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Armed variant of Z-20 helicopter could be refuelling-capable

Chinese state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) released footage suggesting that it is developing an armed, aerial refuelling-capable variant of the Harbin Aircraft Industry Group (HAIG) Z-20 medium multirole helicopter.

On 31 January, the company released a promotional video that showed computer-generated images of an armed variant of the Z-20 featuring two short wings, each equipped with four missiles, a rocket launcher, and what seems to be a refuelling probe to the right side of the helicopter's nose.

This variant is under development and could be used for specialised roles, including combat search and rescue (CSAR) and special forces operations.

Images of an armed assault Z-20 variant had emerged in October 2021 on Chinese social media, which showed the aircraft carrying eight KD-10 anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), additional rocket pods mounted on stub wings, a chin-mounted larger electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor turret, and fitted with fuel tanks under the stub wings.

However, this is the first time that aerial refuelling capabilities are associated with the Z-20, although an interest in extending the operational range of the helicopter had been mentioned by Deng Jinghui, chief designer of the Z-20 programme, in an interview with state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) earlier in January.

The baseline Z-20 helicopter features a five-rotor-blade main rotor and is powered by two Chinese-made WZ-10 turboshaft engines, each developing 1,600 kW. Its design incorporates advanced technologies including active vibration control, fly-by-wire, low-noise design for the rotor.

An assault/utility variant – commonly referred to as the Z-20J – and an anti-submarine warfare-capable version of the helicopter, referred to as the Z-20F, are being developed for the People's Liberation Army Naval Aviation Force (PLANAF).

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