A new anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter for the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is undergoing trials and testing, according to news reports and Chinese military websites.
The aircraft, believed to be designated Z-18F, has been developed from the Changhe Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG) Z-8, itself a derivative of the long-serving French SA-321 Super Frelon.
Images show that the Z-18 features a redesigned cockpit and modified hull form, while previous company statements suggest extensive use of composites and titanium in its construction. The reports also state that it is fitted with a new type of engine and composite main rotor blades.
These modifications appear to be in line with the Avicopter AC313 commercial design (originally designated Z-8F-100) that first flew from CAIG's Jingdezhen production facility in 2010. The AC313 is powered by three Pratt & Whitney (P&W) PT6B-67A engines, giving it a max speed around 180 kt, an operating range of 485 n miles, and an internal load capacity of 4 tonnes.
However, the Z-18 military variants are highly unlikely to have P&W engines in view of the fines imposed on P&W for supplying engines and control systems that were subsequently installed in the WZ-10 attack helicopter. Instead it is probable that the Z-18 is fitted with a development of the WZ-6 derivative of the Turbomeca Turmo 3C that powers the Z-8. AVIC (Engines) and Turbomeca (Safran) are jointly developing the Ardiden 3C/WZ16 engine that will power the medium-lift AC352/Z-15 derivative of the EC175.
The Z-18F ASW variant is equipped with a dipping sonar and reports suggest that it can carry up to 32 sonobuoys and 4 lightweight torpedoes such as the Yu-7. It has a prominent chin-mounted surface search radar and it is probable that the aircraft is fitted with a datalink like the Ka-28s in service with the PLA Navy, enabling it to operate in third-party targeting mode for long-range anti-ship cruise missiles launched from frigate or destroyer escorts.
None of the current PLAN destroyers or frigates will be able to support the 13.8-tonne maximum take-off weight of the Z-18, so in the near term it will be limited to operating at sea from the carrier Liaoning and the three Type 071 amphibious landing platform docks. The anticipated construction of Type 081 landing platform helicopter ships and Type 055 destroyers would increase the number of platforms that are capable of embarking the aircraft.
The Z-18F is the third variant to emerge, alongside a utility/VIP transport version and an airborne early warning (AEW) platform, possibly with the designation Z-18J. Mock-ups and prototypes of the AEW version, which has a radar antenna fitted in place of the loading ramp that is lowered for operation when the helicopter is airborne, have been photographed on Liaoning 's flight deck.
As with the Shenyang J-15 carrier strike aircraft, which features a shark emblem, the Z-18s appear to be marked with squadron-type emblems: the AEW variant is marked with a flying bat and the ASW aircraft with a swooping eagle. Commentators have suggested that both will be embarked on Liaoning in due course, with speculation that the carrier's air wing will include four AEW and four ASW helicopters, significantly enhancing its self-protection.
IHS Jane's recently reported that China also needs to deploy fixed-wing airborne early warning and control aircraft. Deploying a PLAN equivalent of the US' Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye, perhaps derived from existing land-based aircraft, therefore represents a minimum requirement, although this would also require a carrier fitted with a catapult launching system.
China unveils ASW version of Z-18 helicopter - IHS Jane's 360