Saturday, August 4, 2007

Chinese naval helicopters

In the recent days, we have seen some new pictures of Z-8 with folding tail and rotor blades. You can see one of its pictures here.

The second one shows the size of Type 071 vs Z-8. Many people raised their view of the size of Type 071 after seeing this picture. Now, I'm not one of those people that actually tried to calculate Type 071's length based on Z-8's length from nose to folded area, but one of the guesses is 200 m and displacement to be 20,000 tonne. It certainly would be the largest LPD outside of San Antonio. Also, with the 2 helo hangar, I'm guessing it might be able to hold 3 on helipad + 2 in hangar = 5 altogether. This is definitely a step forward for the aviation capability of 071.

The first one shows the size of Z-8 vs people. To rehash one of my previous post on Z-8F improvements from Z-8A
Z-8F from Z-8A, uses a new engine that raises from 1190 kw to 1448 kw, go from titanium to composite rotor blades, service ceiling becomes 4700 m, in ground effect hover ceiling 2800 m
According to sinodefense, some of the specs of original Z-8
Empty weight: 7,095kg
Normal take-off weight: 9,000kg
Maximum take-off weight: 10,592kg (with standard fuel); 13,000kg (with two aux fuel tanks)
Passenger: 27 equipped commandos or 39 soldiers, or 15 stretchers
Maximum speed: 315km/h
Cruising speed: 266km/h
Economical speed: 255km/h
Service ceiling: 6,000m
Hover ceiling (out of ground effect): 4,400m
Hover ceiling (in ground effect): 5,500m
Range: Ferry range 830km; combat range 500km (with 3,000kg payload)
Flight endurance: 2 hours and 30 minutes (with maximum fuel and two working engines)
(kind of weird the specs listed below is more impressive than that of Z-8F, I think there probably is a mistake, but Z-8F is definitely an improved version from original Z-8A)
Z-8F was originally developed to be a transport I think, but it seems that a naval version has been developed as seen below with the SAR version.

Now that we are passed that, let's take a look at the naval helicopter in PLAN as a whole.
One of the more pressing needs for PLAN at the moment is naval helicopters. Currently, the PLAN helicopters consist of Z-8, Z-9C and Ka-28. Different sources would give different numbers of each helicopter in service with PLAN. For example, ka-28 number is listed as 10 on Janes fighter ship in 2004-5, as 10 on sinodefense and 24 on this
signal mag article
. I personally think 24 is closer to truth because I saw the photos of several ka-28 that weren't listed in sinodefence's inventory list. The number of Z-9C is mentionned as 36 in that signal article, 25 on Janes and I think 30 on 2005-6 version. The number of naval Z-8 is listed as 20 on Janes and 10-12 on sinodefence. I personally like the Jane number, because 13 were acquired in the 70s and another 17 were produced by 1997 (yeah, they only produced 17 in over 10 years).

In their current roles, Z-9C seem to be equipping most of the frigates and older destroyers. Even on 054A, we have often seen models of Z-9C on the helipad. Z-9C is a light helicopter, and as such, cannot carry as much equipment and weapon needed for the ASW role. I'm not even sure at this point how many Z-9C actually carry a dipping sonar and/or sonobuoys. It can also only carry one light weight torpedo. Despite its limitations, it seems to be the most readily available and cheapest helicopter of the 3. Harbin Aviation was mentionned to have produced 7 Z-9s in 1 month a while back, so clearly production is not an issue. At this point, Z-9 is pretty much the most successful Chinese helicopter series. Even aside from its presence in PLAN, it is being equipped widely in army aviation and has achieved numerous export orders. During wartime, it will probably be the only one out of the 3 that PLAN would have no problem replacing.

Ka-28 is widely used with the modern destroyers and has also been seen with 054/A. It maybe the most capable of the 3 naval helicopters at the moment. In terms of its payload, range and endurance, they seem to all be impressive figures and it does not take as much space as a Z-8. It can land on both destroyers and frigates, and seems to be favoured on all of the recent PLAN ships. However, Ka-28 always has the problem of being an imported helicopter.
Finally, Z-8 seemed to have received a new lease in life in the Z-8F version. After Z-8F successfully flied in 2004, it achieved a level of production unseen previously. 9 were produced in 2005, 12 in 2006 and 15 are supposed to be produced this year. While some of the Z-8F are going to the army, there will definitely be a number going to the navy. With a maximum takeoff weight of 13 tonnes, it is definitely one that can carry the most load. However, it is very large, so it can only be operated on the ships with large helipad/hangar like 071, 072, replenshiment ships and such. It does serve a good role on amphibious ships, since it can be used to carry troops. With the improved production, it seems one of the past concerns with Z-8 has been removed.

In general, it seems that Z-9C are used for light frigates and older destroyers. Ka-28 are used for the more advanced destroyers/frigates. And finally, Z-8F are operating from amphibious ships and other large ships.

This will most likely be the case until Z-15, the new 10 tonne helo project and the rotorcraft project are completed.

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