The Changhe Aircraft Industries Group (CAIG) Z-18A transport helicopter has entered service with the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF), a news report by the state-owned broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) has suggested.
The network released video footage on 2 January showing the platform being operated by a PLA Army Aviation unit during military exercises in China’s western Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region: a likely indication that it has entered service.
The Z-18A is based on the commercial three-engine Avicopter AC313 multirole medium-lift transport helicopter developed by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). First seen in December 2014 in Chinese state media, the platform is reported to have undergone high-altitude tests on the Tibetan Plateau in January 2015.
The army-specific Z-18A could replace the PLAGF’s ageing S-70C-2 and/or Z-8B platforms and provide the force with an enhanced high-altitude medium-lift capability.
Naval variants of the Z-18 include the Z-18J airborne early warning and the Z-18F anti-submarine warfare helicopters. The Z-18A differs from the naval versions in that it has an extended nose with a terrain-following radar and an electro-optical system.
However, it uses the same three WZ6C turboshaft engine configuration, lightweight hull design, and ‘glass’ cockpit as the naval versions. It has a maximum take-off weight of about 13 tons, can carry about 27 fully armed troops, has a range of up to 1,000 km, and features an aft-ramp for offloading small vehicles.
The latest development comes amid media reports that the PLAGF is setting up new air assault brigades to consolidate army aviation helicopter units with lightly armed but mechanised air assault infantry battalions.
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