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Variant of Z-20 helicopter may be under development for PLAN Marine Corps

An image has emerged on Chinese social media platforms suggesting that a variant of the naval Harbin Z-20 helicopter may be under development for use by the People’s Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps (PLANMC).

The image emerged around 12 January and shows the aircraft in flight carrying anti-tank guided weapons (ATGWs). These appear to be KD-10 missiles, which are not known to have an anti-ship role. The YJ-9 is the anti-ship missile used by the Z-9 helicopter currently in naval service, which is an active radar guided weapon for use against small ships and fast attack craft.

The airframe in the recent photograph bears tail number ‘6212’, which indicates that it is one of two pre-production utility variant helicopters that were first seen in images posted in 2019. The utility variant is one of the two versions of the naval Z-20, the other being an anti-submarine warfare-capable variant fitted with a distinctive disc-shaped radome under the cockpit floor.

Unlike previous images of the utility variant, the latest one shows that a stub-wing assembly has been fitted to each side of the aircraft. Each stub has a single hard point, to which a four-rail launcher has been fitted, allowing a total of eight missiles to be carried.

No details were provided as to when or where the latest image was taken.

The naval variant of the Z-20 is distinguishable by the position of the rear undercarriage wheels, which are located just behind the rear of the cabin, rather than a single wheel at the end of the tail boom as seen on the variant used by the PLA Ground Force. This allows the naval variant to operate from the restricted space of a ship’s flight deck.

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