Warplanes: China Gets a Gunship Ready For Anything

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October 4, 2016: China has apparently put over a hundred of its new WZ-10 helicopter gunships into service so that all army aviation brigades have a few of them. This is a move to get more field experience for the WZ-10 and to show the entire army that the WZ-10 is finally on the way. China plans to eventually have over 500 of them as part of a program to equip the army with over 3,000 modern combat and transport helicopters. Distributing the WZ-10 widely is seen as more important than concentrating the first hundred or so in a few full strength combat helicopter battalions. Chinese troops operate is a wide variety of climates and terrain, from the dusty deserts in the north to tropical forests in the south and the high and dry conditions of Tibet (and the long border with India.) By having army aviation units operating in all these diverse environments able to use the WZ-10 it will take less time to find all the major changes and improvements the aircraft requires, especially for export sales. .

China has been developing the 7 ton WZ-10 helicopter gunship since the 1990s. After 14 years of development there were several prototypes and a lot of unresolved problems. Attempts to buy or steal helicopter gunship technology from Russia and South Africa failed. In 2010 some of the prototypes were sent to Chinese Army aviation units for field testing. While not a failure, there were problems and at one point the WZ-10 was in danger of being abandoned. The Chinese persevered and fixed most of the defects by 2012 and put WZ-10 into production. The WZ-10 is armed with an autocannon (23mm to 30mm) and has four hard points that can carry 16 HJ10 laser guided missiles (similar to Hellfire) or even more unguided rockets. Like most Chinese weapons the WZ-10 also competes on price and can usually be obtained by export customers for under $20 million.

Meanwhile China also put the smaller (4.5 ton) WZ-19 armed scout helicopter into production, partly as a backup if the WZ-10 failed. China wanted something more like the American AH-64 Apache and the WZ-10 was equipped to operate like the AH-64 or earlier AH-1 (which Pakistan has been using for a long time). The WZ-19 has been spotted in the air since 2010 and by 2012 was seen painted in military colors, meaning it was out of development and in service. The WZ-19 was earlier known as the Z-9W. The WZ-19 is yet another Chinese helicopter based on the Eurocopter Dauphin (which has been built under license in China since the 1990s. The WZ-19 is a 4.5 ton, two seat armed helicopter. It can carry a 23mm autocannon and up to a ton of munitions (missiles, usually). Cruising speed is 245 kilometers an hour and range is 700 kilometers. The WZ-19 is basically an upgraded Z-9W.

Pakistan has three WZ-10s for evaluation China wants an export customer for the WZ-10 and Pakistan is a likely customer. But there is competition from the Turkish T-129 and that has delayed even though China told Pakistan they could keep the three they have for evaluation if the place an order.

 


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