It appears Chinese forces have a new weapon, and it may have completed its development and is now in frontline use.
Video has emerged showing Z-10A attack helicopters from the People’s Liberation Army launching what’s reportedly a new type of missile during a live-fire exercise, Thomas Newdick of the Warzone reported.
These first images originated from the state-owned China Central Television 13 (CCTV 13) channel and showed crews loading the missiles onto four-round racks on the Z-10A’s outboard stub-wing hardpoints before they were launched at an undisclosed location, the Warzone reported.
The missiles — believed to be a KD-10 laser-guided air-to-surface anti-tank weapon — engaged a variety of armored vehicle targets, including tanks.
The range at which these were knocked out is likely indicative of a fire-and-forget weapon, although some experts disagree on this point.
According to Military Leak online, the missile may feature a semi-active laser seeker believed possibly derived from the Russian Krasnopol 152mm laser-guided projectile — in which case the missile would not be fire-and-forget.
The use of Z-10As in combination with at least one Z-19A suggests that the latter type may have provided targeting data using its mast-mounted millimeter-wave (MMW) radar, forming a “hunter-killer team,” the Warzone reported.
Interestingly, China military expert Andreas Rupprecht, who goes by @RupprechtDeino on Twitter, has suggested that the weapon may already have completed its development and is now in frontline use — or, at least, is undergoing the final phase of pre-service trials.
The anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) bears some resemblance to the China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO) Blue Arrow 21 (BA-21), a weapon that’s thought to have a range of around 11 miles and guidance based on a dual-mode millimeter-wave radar/semi-active laser seeker, the Warzone reported.
Offered for export at Airshow China at Zhuhai in 2018, the helicopter-launched BA-21 is reportedly an enhanced derivative of the AKD-10 missile that is used by the PLAGF’s Z-10 and Z-19 attack rotorcraft and is broadly equivalent to the US AGM-114 Hellfire, but without the forward control fins.
The Chinese missile has a reported range of around 4.3 miles. While the initial AKD-10 employed semi-active laser guidance, later iterations reportedly incorporate an MMW seeker, the Warzone reported.
Previously, a drone-launched BA-21 version was displayed at Zhuhai in 2016, intended as part of the armory of the Wing Loong II unmanned combat air vehicle, among others.
As well as two missiles on each of the four-round launchers, the Z-10As were also seen carrying unidentified pods mounted below the weapons, the Warzone reported.
The function of this store is unclear, but it has some similarities with training pods used by other helicopters to simulate targets for engagement as well as hits to the aircraft itself.
Another possibility is that these pods contain data-link equipment, which would potentially allow targeting data to be handed from the Z-19A and then passed on to the missile once launched by the Z-10A, the Warzone reported.
This would allow a single radar-equipped helicopter to provide targeting coordinates for multiple Z-10As.
In addition to employing a new missile, the PLAGF’s Z-10 has recently been active in the maritime domain, with deck trials on board a Type 072A landing ship of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), reportedly conducted in the Taiwan Strait.
The Changhe Aircraft Industries Group Z-10 — locally named Pi Li Huo, or Thunderbolt — is the PLAGF’s first modern attack helicopter, first flown in April 2003 and entering service in pre-production form in late 2010.
While we await more details about the Z-10A’s new missile, it’s clear that the People’s Liberation Army is continuing to make serious efforts to improve the capabilities of its attack helicopter fleet — and at the same time, it seems to be refining its concept of operations.