BEIJING — The Chinese defense ministry took a step toward greater transparency on July 24 by opening an army aviation base to journalists, including foreigners, for the first time.
The habitually secretive military allowed close inspection and photography of Z-9WZ armed reconnaissance helicopters carrying a variety of weapons. It also laid out the full range of armament available for the type along with the cockpits of Z-9WZs and the helmets of their crews.
However, the new Z-10 (or WZ-10) attack helicopter did not appear at the media day, held at the base of the 4th Helicopter Regiment at Tongzhou, a satellite town of Beijing.
Foreign countries including the U.S. have urged China to be more open about its defense capabilities. Although Chinese officers say that they are trying to increase transparency, activities such as allowing foreign journalists poke their heads into combat helicopters do not come naturally to the People’s Liberation Army.
The Z-9WZ is “the first kind of armed reconnaissance helicopter” to be fielded by the Chinese army, the regiment says. The statement seems to overlook an earlier armed version of the Z-9 series; about 80 units designated Z-9W reportedly were built beginning in 1987.
The Z-9, based on theDauphin, has been built since 1981 at the Harbin plant that is now part of Avicopter. It appears that the Z-9WZ version is the most recent Chinese development of the type and was previously reported as the Z-9G. “WZ” presumably stands for wuzhuang, meaning “armed.”
Reflecting their attack role and the weight of sensors and weapons, the passenger cabins of the helicopters displayed at Tongzhou were largely bare, with only two seats, facing forward, and a hefty rack of electronic black boxes. Weapons pylons on the Z-9WZ displaced the third door seen on each side of early Z-9s.
Weapons on display at Tongzhou included a type of guided missile, a cannon, unguided rockets and their launcher pod.
The 4th Helicopter Regiment has 12 Z-9WZs among a total of 30 aircraft, an officer says. The others areMi-17 and Mi-171 transport helicopters imported from Russia and Y-7 and Y-8 transport airplanes — locally built Antonov An-24s and An-12s, respectively. Among 1,000 people in the regiment, half are qualified as pilots.
Journalists have not previously been allowed on the base, officers say.
Asked about the unit’s recent progress in training, regiment commander Col. Zhang Zhilin tells Aviation Week: “Our simulator training has advanced greatly. We previously used actual [flight] training but now we train mainly with simulators. Doing so cuts costs, and the scenarios are realistic.”
There is no aspect of the regiment’s performance with which he is dissatisfied. “This unit is excellent in all respects,” Zhang says. “Of course that sounds like self-praise, but it is true.” He adds, “We’re very good at flying in bad weather.”
As to the arrival of the Z-10 at the regiment, Zhang says new equipment is a matter for his superiors to discuss.