China’s Latest Ship-Borne Assault Helicopter, Often Mocked As Black Hawk Replica, Appears Online With Anti-Tank Missiles

The latest Chinese Z-20 helicopter, often touted as a replica of the US Black Hawk, has emerged as one of the most powerful choppers in China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

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Although the Anti-Submarine variant of the Z-20 has already been seen widely, the new ship-borne transport and assault derivative Z-20J armed with ATGMs has surfaced on social media.

China watcher and analyst @RupprechtDeino tweeted what is believed to be new and recent images of the Z-20J prototype number ‘6213’ carrying KD-10 Anti-Tank Guided Missiles. The Z-20J variant of the multi-weight utility helicopter is in addition to its Anti-Submarine warfare variant, Z-20F.

The images obtained from the Chinese social networking site Weibo are one of the many prototypes of this rotorcraft, including the 6211, 6212, 6213, and 6215 currently being evaluated on board the Hainan LHD and Type 055 destroyer of the PLA Navy.

The observer further clarified in his tweet that contrary to what some posters have claimed, the photographed Z-20J helicopter is not an operational production aircraft. The most precise images of this latest rotorcraft were revealed earlier in May, while it made its first appearance on Twitter after its photos leaked in 2020.

In April 2022, EurAsian Times reported that a video of a Z-20 helicopter taking off from the deck of a Type 055 destroyer was released a day before the Chinese navy’s 73rd anniversary. The Z-20F Anti-Submarine Variant has already entered service.

Z-20F ASW Helicopter (via Twitter)

In one of the first images of the Z-20F released some time in 2019, the helicopter was seen armed with eight short-range air-to-surface missiles positioned outside the front undercarriage sponson.

The Z-20J is another variant set to enter the PLA Navy besides its Z-20F. According to @RupperechtDeino, the major difference between the two variants of this medium-weight utility helicopter is that the stub wing pylons of the Z-20J are designed to carry ATGMs.

In contrast, the ASW variant is designed to carry torpedos, anti-ship missiles, and depth charges. The Z-20J was earlier seen carrying ATGMs in 2021.

China is meticulously working on upgrading and diversifying the Z-20 helicopter, which is often compared with the Black Hawks used by the US military. Different variants of the same chopper designed to carry out different functions would significantly boost PLA’s capability against its adversaries.

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Z-20 – A Formidable Flying Machine

The majority of the aircraft used by the Chinese PLA is made by the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), which on January 31, 2022, released a promotional video on social media under the title “in the blue sky” summarising its accomplishments in 2021.

China Helicopter Z-20J
File Image: Z-20J

The J-20 stealth fighter jet, the Y-20 large transport aircraft, and the Z-20 helicopter were among the three “20” series aircraft featured in the computer-generated video. Given that the current Z-20 is a utility version for mostly transport missions without wings or weapons, analysts believed this Z-20 was most likely an armed assault variant.

Different variants of the helicopter – meant to transport soldiers or perform surveillance and rescue operations – have already entered service with the People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Armed Police, with the former participating in the National Day Parade in October 2019.

The Z-20 may receive several enhancements, including the ability to do aerial refueling, the lead helicopter designer, Deng Jinghui, had revealed earlier. He also suggested that a stealth version of the helicopter might be developed and a locally produced heavy-lift helicopter.

Giving details about possible upgrades of the Z-20, Deng told China Central Television (CCTV), “Since helicopters have less range compared with fixed-wing aircraft, we are considering extending that range in the form of aerial refueling. We can also use other aircraft to transfer helicopters in long-range deployment.”

Chinese State media Global Times reported in May 2022 that an aerial assault brigade assigned to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) 83rd Group Army staged flight training that, for the first time, saw a Z-20 helicopter sling-load an 8×8 Lynx all-terrain vehicle.

The sources at the time had informed that PLA troops were to practice this mode of transportation, including night training and emergency management, to give aerial assault troops more tactical options and advantages in terms of mobility, situational awareness, and firepower.

China’s Z-20 Helicopter

The Chinese Z-20, which made its maiden flight in 2013, can take off and fly at altitudes up to 13,000 feet and has a maximum takeoff weight of 10 tons (22,000 lb). It can also be operated from the Liaoning aircraft carrier of the PLA Navy.

Since its initial flight, China boasts that the Z-20 has demonstrated its mettle as a powerful helicopter. Despite being commonly compared to the US Black Hawk design, the two have some key differences, notably in configuring their cockpits, tails, and rotors.

In addition to having five rotors as opposed to the Black Hawk’s four, the Z-20 carries what looks to be a satellite communications array.

The chopper is reportedly equipped with the KD-10 air-to-ground missiles. The missiles, which employ semi-active laser guidance and have a range of roughly four miles, are said to be in the same class as the American AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles.

With increased activities of its adversaries like the United States in the Indo-Pacific, having a diversified fleet of the Z-20 that can attack at sea and land will give more teeth to China’s already rising combat capability.