Following years of speculation, China’s most modern anti-submarine helicopter appears to have entered service, as seen in footage broadcast by the State broadcaster CCTV to commemorate the navy’s anniversary.
A video of a Z-20 helicopter taking off from the deck of a Type 055 destroyer was released recently, a day before the Chinese navy’s 73rd anniversary.
The appearance of the anti-submarine variant of Z-20 would improve the PLA navy’s anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability by increasing the fighting radius and carrying more weapons, the report added.
Yue Gang, a former PLA colonel, told the SCMP that the Z-20 naval variant would replace the Harbin Z-9C and Russian-built Ka-28 helicopters that are currently deployed for anti-submarine missions.
Yue noted that the anti-submarine variant of the Z-9C, another military utility helicopter, had a lower capacity load and shorter flight endurance, whereas the Russian helicopters were set to be withdrawn.
“Although the K- 28 can meet the requirements for anti-submarine [warfare] and transport, the imports are limited and should be retired due to the many years of service. In addition, its electronic equipment is outdated, which will not match the needs of current warships.” Yue said.
The Z-20 helicopter, according to Yue, will increase the battle radius since it can stay in the air for longer and carry more torpedoes and bombs than the Z-9C. It could also be employed as an airborne radar to guide anti-ship missiles against hostile warships.
“Like the replacement for the other two types of helicopter, it can match the combat functions of our new warships, especially in terms of electronic functions, so that warships can exert their maximum power,” Yue said.
Meanwhile, it appears that Beijing is putting more effort into extending the capabilities of this helicopter. As previously reported by EurAsian Times, China is supposed to be working on a stealth version of the Z-20 tactical helicopter, which is thought to be a clone of the American UH-60 Black Hawk. The principal designer, on the other hand, did not confirm the reports.
According to the expert, while the variants may differ in certain aspects, they will share many essential parts and systems, making manufacturing and maintenance far easier than building whole new helicopters for various duties.
China Increasing Its ASW Capabilities
Beijing’s ASW capability (anti-submarine warfare) is considered a major chink in its armor.
In response to the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s growth over the years, China has now started working to strengthen its ASW capabilities, most prominently with the development of the Z-20 anti-submarine variant and the Shaanxi Y-8Q – an ASW variant of the ubiquitous Y-8 tactical transport.
As mentioned earlier, the video shows a Z-20 helicopter taking off from the deck of a Type 055 destroyer. This destroyer also plays a critical role in the PLA Navy’s anti-submarine warfare capabilities.
Beijing claims that the Type 055 large destroyer excels in anti-submarine operations, in addition to strong air defense, anti-ship, and land-attack capabilities. The battleship is equipped with sonar equipment that can detect hostile submarines, as well as anti-submarine missiles and rocket-propelled torpedoes that can successfully attack targets.
The Type 055 can also direct other warships and aircraft to perform multidimensional combined fire attacks on submarines, owing to its superior command, control, and communications capabilities.
As the United States and its allies have strengthened their presence in the Indo-Pacific area, the likelihood of a conflict between the two sides has risen dramatically.
The accident of the USS Connecticut, a Seawolf-class nuclear-powered attack submarine, in the South China Sea in October 2021 exposed the extraordinarily active US submarine activity in China’s neighborhood.
China also raised the matter, claiming that the US Navy’s regular submarine activity in the West Pacific, as well as loitering in waters near China, are attempting to acquire PLA intelligence and rehearse strikes on PLA vessels.