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WZ-10 Attack Helicopter

The WZ-10 is China's first domestically designed and produced attack helicopter, superficially comparable to Western counterparts such as the American AH-1 Cobra and AH-64 Apache, or the European PAH-2 Tiger. The design features a reduced signature fuselage, such as was incorporated in the abandoned American RAH-66 Commanche. But the WZ-10 must represent something of a disappointment for the Chinese. Although weighing about the same as the AH-64 Apache, it carries only half the armament, comparable to the much smaller AH-1 Cobra. And appearing some four decades after the American Cobra, it represents a retrogression relative to the typical two decade Chinese lag in military hardware compared to the United States./p>

The primary mission for the treetop hugging WZ-10 is battlefield interdiction, eliminating the enemy ground fixed and mobile forces, and concurrently certain air combat ability. The WZ-10 (Wuzhuang Zhisheng-10) is generally similar to the South African Rooviak and Italian Agusta A129. The PLA Army Aviation long lacked an attack helicopter such as the AH-64 Apache or Mi-28 Havoc. The limited attack helicopter force consisted of 30-40 Z-9Ws and 8 SA-342L Gazelles, along with 60 Mi-17 Hips with unguided rocket launchers./p>

Prior to the WZ-10 China had yet to produce an indigenously designed helicopter. The WZ-10 is thus a bellwether of the improvements in China's helicopter design and production capabilities. Although the helicopter might still not be as capable as the US AH-64 Apache, it will probably play a significant role in Army Aviation modernization and force capabilities.

The helicopter's net empty weight is approximately 5,500 kilograms. The helicopter approximate length is 14 meters, is 3.8 meters high, and is roughly 4.3 meters at its widest point. The main rotary consists of 4 blades made up of a compound material. The diameter of the blades is approximately 12 meters length.

Development of a dedicated attack helicopter began in the mid-1990s at the 602 Institute and Changhe Aircraft Industry Company (CHAIC) in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province. According to another report, the PLA originally selected the the MI-35 but chose the Franco-German Tiger as the source of emulation. Around 1991-92 the PLA leased a single Pakistani AH-1 for technical evaluation. The WZ-10 attack helicopter suffered several delays due to engine related troubles, and finally flew for the first time on 29 April 2003.

Initially the WZ-10 prototypes were powered by Canadian PT6C-76C engines but the production version are likely to use the WZ-9 engines. At one time the WZ-10 was believed to have two European MTR 390 turboshafts, though this now appears in error. Initially there was speculation that the design used the power plant and transmission derived from the Harbin Z-9, with the fuselage modified to accommodate two pilots. However, over time efforts were made to depict the WZ-10 was the military component of the Chinese Medium Helicopter [CMH], and possibly sharing a common power train with the Z-15 [AC352].

Two wings along the fuselage that are roughly 4.32 meters long may carry 1,500 kilograms of munitions, including a 57.0 mm multibarrel rockets, the Red Arrow anti-tank missile. A 23 mm machine gun is fixed to the cabin at the front of the helicopter. The helicopter can carry up to 8 ATGMs, or IR-guided short-range AAMs.

The navigation and avionics are probably from domestic sources. The WZ-10 is equipped with FLIR thus allowing an operations in all weather. The navigation system consists of radioaltimeter, doppler radar and GPS. The fire control system is similar to the French Starry Night digital integration design. Reports indicate that the WZ-10 has an optics system that relays sensor information to the pilots helmets; essentially a system similar to the US Integrated Helmet and Display Sighting System (IHADSS). The helmet system also controls the direction that the machine gun is aiming. This allows the pilots to have an improved situation awareness as they can monitor flight systems and observe the terrain.

The WZ-10 has a non-traditional [for China] design that uses composite and radar absorbent materials. The WZ-10 is equipped with radar warning systems and with systems that will alert the crew that it has been targeted with laser range finders. The helicopter is also equipped with passive countermeasures and in an effort to reduce fratricide is equipped with IFF. The WZ-10 has modified engine exhausts to reduce IR signature of the helicopter. The cabin's bulletproof glass may resist 7.62 millimeter ammunition and composite armor under the cabin resists 12.7 millimeters machine gun fires. The cabin is equipped to maximize fire protection and the WZ-10 is also outfitted with ejection seats similar to the Ka-50.

The need to equip the PLA with helicopter gunships became clear to the Chinese military leadership after the success of the US and its allies in Operation Desert Storm. The lack of attack helicopters was seen as a key shortcoming of the PLA. Earlier, tests had been carried out in China using the Z-5 (MI-4). But various shortcomings were clear, such as the lack of the necessary attack helicopter fire control system, poor engine power and vulnerability to ground fire.

The limited edition French SA342 Gazelles purchased by the PLA in the 1980s were the first real combat helicopters in Chinese service. As a result of operation with this machine, the Chinese concluded that it did not fully meet the needs of the PLA. It was too small (2 tons), so the platform severely limited the combat capabilities and the range of application of this machine. But SA342 played an important role in the development of the PLA Army Aviation. As the first attack helicopters in the Chinese Army, they allowed Chinese commanders to develop tactics and procedures to improve airborne weapons attack helicopters.

The first Chinese attack helicopter, the Z-9W, entered service with the PLA in the 1990s. The helicopter was a Chinese built variant of the FrenchSA365N Dauphin-2, equipped with pylons on the sides of the fuselage, from which were suspended HJ-8 anti-tank missiles and pods with guns. Although the creation of Z-9W was a step forward for the Chinese military, this helicopter also demonstrated a number of serious shortcomings, including poor equipment, and the inability to use at night and in adverse weather conditions. Some of these problems were solved with the creation of Z-9WA helicopter, in which the number of external stations was increased from two to four, resulting in the number of missiles HJ-8 growing from 4 to 8. The helicopter can also used the air-to-air TY-90 missiles. A rotating turret mounted in the nose of the helicopter includes an infrared surveillance system, CCD-camera and laser rangefinder. However, the helicopter also did not meet the requirements of the PLA, and could only be regarded as a transitional type before f a the specialized attack helicopter WZ-10 entered into service.

China embarked on a project WZ-10 in the 1990s, with comprehensive capabilities roughly at the level of the American Helicopter AH-1W Super Cobra and the Italian A-129, and in terms of mobility, similar to the AH- 64 Apache and the Russian Mi-28. With the appearance of this helicopter the Chinese army finally got a dedicated attack helicopter similar to those of the armed forces of other countries.

Because of the geographical situation of China, the PLA must deal with several theaters, which have significant differences in geographical conditions, including those relating to the possibilities of support from the Air Force and Navy. In some special areas, such as Tibet, with its limited network of air bases, the possibility of air support will be limited and the PLA will have to rely on their own forces. Therefore, the question of the requirement for the PLA attack helicopter are debatable.

On the one hand, given the scale of China's naval forces, as well as the length of land borders, the country needs a heavy-class attack helicopter Mi-28 and AH-64, with a maximum takeoff weight of about 10 tons, can carry many weapons, especially antitank weapons, and also has a long flight duration. While the Chinese ground forces outnumber the land forces of Russia and the United States, the proportion of the helicopter component is much lower. Britain, France and Italy adopted a lighter, 4-5 ton helicopters. China adopted a similar WZ-10, and possibly this was not the best choice.

Despite the fact that some place the WZ-10 in the same class as the Augusta Westland A129 Mangusta and the Eurocopter Tiger, the Chinese helicopter is much heavier than these European counterparts. It is believed that the maximum takeoff weight of the Chinese helicopter is 7500 kg, with an empty weight 5400 kg. For the A129 the corresponding figures are 4600 kg full and 2530 kg empty, and for the Eurocopter Tiger (HAP), 6000 kg and 3060 kg. While the Chinese developers relied on European helicopters for performance targets and conceptual plan, they failed at the same time to meet the weight specifications of European helicopters.

But attempts to create a heavier attack helicopter may cause additional technical difficulties. As is well known, for China the bottleneck is creating an engine for the attack helicopter. In general, despite the advantages of heavy-lift helicopters, the choice of the technical aspect WZ-10 was made on the basis of objective circumstances and needs of the Chinese army.

China's first dedicated attack helicopter entered service more than 40 years after the US Army's AH-1G Cobra. The WZ-10 has powerful weapons, including HJ-10 anti-tank missiles and TY-90 air-to-air missiles. The number of missiles on the Chinese helicopter - eight - is the same as the Eurocopter Tiger and A-129. But this is half than that of AH-64, Mi-28, or Ka-50/52, which are capable of carrying 16 anti-tank missiles. As for the range of anti-tank weapons, ATGM HJ-10 has a maximum range of 8 kilometers, about the performance of Russian and American helicopter anti-tank systems. As for the survivability of Chinese helicopter, it implements stealth technology, has taken some steps to reduce noise, with advanced blade propellers. Passive protection provides a helicopter safety when fired on by small arms (including contact with the propeller blades), also implemented technology to protect fuel tanks from penetration. In this respect, the helicopter is at the level of American, Russian and European counterparts.

By 2012 the Z-10 helicopter was in production, and initial batches were delivered to the Peoples Liberation Army of China in 2009 and 2010. The primary mission of the Z-10 is anti-armor and battlefield interdiction. Weapons of the Z-10 have included 30-mm cannons, anti-tank guided missiles, air-to-air missiles and unguided rockets.

Future upgrades to the WZ-10A will likely include new a radar, fire control systems, infrared exhaust suppression and the ability to be flown from naval vessels. Future upgrades to the WZ-10 may include sensor package carried on the Z-11 light helicopter that will improve target acquisition.

Further development of the Chinese attack helicopters may come in three ways. First might be a major modification of the WZ-10 to a WZ-10A, with a takeoff weight of 8-10 tons providing advanced combat capabilities. Some Chinese publications have reported that the helicopter could get a radar over the propeller hub and generally be conceptually similar to Apache Longbow. Secondly might be the creation of a specially modified WZ-10B, with improved radar, infrared and acoustic signature suppression. Third might be the development of a high-speed attack helicopter, a WZ-20. The American V-22 Osprey combined the advantages of helicopter and airplane, with the speed of horizontal flight exceeding a helicopter.

On June 28, 2012 Pratt & Whitney Canada Corp. (PWC), a Canadian subsidiary of the Connecticut-based defense contractor United Technologies Corporation (UTC), pled guilty to violating the Arms Export Control Act and making false statements in connection with its illegal export to China of U.S.-origin military software used in the development of Chinas first modern military attack helicopter, the Z-10. In addition, UTC, its U.S.-based subsidiary Hamilton Sundstrand Corporation (HSC), and PWC all agreed to pay more than $75 million as part of a global settlement with the US Justice Department and State Department in connection with the China arms export violations and for making false and belated disclosures to the U.S. government about these illegal exports.

Since 1989, the United States has imposed a prohibition upon the export to China of all U.S. defense articles and associated technical data as a result of the conduct in June 1989 at Tiananmen Square by the military of the Peoples Republic of China. In February 1990, the U.S. Congress imposed a prohibition upon licenses or approvals for the export of defense articles to the Peoples Republic of China. In codifying the embargo, Congress specifically named helicopters for inclusion in the ban.

Dating back to the 1980s, China sought to develop a military attack helicopter. Beginning in the 1990s, after Congress had imposed the prohibition on exports to China, China sought to develop its attack helicopter under the guise of a civilian medium helicopter program in order to secure Western assistance. The Z-10, developed with assistance from Western suppliers, is Chinas first modern military attack helicopter. During the development phases of Chinas Z-10 program, each Z-10 helicopter was powered by engines supplied by PWC. PWC delivered 10 of these development engines to China in 2001 and 2002. Despite the military nature of the Z-10 helicopter, PWC determined on its own that these development engines for the Z-10 did not constitute defense articles requiring a U.S. export license, because they were identical to those engines PWC was already supplying China for a commercial helicopter.

Because the Electronic Engine Control software, made by HSC in the United States to test and operate the PWC engines, was modified for a military helicopter application, it was a defense article and required a U.S. export license. Still, PWC knowingly and willfully caused this software to be exported to China for the Z-10 without any U.S. export license. In 2002 and 2003, PWC caused six versions of the military software to be illegally exported from HSC in the United States to PWC in Canada and then to China, where it was used in the PWC engines for the Z-10.

PWC knew from the start of the Z-10 project in 2000 that the Chinese were developing an attack helicopter and that supplying it with U.S.-origin components would be illegal. When the Chinese claimed that a civil version of the helicopter would be developed in parallel, PWC marketing personnel expressed skepticism internally about the sudden appearance of the civil program, the timing of which they questioned as real or imagined. PWC nevertheless saw an opening for PWC to insist on exclusivity in [the] civil version of this helicopter and stated that the Chinese would no longer make reference to the military program. PWC failed to notify UTC or HSC about the attack helicopter until years later and purposely turned a blind eye to the helicopters military application.

HSC in the United States had believed it was providing its software to PWC for a civilian helicopter in China, based on claims from PWC. By early 2004, HSC learned there might be an export problem and stopped working on the Z-10 project. UTC also began to ask PWC about the exports to China for the Z-10. Regardless, PWC on its own modified the software and continued to export it to China through June 2005. PWC anticipated that its work on the Z-10 military attack helicopter in China would open the door to a far more lucrative civilian helicopter market in China, which according to PWC estimates, was potentially worth as much as $2 billion to PWC.

These companies failed to disclose to the U.S. government the illegal exports to China for several years and only did so after an investor group queried UTC in early 2006 about whether PWCs role in Chinas Z-10 attack helicopter might violate U.S. laws. The companies then made an initial disclosure to the State Department in July 2006, with follow-up submissions in August and September 2006. The 2006 disclosures contained numerous false statements. Among other things, the companies falsely asserted that they were unaware until 2003 or 2004 that the Z-10 program involved a military helicopter. In fact, by the time of the disclosures, all three companies were aware that PWC officials knew at the projects inception in 2000 that the Z-10 program involved an attack helicopter.

PWC exported controlled U.S. technology to China, knowing it would be used in the development of a military attack helicopter in violation of the U.S. arms embargo with China. PWC took what it described internally as a calculated risk, because it wanted to become the exclusive supplier for a civil helicopter market in China with projected revenues of up to two billion dollars. Several years after the violations were known, UTC, HSC, and PWC disclosed the violations to the government and made false statements in doing so.

An unknown number of Chinas Z-10 air-to-ground attack helicopters have been upgraded with ultra-thin graphene semimetal to serve as an extra layer of protection from adversaries, according to Asia Times. A video appeared on China Central Television earlier this month showing one of the helicopters with "an extra armor module near its tandem cockpit" touch down after a flight. The video has not been independently verified for authenticity, and Beijing is known to keep its military secrets under wraps.

During a ground attack operation, the Z-10 would likely be called upon to take out hostile tank formations or other ground artillery, Asia Times noted in a 24 October 2018 report, exposing the chopper to a variety of anti-aircraft weaponry that might be to take it out during low-altitude operations.

Graphene is an incredible material with novel properties as compared to the materials conventionally used in making military equipment. The material can withstand 200 times as much force as steel at a fraction of the weight, Asia Times reported. In 2017, a study published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology found that graphene which is almost 1 million times thinner than a sheet of paper layered on top of itself twice can "temporarily become as hard as diamond" and just as impervious to projectiles like bullets, Futurism reported.

Graphene is simply a one-atom layer of carbon tightly packed together in a hexagonal lattice. When exactly two layers are stacked on top of each other a configuration called diamene the material hardens and demonstrates magnificent strength comparable to that of diamonds, according to Futurism. On a curious note, Nature Nanotechnology reported that stacking more than two sheets of graphene did not trigger any hardening effect.

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