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Z-18 transport helicopter

The Z-18 series transport helicopters made by the Changhe Company evolved from the AC-313 helicopters, itself a derivative of the long-serving French SA-321 Super Frelon. The AC-313 has a maximum takeoff weight of 13.8 tons. It can accommodate 27 passengers, with a payload of 5 tons. It is estimated that the Z-18A helicopters may eventually replace the Z-8A helicopters developed by the Changhe Company. The latter, commissioned in the army aviation troops of the PLA in 2002, is an updated version of Z-8 series helicopters, modeled on France SA321 "Super Frelon" helicopter.

The Z-18 series transport helicopters developed by China's Changhe Aircraft Manufacturing Company were made public in Chinas military media at the end of December 2014, according to a report titled "China tests Z-18A heavy helicopter" on the British website of Jane's Defense Weekly on January 7, 2015.

The Z-18A helicopter was tested on the Tibetan plateau. This type of helicopter will become the second type of helicopter for the army aviation troops of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) to conduct operations in high altitude. The first type of high altitude transport helicopter it used is the "Black Hawk", manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft of the U.S. China purchased 18 "Black Hawk" helicopters in the mid-1980s.

The Z-18 series transport helicopters evolved from the AC-313 helicopters made by the Changhe Company. The AC-313 has a maximum takeoff weight of 13.8 tons. It can accommodate 27 passengers, with a payload of 5 tons. The AC-313 helicopter was tested in 2012 on China's Qinghai-Tibet Plateau at an altitude above 8,000 meters and the Z-18A transport helicopter has an equally excellent performance in high altitude.

The earliest three types of Z-18 series serve to support offshore operations, including AEW warning helicopters, VIP private planes and ASW anti-submarine helicopters.

Z-18A adopts a fuselage shape similar to the above helicopters, combining lightweight composite materials and new glass cockpit. But the Z-18A features a relatively flat nose, equipped with photoelectric detection device, and the main landing gear is not installed with buoys.

Chinese sources speculate that the preliminary task for the Z-18A helicopter is to carry and transport the AH-4 155 mm light artillery system developed by the China North Industries Corporation.

The artillery system was exposed in 2012, which is extremely similar to the M777 155 mm artillery system developed by British BAE Systems. The combat load of AH-4 artillery system is only 4 tons, according to the China North Industries Corporation.

It is estimated that the Z-18A helicopters may eventually replace the Z-8A helicopters developed by the Changhe Company. The latter, commissioned in the army aviation troops of the PLA in 2002, is an updated version of Z-8 series helicopters, modeled on France SA321 "Super Frelon" helicopter.

A new anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter for the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is undergoing trials and testing in late 2014, according to news reports and Chinese military websites. The aircraft, believed to be designated Z-18F, has been developed from the Changhe Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG) Z-8, itself a derivative of the long-serving French SA-321 Super Frelon.

Images show that the Z-18 features a redesigned cockpit and modified hull form, while previous company statements suggest extensive use of composites and titanium in its construction. The reports also state that it is fitted with a new type of engine and composite main rotor blades.

These modifications appear to be in line with the Avicopter AC313 commercial design (originally designated Z-8F-100) that first flew from CAIG's Jingdezhen production facility in 2010. The AC313 is powered by three Pratt & Whitney (P&W) PT6B-67A engines, giving it a max speed around 180 kt, an operating range of 485 n miles, and an internal load capacity of 4 tonnes.

However, the Z-18 military variants are highly unlikely to have P&W engines in view of the fines imposed on P&W for supplying engines and control systems that were subsequently installed in the WZ-10 attack helicopter. Instead it is probable that the Z-18 is fitted with a development of the WZ-6 derivative of the Turbomeca Turmo 3C that powers the Z-8. AVIC (Engines) and Turbomeca (Safran) are jointly developing the Ardiden 3C/WZ16 engine that will power the medium-lift AC352/Z-15 derivative of the EC175.

The Z-18F ASW variant is equipped with a dipping sonar and reports suggest that it can carry up to 32 sonobuoys and 4 lightweight torpedoes such as the Yu-7. It has a prominent chin-mounted surface search radar and it is probable that the aircraft is fitted with a datalink like the Ka-28s in service with the PLA Navy, enabling it to operate in third-party targeting mode for long-range anti-ship cruise missiles launched from frigate or destroyer escorts.

None of the current PLAN destroyers or frigates will be able to support the 13.8-tonne maximum take-off weight of the Z-18, so in the near term it will be limited to operating at sea from the carrier Liaoning and the three Type 071 amphibious landing platform docks. The anticipated construction of Type 081 landing platform helicopter ships and Type 055 destroyers would increase the number of platforms that are capable of embarking the aircraft.

Beijing's major push to develop its aerial anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities could spell the end of the US' undersea superiority, expert on China's security policy Lyle Goldstein stated. Goldstein focused on two new helicopters with ASW components: the antisubmarine version of the Z-8 rotorcraft dubbed the Z-18F and the Z-20 which is often compared to the US-made Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk.

The Changhe Z-18F and the Harbin Z-20 "are in the pipeline and may well even enjoy prioritized development," the analyst noted, adding that "fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft make for highly potent ASW platforms because of their speed, range, search rate and near invulnerability to submarine-launched weapons."

A total of six Z-18Fs are rumored to be delivered to China's first aircraft carrier Liaoning. The Type 055 destroyers currently in development for the Chinese Navy are expected to be fitted with a pair of these helicopters. "Even if the Z-18F can shoulder much of the ASW burden for China's emerging carrier task groups, there still arises a definite need for a sturdy all-purpose helicopter than can fly off the decks of China's expanding fleet of modern frigates and medium-sized destroyers (Type 052 variants)," Goldstein observed in an article titled "A Frightening Thought: China Erodes America's Submarine Advantage."



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Page last modified: 27-07-2016 18:52:40 ZULU