality.

Contact the author: thomas@thedrive.com