Pakistan’s Army has for the first time publicly revealed the Changhe Aircraft Industries Corporation (CAIC) Z-10 Thunderbolt attack helicopter during this year’s Pakistan Day parade, Defense News reports.
The Z-10 is the first modern attack helicopter designed and produced domestically by the People’s Republic of China and been in service with the People’s Liberation Army since 2012.
The helicopter gunship has been undergoing performance evaluations (on and off the battlefield) since 2015 when Pakistan purportedly received three Z-10s (along with one Z-19 Black Hurricane armed scout helicopter).
Up to now, the Pakistan Army has not made an official announcement on whether it intends to induct the helicopter, although an unknown number of Z-10s are allegedly already in service with the 35th “Mustangs” Squadron of the Army Aviation Corps.
Perhaps, one of the reasons why the military has not declared publicly that it will opt for the Chinese gunship is that it is not satisfied with the performance of the aircraft. According to some analysts, the helicopter is plagued by the same issue that has been afflicting other Chinese aircraft: an under-performing engine.
The helicopter is currently operating with two under-powered WZ-9 turboshaft engines that prevent Z-10 from carrying its maximum payload potential including up to 16 AR-1/HJ-10 anti-tank missiles.
China, however, is already working on a new more powerful engine, the WZ-16, currently under development by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), which would solve the under-performance problem.
Despite engine issues, however, the Pakistan Army has allegedly been satisfied with the performance of the helicopter during counterinsurgency operations, where it has outclassed other helicopters currently in service with the military.
Islamabad aims to replace its aging fleet of AH-1F Cobra helicopter gunships over the next years. The Pakistan Army has expressed interest in purchasing up to 20 MI-35 Hind gunships from Russia and is waiting for the delivery of 15 AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters (See: “Is the US About to Sell 1,000 Missiles to Pakistan?”).
Despite Pakistan’s long helicopter shopping list, the Z-10 could still have a future in army aviation due its low cost in comparison to Western model, which, given Islamabad’s desire to acquire a large armored helicopter fleet, could help sway opinion in favor of the Chinese armored gunship. (China would probably be willing to help set up maintenance, repair, and overhaul facilities in Pakistan as part of an arms deal, which would further drive down operational costs of the helicopter gunship.)
The Z-10 attack helicopter has primarily been developed for anti-tank warfare and, given that it is equipped with HJ-10 anti-tank missiles, would be a powerful deterrent to the armored columns of the Indian military in the event of war–a convincing reason for traditionally-minded Pakistan Army officers to support the purchase.