The Chinese Z-20 helicopter has often been compared to American Black Hawk helicopters. But the fact is that the Black Hawk comes in several variants while the Chinese helicopter used by the PLA is a medium-lift utility helicopter intended for transport purposes.
Speculation is rife that the Z-20 will also be modified to perform multiple functions. Observers say an armed, air-to-air refueling-capable variant of China’s Z-20 is currently in development. The aircraft manufacturer recently released concept art for this variant, reported World times.
On January 31, the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), the manufacturer of the majority of planes used by the Chinese PLA, posted a promotional video titled “In the Blue Sky” on social media platforms, in which the company summarized its achievements in 2021.
The video shows computer-generated visuals of the three “20” series aircraft built by AVIC, specifically the J-20 stealth fighter, the Y-20 large transport plane, and the Z-20 helicopter.
While the digital art for the J-20 and Y-20 appears to be identical to their real-life counterparts, the Z-20 looks very different from those currently in PLA service, as it has a pair of short wings, each carrying four missiles and a multiple rocket launcher.
According to analysts, this Z-20 is most likely an armed assault variant; given that the existing version of the Z-20 is a utility version intended primarily for transport missions and lacks wings and weapons.
However, this is not the first time that PLA has signaled that it could induce more variants of this helicopter. In January of last year, the media had reported two new variants Chinese utility helicopter Z-20 for anti-submarine warfare and assault.
PLA Navy Southern Theater Command launches a navalized variant of the Z-20 helicopter for the first time in recent war games in this rare photo. The resemblance to the Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk is striking. pic.twitter.com/bBj9GZ0Apb
— Collin Koh (@CollinSLKoh) January 8, 2021
The helicopter painted light gray at the time was seen flying in a coastal area in a photo released by the South China Sea Fleet of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in a statement describing fleet exercises. Military experts then predicted that the Z-20 variant was likely a ship-based anti-submarine warfare variant.
Z-20 attack helicopter?
The variant spotted in January last year was reportedly an assault variant, photos of which were making the rounds on social media.
This Featured a round, downward-pointing radar dome under its nose, and its rear landing gear was located at the cabin end rather than the tail end, as shown in the photo.
A clear photo of the Harbin Z-20F, the naval anti-submarine warfare (ASW) variant of the Z-20 medium transport #helicopter. Equipped, among other things, with a sonobuoy dispenser, dipping sonar, surface radar. Armed with torpedoes. Used on Type 075 LHD aircraft carriers. #China pic.twitter.com/9aFqqVHbT8
—Tycho de Feijter (@TychodeFeijter) January 1, 2022
The armed Z-20 was seen with a machine gun under the nose and additional short wings under the cabin doors, according to Ordnance Industry Science Technology, a defense magazine based in Xi’an, northeastern Shaanxi province. western China).
The magazine reported in January 2021 that short wings were used to place eight anti-tank missiles, four on each side, but they should also be able to mount additional weapons such as rocket launchers, machine guns and air-to-air missiles.
— AEROSINT PSF Division (@PSFAERO) October 20, 2021
So there has been plenty of evidence to prove that the assault variant exists for some, even though Western analysts have compared the Z-20 to Black Hawks.
In addition to the features already reported, the new Z-20 appears to feature a long stick to the right of its nose. It is most likely a refueling probe that allows the helicopter to receive in-flight refueling, according to aviation specialists.
Deng Jinghui, the helicopter’s main designer, said in an interview with China Central Television that he plans to expand the Z-20’s range by adding aerial refueling capability.
According to a Beijing-based military expert, the Z-20 could be developed into variants for ship-based transport, anti-submarine warfare, special operations, search and rescue and medical support, in addition to armed assault.
— Air Data News (airways) (@airwayaviation) June 6, 2021
Not only that, in January this year it was hinted that China would be working on a stealth version of the Z-20 tactical helicopter, which would be a clone of the American UH-60 Black Hawk, as previously reported. by EurAsian Times. The speculations, however, have not been confirmed by the chief designer.
Although the variants differ in some respects, they will share many basic parts and systems, which will make production and maintenance much easier than developing completely different helicopters for different missions, according to the expert.
Can it compete with the American Black Hawk?
It is relevant to mention here that China has purchased Black Hawk Helicopters In the 1980s. It was a time when Washington had a much better relationship with Beijing than you see today. However, the United States halted this export following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
According to the Beijing-based military expert, the current version of the Z-20 is a basic version with high utility, and it is strongly expected that it will spawn many variants to meet different kinds of combat needs of the army. APL, like the United States, is done with its Black Hawk helicopter.
Despite the fact that the updated Z-20 utility helicopter seems almost the same to a US Army Black Hawk, the two may differ in terms of engine power, lift capability, digital avionics, targeting sensor technology, capability in high heat conditions, and performance weapons.
In fact, a Chinese military expert himself had affirmed that although the general configuration of the Z-20 is similar to that of the American Sikorsky S-70/UH-60 “Black Hawk” helicopter; the fuselage is squarer in shape, especially aft of the passenger cabin.
And this breakthrough appears to be based on knowledge accumulated by the Chinese Air Force over 30 years of Black Hawk use.