China is apparently planning to develop a stealth variant of the Z-20 tactical helicopter, which itself is believed to be a clone of the American UH-60 Black Hawk.
Deng Jinghui, the chief designer of the chopper, stated that the Z-20 might undergo several upgrades, including the capacity to conduct aerial refueling. He also hinted at the possibility of a stealth variant of the helicopter and the construction of a locally manufactured 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.”
The chopper made its first public appearance in 2019. There have been talks about potential upgrades for Z-20 for some time. Additional safety airbags to protect the flying crew, as well as modifications to lessen the chopper’s noise and vibration are some of the potential enhancements that are being looked into, said Deng.
The report also speculates on the production of a number of modifications based on the Z-20’s initial transport version, such as an attack version, a ship-borne utility version, and a ship-borne anti-submarine warfare variant.
Speaking about the aerodynamics design of China’s domestically built heavy-lift helicopter, Deng noted that this would be determined depending on the user’s desire and China’s technological capability. It will most likely have the main rotor and a tail rotor, similar to the Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion.
A Black Hawk Clone?
In May 2021, a scale model of what seems to be a stealth helicopter was on display at the China Helicopter Research and Development Institute. It was speculated to be a stealth version of the Z-20.
Deng could not provide a clear answer when asked if a stealth helicopter is being developed, but said, “Helicopters are low-altitude killers that play a unique role in special operations. I’m also interested in this question, so let’s look forward to an answer together. ”
Une maquette d'hélicoptère de transport à faible observabilité de CHRDI, probablement dérivé du Z-20.
— East Pendulum (@HenriKenhmann) May 28, 2021
The much-discussed Z-20 stealth model is also thought to be inspired by the US-made Black Hawk helicopters. On May 2, 2011, the US military deployed customized versions of Black Hawk to conceal their radar and infrared signatures during its operation to attack Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abottabad, Pakistan.
In the mission that resulted in the killing of Bin Laden, one of these stealth Black Hawks crashed. The US military quickly destroyed it with explosives before leaving the area, but the tail was later recovered by the Pakistani authorities.
The operation sparked huge outrage in Pakistan at the time, with Islamabad fiercely protesting the infringement of its sovereignty. Soon after the raid, allegations surfaced that Pakistan had allowed Chinese engineers to examine the wreckage of the stealth Black Hawk.
According to reports, Chinese officials were given permission to take photographs and samples of the components used in the stealthy Black Hawk.
The stealth variant of the Z-20 on display has a ‘trapezoidal airframe,’ which is similar to “the earliest US stealth Hawk studies”. Moreover, the tail of the downed stealth Black Hawk, which showed considerable use of composite material to decrease noise, weight, and radar signatures, was reportedly seized by Pakistan.
Islamabad returned the wreckage after three weeks of intense diplomacy. Many experts speculated that China could have ‘lifted off’ the stealth technology from the downed Black Hawk, a claim dismissed by Chinese state media.
How Effective Is The Chinese Z-20?
The Chinese Z-20, which first flew in 2013, has a maximum takeoff weight of 10 tonnes (22,000 kg) and can operate from altitudes of over 13,000 feet. It also operates from PLA Navy’s Liaoning aircraft carrier.
China claims the Z-20 has proven its mettle as a strong helicopter since its maiden flight. While it is frequently likened to the US Black Hawk design, there is a clear distinction between the two in some aspects, including their cockpit, tail layout, and rotor design.
The Z-20 has five rotors, compared to the Black Hawk’s four, and it now appears that the Chinese helicopter is also equipped with 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.
The Drive article speculated that a stealth variant of the Z-20 might be useful in potential Chinese operations against Taiwan.
Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, was quoted by Global Times as saying, “The stealth helicopter might be a forward research project, and this sort of aircraft could be a suitable choice in assault and penetration missions since it is more difficult to spot and has a better chance of surviving.”