A promotional video released by the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) earlier this month featured the popular Z-20 helicopter alongside other aircraft such as J-20 and Y-20. The video had fuelled speculation that the new Z-20 was an armed variant.
The indigenously developed tactical utility helicopter has now entered service with the Chinese People’s Armed Police (PAP) Force, along with the larger, plateau-operable Z-8G transport chopper.
This helicopter will enhance the armed police’s mobility and flexibility in tasks such as counter-terrorism operations, disaster relief, and emergency rescue missions, Global Times claimed.
The PAP recently announced in a statement released on its WeChat social media account that a detachment affiliated with the second mobile corps of the Armed Police organized realistic combat-oriented drills and formation flights of helicopters, with the goal of honing the pilots’ skills and capability in coordinated attacks.
The helicopters that participated in the drills are Z-20s and Z-8Gs, according to photographs attached to the announcement.
Chinese People's Armed Police Force's Z-20 ? pic.twitter.com/YLXJumwotZ
— 彩云香江 (@louischeung_hk) February 18, 2022
Some Chinese analysts claim this is the first time the Z-20 helicopter has been seen inducted by the Armed Police; following its official premiere at the National Day military parade in Beijing on October 1, 2019.
This development is also significant if the observations by the analysts about Z-20 aiding counter-terrorism operations hold water. Earlier this month, China’s special representative to United Nations Zhang Jun highlighted the threat posed by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement/Turkistan Islamic Party (ETIM/TIP).
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) February 22, 2021
Even though China has invited the United Nations to visit Xinjiang where it is accused of carrying out human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims, it opposes any independent investigations. Beijing has maintained that it has only put rebels and terrorists in deradicalization camps.
Western plots to stymie China’s progress by using concerns like Xinjiang and counter-terrorism measures in the region must be resolutely combated, China’s Police Chief had said in January this year.
It is against this backdrop that the delivery of Z-20s to the Armed Police becomes significant. These choppers are expected to be deployed for counter-terrorism operations in the Xinjiang region. Earlier, there was speculation that the Xinjiang Military Command of the PLA was using the medium-lift tactical helicopters Z-20.
The New Z-20
The PAP version of the Z-20 appears remarkably similar to the PLA variant. However, it is painted in olive green and has Chinese characters for “armed police”, according to eastday.com, a Shanghai-based news website.
Since the Z-20 is supposed to be a 10 ton-class utility helicopter capable of carrying out many functions, it is not unusual to find it in service with the PAP, a Chinese military specialist who requested anonymity told the Global Times.
Earlier, two new models of Z-20 were inducted by PLA for anti-submarine warfare and assault, according to reports.
PLA Navy Southern Theater Command debuts navalized, shipboard variant of the Z-20 helicopter for the first time at recent wargames in this rare photo. The resemblance to the Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk is striking. pic.twitter.com/bBj9GZ0Apb
— Collin Koh (@CollinSLKoh) January 8, 2021
In a photo released by the PLA, a light gray-painted chopper was sighted flying in a coastal zone at the time. Military analysts speculated the Z-20 variant to be a vessel-based anti-submarine warfare chopper.
Deng Jinghui, the chief designer at China Helicopter Research and Development Institute (a part of AVIC) had told China Central Television (CCTV) in November 2020 that he expected the Z-20 to be used not only by the PLA Army, but also by the Air Force, Navy, PAP, and even by foreign clients.
Deng had expressed optimism that the Z-20, a fourth-generation helicopter, will become the country’s most-produced helicopter and remain in service for a long time.
The Chinese Z-20 helicopter has been compared with American Black Hawks. While the latter is available in a variety of configurations, the Chinese chopper employed by the PLA is a medium-lift utility helicopter primarily designed for transport.
In recent times, reports have hinted at an assault and stealth variants, which could soon be officially unveiled. The Taiwanese media famously called in ‘CopyHawks’ which they claimed were copied from the American BlackHawks.
However, for now, the Z-20 entering the service with the Armed Police is indicative of a Chinese effort at integrating the chopper into all the branches of its armed forces.
The Z-20 helicopter, a new medium-lift utility helicopter is primarily operated by China’s PLA Ground Force. The helicopter looks similar to Sikorsky’s UH-60 Black Hawk twin-engine rotorcraft. In 2018, the Z-20 entered active service with the Chinese military.
Not only Taiwanese, but many US media outlets also dubbed the Harbin Z-20 the “Copyhawk” due to its strong resemblance to the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk. China first purchased 24 Sikorsky S-70s, the civilian variant of the Black Hawk, for “civilian purposes” but quickly converted them for military use.
The Z-20 helicopter features a five-bladed rotor with an angled tail-to-fuselage connection frame for increased aerodynamics. To reduce vibrations, the rotorcraft uses active vibration control.
The multi-role helicopter was built to fly in high-altitude environments, such as the Tibet Autonomous Region, and in adverse weather. It can be used for a variety of missions, including troop and cargo transport, reconnaissance, search and rescue, and anti-submarine warfare. The helicopter can also be used for assault and fire support missions.
The Z-20 can transport up to 11 personnel. The helicopter’s internal payload capacity is about 1.5 tons, and it can carry about 5 tons of cargo outside as a sling load. The Z-20 can be equipped with missiles as well as machine guns.
Z-8G Seen In PAP Drills
The Z-8G, the other type of helicopter included in the recent PAP exercises, is a 13-ton-class transport helicopter based on the original Z-8 aircraft. It has been designed to operate in high-altitude environments, according to the eastday.com report.
The chopper made its debut appearance at the 5th China Helicopter Exposition in Tianjin, North China, in October 2019. According to eastday.com, the Z-8G was first seen in service with the PAP in May 2021, when CCTV reported on an earthquake relief simulation in which the PAP took part.
Z-20, Z-8G, Z-10 Kick off the First Training Session of 2022 in Tibetan Plateau pic.twitter.com/O906nczFzO
— David Wang (@Nickatgreat1220) January 24, 2022
According to experts, the Z-20 and the Z-8G are distinguished by their large load capacity, quick movement, and ability to operate in difficult terrain and conditions, including plateaus.