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New Chinese attack helicopter in development

This concept image of China's new attack helicopter, tentatively designated as Z-21, is based on photographs of the prototype aircraft in flight. (Janes)

China is developing a new attack helicopter that appears to be in the same weight class as the US Boeing AH-64 Apache and the Russian Mil Mi-28 Havoc.

Images of the new helicopter, which emerged on Chinese social media in March 2024, show an aircraft that is larger than the People's Liberation Army's (PLA's) in-service AVIC (Aviation Industry Corporation of China) Changhe Aircraft Industries Group (CHAIG) Z-10 attack helicopter, and with a wider central fuselage that is comparable with the Apache. The fuselage includes cheek fairings similar to the AH-64 Apache and a nose configuration similar to the Mi-28. The AH-64E and the Mi-28N have a maximum operating weight of 10–12 tons.

The new helicopter (tentatively designated as Z-21 by Chinese military observers) also appears to incorporate some of the PLA's latest combat helicopter features such as upward-facing engine exhausts to reduce its infrared signature.

The Z-21 prototype appears to be at an advanced stage of development. Images of the aircraft on Chinese social media appear to carry a range of self-defence measures. Images also show the new helicopter with laser warning system (LWS) sensors in the tail and cheek fairing areas. While the quality of the initial photographs of the helicopter is poor, other bulges on the fuselage suggest the inclusion of missile warning system (MWS) antennas. The aircraft also appears to have very/ultra-high frequency (V/UHF) communications antennas.

While the aircraft did not appear to have an electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) pod in the nose, it had an air-probe sensor, which is a standard feature of aircraft under testing. Janes

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