Category Archives: China

China's Light Attack Helicopter Z-19: a silent (rather than radar evading) chopper

The new Z-19 does not have a cool name, but it does have some very interesting features.

The use of the word ‘Stealth’ is probably a little too strong a term for this new helicopter as the stealth used is not in the classical sense. In the case of the Z-19, it’s acoustic stealthiness along with exhausts that shield the aircraft from Infra-red threats, rather than radar-absorbing materials and shapes like the modified Stealth Black Hawk used in the Osama Bin Laden raid.

The Z-19 is being developed by Harbin Aircraft Industrial Corporation and is suspected to operate alongside the larger Z-10 which is roughly the size of a Ah-64 Apache and is more of a tank killer. Moreover, the Z-10 is now entering front line service with the smaller Z-19 a few years behind.

The Z-19 is roughly the size of an OH-58 Kiowa and made its first flight in May 2010. Although it has been reported that one prototype was lost during September 2010, there are no details of the cause of the crash or even if there were fatalities. The fuselage is the usual slim tandem cockpit design, although unlike most gunship designs the pilot sits in the front seat with the gunner in the elevated rear seat. The chin turret sits in the usual place and the cabin has the distinct look of the Agusta A-129 about it.

Moving to the rear of the aircraft, the Z-19 has exhuasts that point up reducing the infra-red signature, ‘stubby’ wings with hard points and the tail boom whose look remind the AH-66 Comanche with the fenestron tail. It’s the latter that gives clues to its acoustic damping that is ideal for a forward scout able to creep up on an unsuspecting enemy or provide targeting data for its partner in crime the Z-10.

The Z-19 boasts armour plating for its crew along with crash resisting seats; the chin turret has FLIR, TV and a laser range finder. The chopper can carry a wide weapons load including 23mm gun pods, anti-tank and air-to-air missiles giving it a wide-ranging punch. A range of 700km, a service ceiling of 2,400 m and a cruising speed of 245 km/h finishes off the performance figures.

The most interesting thing about the z-19, other than its obvious evolution over previous designs, is its export potential to countries that do not have the big budgets and are looking for a cheaper alternative to the Apache’s, Hinds and Z-10s.

China could find it has a best seller on its hands if it capitalizes on the new helicopters potential.

Its in service date is unknown. However, since it is currently in an advanced flight testing program, the PLAAF should be taking delivery of the Z-19 within the next few years.

Richard Clements for

Image via Chinese Internet

China's J-18 Snowy Owl: Myth or Reality?

Over the past year or so, rumours on the Internet have persisted that China has been building a stealthy STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft in a similar vein to the F-35 Lightning II. Pictures of said aircraft are non existant but the rumour mill still persists that it’s either real or will be at some point in the future.

It doesn’t take long looking on the chinese defense forums and websites to see the odd snippet of information, although there is a lot of miss information out there also, of which some could be started by the Chinese government to hide what they are really up to.

The common theme does seem to favour an engine set up similar to the F-35B which in itself wasn’t a new design. Take a look at the Russian Yak 141 and you will see the lift fan at the front and the swivelling jet nozzel at the rear. There is even talk that the engine will be a modified version of what is planned to go into the well documented J-20 when it reaches production. Is this definite? of course not, it doesn’t even appear to be off the drawing board yet and probably will remain so for quite a while (if not indefinately).

Above image of a Russian Yak-141: Chinese Internet

So what will the fabled J-18 Snowy Owl look like if it were to take to the skies?

Well, many analysts favour the canted twin vertical stabilisers high wing design in a similar vein to the F-35 with some sort of lift fan at the front just behind the cockpit. It’s interesting to note that the Yak141 had two lift fans one behind the other and it’s suspected that the J-18 would be the same. The big question is: would it sport one or two engines at the rear?  The rendering below seems to favour two engines both with the swivelling nozzels and a smooth low RCS (Radar Cross Section) fuselage internal weapons bays and other stealthy features.

Above render source:

Assuming for a moment the aircraft is real and it’s near to flight testing how would China use it?

It has been widely reported that China’s first Aircraft Carrier has been under going sea trials. Again it has been widely reported that China has a navalised version of the J-15, itself  a copy of the Sukhoi SU-30, which is real and is flying so it is hard to see the need unless there is some sort of unknown plan to build smaller carriers in the vein of the USS Wasp to provide maritime support of amphibious forces.

The STOVL project is going to be a huge technological exercise and that is going to take time. The J-18 is likely to remain rumours and internet chatter for a long time to come, and in true Mythbusters style, this Myth is busted at least for now.

Richard Clements for

China: does it need to copy the RQ-170 "Beast of Kandahar" captured in Iran?

As has been widely reported it is no secret that China is trying to acquire stealth technology for use in their indigenous aircraft program. It was only last year that photo’s and video of the J-20 started to appear on the internet. It was clear that  China had made advances into the dark art of stealth technology, although first radar evading tech dates back to about 40 years ago. What was interesting was that the J-20 did not posses the angular lines of the Nighthawk but the more rounded curves of the B-2 or Raptor, it was clear a lot of work had been done behind closed doors for the Chinese scientists.

Another area that Chinese designers have made advances in is that of UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles) or UAS (unmanned aerial systems). Rumours started in 2007 when, during the Paris Air show, China displayed the ‘Dark Sword’ concept.

The Dark Sword clearly had a very low RCS (Radar Cross Section) and showed the way Chinese designers were going in their work. It has appeared several times since then, indicating that this might not just be a concept but could be something that becomes reality in the future.

At the end of 2011 photos started emerging from China of a new Stealth UCAV/UAV dubbed the “Wind Blade” that features a blended wing design with long slim wings with “Sharklets” and an engine intake at the front and above the wing-like body. The overall design would lean towards a high altitude surveillance platform and  going by reports it was designed by students from the Shenyang University which happens to be connected to one of China’s largest aircraft producers. Although the aircraft in the photo is a scale model it’s not clear how old the photo is, so it could be conceivable that there is now a full-scale version.

China does have several non stealthy UAVs too.

There is the SOAR Dragon which looks very similar to the Global Hawk although it has swept wings and the tail plane joins with the main wing and from the photo’s below appears to have  radar absorbing paint. What is interesting in these photo’s is that the aircraft is in an advanced state of completion and looks to be being painted.

There are videos of a hybrid Predator – Global Hawk look-alike doing fast taxis down an unknown runway. The drone seems to be in an advanced state of testing meaning this could now be in a flyable position.

Analysts are divided as to where Chinese scientists are with UAV development. Based on the designs that are being displayed, the designers could have mastered stealthy shapes and the complexities of controlling the UAV. There are even reports that the Chinese are testing small-scale UAV’s for automated carrier landings.

Where most analysts agree is that China does not have the infrastructure to have a UAV reach outside of Chinese airspace and even within Chinese borders the signals are unreliable.

Maybe some of the radio/satellite link equipment, as well as  internal memories, circuitry, lenses,  and sensors contained in the RQ-170 Sentinel captured by Iran could be somehow helpful cause they can be evaluated, tested and copied. And, maybe, improved.

China is still a fair few years away from having a true global UAV reach which will require a lot of space systems investment to be able to achieve this. However there is one thing for sure, it will happen at some point in the future.

Richard Clements for

All images source: Chinese Internet

Wanna know where the new Chinese aircraft carrier will be in the next few days? Here it is. A website gives you the coordinates.

This time you don’t need a satellite to get a glimpse of the Varyag in the Yellow Sea. If you wish to know where the refurbished Chinese aircraft carrier will be until Dec. 29, you can simply visit this Chinese website that has just published the coordinates of the points that limit the area of operations of the carrier (most probably taken from a NOTAM or a bulletin issued by maritime authorities to inform other ships of the temporary prohibited area).

I mapped them with Google Earth and took a couple of screenshots in order to give you an idea where the aircraft carrier will operate for its third sea trial cruise.

So what those interested can do is to point their satellites towards the area and send some spyplanes and subs in the vicinity to study the ship’s onboard equipment, its radar and signals signature, and so on.

Image source:

Satellite captures first Chinese aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea

Taken in the Yellow Sea on Dec. 8, 2011, this images from the DigitalGlobe Analysis Center depicts the Chinese aircraft carrier Varyag during it’s second sea trial in the Yellow Sea, approximately 100 kilometers south-southeast of the port of Dalian. Although testing activities with embarked planes began on Aug. 11, 2011, no plane appears on the flight deck of the Varyag.

Purchased in 1998, the Kutznesov Class 60,000 ton aircraft carrier should be used to test qualify Chinese pilots flying with the made-in-China Shenyang J-15 a multi-role Gen.4.5 plane (based on the Su-33 airframe with Chinese-developed technology) as well as to test equipments that could be used in China’s future operative aircraft carrier (expected no sooner than 2020).

For this reason satellites (and most probably spyplanes) will closely follow Varyag sea trials: to understand the type of threat the U.S. will face in the Pacific in next decades.

Image Credit : DigitalGlobe