Asia Defense

China’s New Attack Helicopter Is Ready for Serial Production

The export version of China’s Harbin Z-19E is ready to start batch production, according to a report.

China’s New Attack Helicopter Is Ready for Serial Production
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Alert5

The export variant of the Harbin WZ-19 reconnaissance/attack helicopter, designated Z-19E, is ready for serial production, according to its developer the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), the state-owned China Daily newspaper reported on October 13.

“The Z-19E helicopter has gone under professional scrutiny regarding its performance tests and passed verifications, demonstrating the model is capable of entering the production phase,” the newspaper notes. The report neither provides an exact date for start of production nor reveals any potential customer for the platform.

The Z-19E helicopter is produced by AVIC’s Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing branch. It is a narrow-body, twin-seat tandem helicopter based on the Harbin WZ-9 medium multipurpose utility helicopter, which in turn is a licensed variant of Airbus’ Eurocopter AS265 Dauphin.

It was first revealed to the public at the Airshow China event held in Zhuhai in  November 2016. The helicopter conducted its maiden flight in May 2017.It underwent 40-day trials in April and early May 2018, which included the test firing of air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, unguided and guided rockets, as well as of the Z-19E’s gun systems. As I reported last year:

[T]he helicopter can be armed with up to eight HJ-8s, an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), or the HJ-10, an anti-tank missile purportedly the Chinese equivalent to the U.S.-made AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missile. The helicopter is also equipped with a 23-millimeter cannon.

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Next to conducting reconnaissance missions, the Z-19E can be deployed for close-air-support missions and also for air defense operations against enemy aircraft:

Against aerial targets, the Z-19E can also be fitted with up to eight TY-90 air-to-air missiles. The helicopter is also capable of carrying a number of Chinese-made anti-ship missiles, although there is no indication that the domestic version of the aircraft has been inducted by the People’s Liberation Army Navy so far.

Pakistan had been evaluating the Z-19E, along with the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group’s Z-10 helicopter gunship, since 2015, with a number of rotorcraft serving with a squadron of the Pakistan Army Aviation Corps (PAAC). AVIC expected  an order for  at least 30 helicopter gunships, but after years-long tests the Z-10 and Z-19E both reportedly failed to meet the Pakistan Army’s operational requirements.

Instead, Pakistan opted for Turkey-made T129 ATAK multirole attack helicopters to replace the PAAC’s aging and worn out fleet of AH-1F Cobra helicopter gunships at an estimated contract value of $1.5 billion in July 2018.While no detailed official explanation for the Chinese the helicopters’ rejection has come forth, one of most likely reasons is gunship’s underpowered turboshaft engines, which have prevented the Z-10 and Z-19E from carrying their full weapons payload during tests and, in the case of the Z-10, actual military operations.