New attack helicopter seen as vital in any PLA operations against Taiwan, India


A new heavy attack helicopter is expected to play a critical role in any potential People’s Liberation Army operations against Taiwan or India, according to analysts.
The first images of the new helicopter emerged on Chinese social media platforms including Weibo last week, with observers referring to it as the Z-21.
It appears to share similarities with the Z-20 medium-lift helicopter, though the new aircraft’s fuselage is slimmer. The multirole Z-20 is seen as the Chinese version of the US Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk. With a capacity of 10 tonnes, the Z-20 is heavier than the two Chinese attack helicopters currently in service, the Z-10 and the Z-19.
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The new Chinese aircraft has also been compared with the AH-64 Apache, the US military’s most advanced attack helicopter.
The images show a two-seat tandem configuration, which is found on most modern attack helicopters. It was developed by Changhe Aircraft Industries Corporation, based in the eastern province of Jiangxi. President Xi Jinping visited the manufacturer in October.
Analysts say the new attack helicopter will be vital to operations in the event of a war breaking out with Taiwan or a conflict with India.
Yoon Suk-joon, a visiting research fellow at the Korea Institute for Military Affairs and specialist in Chinese weapons systems, said the Z-20 type helicopters, including the new Z-21, were ground force weapons that could match those of the US military.
“It is a helicopter that will offset the limitations of the existing Z-8/9 type helicopters due to a lack of engine capacity in the mountains of high-altitude areas,” Yoon said.
“This is the main reason why the Chinese military mainly tests and evaluates the Z-20 type helicopter in the Western Theatre Command.”
That PLA command oversees a large part of China’s west and its western border, including areas bordering India.
He said the operational deployment of the Z-20 type helicopters had “threatening implications for Taiwan and India”.
Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said Beijing saw the need for a heavier attack helicopter than the Z-10, which is smaller and seen as a counterpart to older models such as the US Cobra and Australia’s Aussie Tiger.
“This is particularly the case for a cross-strait operation against Taiwan, where the [PLA Air Force] would seek higher performance [or] payload across greater distance,” Davis said.
“But it would also be very applicable for high-altitude operations, for example against the Line of Actual Control in the Himalayas,” he said, referring to the contested border between China and India.
“One interesting question that now might emerge is to what extent the Z-21 will follow the later models of the Apache, and develop a Chinese variant of manned-unmanned teaming (MUM/T) to allow the Z-21 to control armed UAVs operating forward to identify and attack targets, without putting the helicopter itself at risk,” Davis added.


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