19 March 2016
By Bilal Khan
Recent sightings of several Z-10 Fierce Thunderbolt attack helicopters in Islamabad seem to suggest that the Pakistan Army is intending to induct the Chinese gunship, if it has not done so already.
Developed and produced by the Changhe Aircraft Industries Corporation (CAIC), the Z-10 is forming the mainstay of the People Liberation Army (PLA)’s combat aviation fleet. In 2015, three Z-10s (and reportedly one Z-19 Black Hurricane armed scout helicopter) were transferred to Pakistan for evaluation.
However, with the Army finalizing a purchase of 15 Bell AH-1Z Viper and four Mi-35 Hind-E gunships (with an intent to acquire a total of at least 20) from the U.S. and Russia, respectively, the fate of the Z-10 was unclear. There were even conflicting reports in regards to the Army’s final assessment of the helicopter.
The presence of the Z-10 at the rehearsals for the upcoming Pakistan Day Parade could suggest that the Army is ready to announce the existence of the Z-10 to the public, which in turn could indicate at least an intent to procure the helicopter in the near future.
The Z-10 is a modern platform capable of using contemporary electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) sensors. In fact, it may even be equipped with a millimeter wave (mmW) radar in the near future, enabling it to detect, track and target an object based on its metallic signature.
The Z-10 can be armed with a wide range of munitions. Laser-guided air-to-ground missiles (AGM), such as the Chinese HJ-10 (analogous to the AGM-114 Hellfire-II), are at the core of its anti-armour capabilities. For suppression-fire, the Z-10 is equipped with a chin-mounted gun (believed to be 23mm).
Additionally, laser-guided (as well as unguided) rockets can be used by the Z-10 for use against a wide range of targets, such as moving vehicles, infantry, and fixed structures (such as shelters). The Z-10 can also be armed with air-to-air missiles, such as the ultra-light (20kg) PL-90.
In terms of self-protection, the Z-10 is equipped with an integrated electronic countermeasures (ECM) suite composed of a radar warning receiver, a laser warning receiver, directional infrared countermeasure (DIRCM) system, and chaff and flare dispensers. Collectively, these systems enable the Z-10 to recognize if and when it is being targeted, and if need be, act to mitigate the threat (by deploying flares or chaffs).
Of all of Pakistan’s dedicated attack helicopter options, the Z-10 is likely to be the most feasible in terms of cost, especially if the Army intends to build a relatively large attack helicopter fleet. In fact, if acquired in numbers, Pakistan could request maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities from China. This would enable Pakistan to maintain the gunships with ease and flexibility, at least compared to the AH-1Z.