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New Chinese Z-20 ‘armed assault' variant emerges

The PLA Daily published an image on 20 May 2024, showing a Harbin Z-20 with an EO/IR pod in the nose and stub wings for weapons, suggesting that the PLA may have inducted an armed/assault version of the helicopter. (PLA Daily/US DoD/Janes)

The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) has revealed that it has developed a new armed assault variant of China's Harbin Z-20 utility helicopter.

Images of the new variant were published in the PLA Daily newspaper on 20 May 2024 in connection with a report on an NCO serving with the PLA's 76th Group Army as a flight mechanic.

The photograph showed two Z-20s in flight, out of which the aircraft in the foreground was equipped with high-mounted stub wings (each with possibly two underwing hardpoints) and an electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) pod in the nose. The PLA Daily captioned the photo as “a new type of domestic helicopter flying with iron wings”.

The photograph also showed the aircraft in PLA colours, albeit without a serial number. It is unclear if the aircraft has entered military service.

This new variant, which Chinese military observers have tentatively designated as Z-20W, appears to have been in development for at least three years. In December 2020 a similarly configured Z-20 was seen undergoing flight-testing. At that time, the helicopter carried four KD-9, or likely KD-10, anti-tank guided missiles and one rocket pod under each wing stub. However, the helicopter did not possess an EO/IR pod in the nose.

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