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China’s Z-10ME Promises Significant Capability Gains

At Airshow China 2018, which took place in November in Zhuhai, Guangdong, AVIC (the Aviation Industry Corporation of China) officially unveiled the Z-10ME, an improved variant of Changhe Aircraft Industries Corporation’s (CAIC) Z-10 attack helicopter.

Incorporating a wide-array of improvements in its onboard electronics suite, weapons compatibility and to the airframe, AVIC is actively marketing the Z-10ME for export. Thus far, three Z-10s were extensively tested by the Pakistan Army Aviation Corps (PAA) in 2015 and 2016.

According to AVIC (via Shephard Media), the Z-10ME incorporates “sand filters for the engines, infrared suppressors, crash-resistant seats for pilots and bullet-resistant armour for the cockpit.”[1] In other words, increasing survivability and pilot/personnel-protection was a key impetus to improving the Z-10.

However, ‘iterative’ would understate the intended impact of these improvements. Besides adding to the Z-10’s defensive characteristics, the Z-10ME also brings new offensive capabilities as well.

These capabilities include compatibility with the CM-501XA miniature cruise missile, ET60 324 mm anti-submarine warfare (ASW) torpedo, and SW6 air-launched drone.[2] Like the Z-10ME, AVIC is marketing each of these munitions for export.[3] AVIC is also marketing HJ-10 and TL-4 anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM).[4]

In 2016, Quwa noted that the preceding Z-10 variant appeared underpowered for its apparent maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 6,000 kg – it relied on the 956 kW WZ9 turboshaft engine.[5] Based on officially available information (via Shephard Media), it is unclear if AVIC/CAIC changed the engine.[6] However, some reports state that a 1,200 kW engine may have been installed, but this cannot be confirmed.[7]

There were no reports of the Z-10ME receiving a millimeter wave radar (mmW) either. If equipped with an mmW radar, the Z-10ME could independently target moving ground targets and, in turn, engage them with an active radar-guided air-to-ground missile (AGM), i.e., true fire-and-forget.

However, AVIC has access to both solutions — i.e., 1,200+ kW turboshaft engine and mmW radar – through programs such as the WZ16 and mmW radar suite for the Z-19-armed scout helicopter, respectively.

Thus, it would not be surprising if both solutions materialize in the coming years, but it is unclear if the Z-10ME will leverage them. On the other hand, the Z-10ME demonstrates AVIC’s willingness to upgrade the platform, and in relatively short-order. In fact, as its original Z-10s age, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) itself might have incentive to see a significantly improved variant emerge.

The hypotheticals aside, one should not understate the value AVIC has brought to the platform via the Z-10ME. The defensibility aspect alone spans across three key areas: (1) desert operations, (2) defensibility against infrared-guided missiles and (3) pilot/personnel protection and survivability.

Desert Operations

The Z-10ME’s engine intakes are equipped with sand filters. The intent is to position the Z-10ME as a full solution for desert operations. While observers have noted, and rightfully so, that AVIC will use this in its commercial efforts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Sub-Saharan Africa, a potential push to the Pakistani market should not be dismissed, nor should MENA be viewed as a likely candidate.

Firstly, the MENA market has largely settled on US-built attack helicopters, notably the Boeing AH-64D/E and, in Bahrain, the Bell Helicopter AH-1Z Viper. While AVIC has built a profitable niche in MENA with its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) line – which can be attributed to the fact that the US was not forthcoming in selling its Predator or Reaper-lines – it is not doing as well with its other aircraft…

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[1] Gordon Arthur. “Zhuhai Air Show 2018: Z-10ME attack helicopter breaks cover.” Shephard Media. 07 November 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 27 November 2018).

[2] Chen Chuanren. “China’s Z-10ME Showcased with Increased Capabilities.” AIN Online. 13 November 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 27 November 2018).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Gordon Arthur. Shephard Media. November 2018.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Chen Chuanren. AIN Online. November 2018.