Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Is This China’s Newest Special Forces Support Aircraft?

In late September, the Chinese Z-11WB light helicopter completed its maiden flight near the town of Jingdezhen IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly reports.

Produced by the Changhe Aircraft Industries Group, the Z-11WB is the military variant of the AC-311 multi-purpose helicopter – the first light civilian helicopter developed and manufactured in China, according Avicopter, a subsidiary of the Changhe Aircraft Industries Group.

Customers of the 2.2-ton AC-311 aircraft–capable of carrying up to six passengers–have so far included various Chinese police departments. The AC-311, however, is itself a derivative of the Avicopter light utility helicopter Z-11, which in turn is based on the Eurocopter Ecureuil. (Changhe Aircraft Industries Group illegally copied the French design a few decades ago.)

The Z-11 sports a maximum load of 577 kg, a top speed speed of 278 km/h, a maximum range of 560 km, endurance of 3 hours and 42 minutes, and an operational ceiling limit of 5240 meters, according to the company website.

“The major difference appears to be that the AC311 has a redesigned cockpit area likely inspired by the Airbus H120, also co-produced by Avicopter. The redesign increases visibility and uses multifunctional cockpit displays,” IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly notes.

The article also cites Chinese sources that stipulate that the Z-11WB can “carry out ground support, attack, battlefield reconnaissance, command, counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, counter-smuggling and other tasks.” The helicopter will likely be armed with machine guns, rockets, and anti-tank missiles.

“Early images show that it [Z-11WB] carries a lower-nose mounted electro-optical pod and has pylons for ordnance,” the article furthermore states.  Like the Z-11, the new helicopter appears to be powered by a WZ8D turboshaft engine, produced by South Aeroengine Company.

While the People’s Liberation Army has so far not purchased any other Z-11 version, the Z-11WB could be inducted into the force as a light attack/reconnaissance helicopter to be used by the PLA Special Operations Forces (similar to U.S. Army ranger units), a force estimated to be between 20,000-30,000 strong.

The only other Chinese attack/reconnaissance helicopter currently in service is the Harbin Z-19. However, the Z-19 is not capable of carrying passengers.  PLA Special Operation Forces are primarily supported by helicopter units, according to an expert on the subject, which “are used for delivering troops by parachute, air-landing, and fast-roping or rappelling. This small force supports not only SOF operations but all PLA operations.” By for The Diplomat

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