Signaling Major Capabilities, Enhanced by Drone Integration

Mi-28 + Apache + Drones, China’s heavy attack helicopter surfaces online.

Many online media outlets report this, but the authenticity is uncertain. We can only speculate and judge through our own observations. What’s clear is the emergence of a heavy-armed helicopter.

Previously, after China’s Z-10 appeared, many people wondered when China would unveil its heavy-armed helicopter, while the US has the “Apache” and Russia boasts the Ka-52, Ka-50, and Mi-28. This became a significant regret. With the introduction of the Z-20, many speculated whether China would develop its version of a heavy attack helicopter through improvements on this platform.

Like before, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in conflicts such as those between Russia and Ukraine, heavy-armed helicopters have proven somewhat effective against ground targets, including tanks.

If China faces significant events in the future, whether on islands or elsewhere, heavy attack helicopters could play a significant role due to their range, weapon payload, and increased attack capabilities.

There’s considerable interest in this helicopter now. Many online photos show a heavy attack helicopter with a nose resembling the Mi-28 and a body similar to the “Apache.” Crucially, many argue that simply having Mi-28s, Ka-52s, and “Apaches” won’t suffice; too many have been destroyed or hit.

In the future, we might see a combination of heavy attack helicopters and drones. This seems to be the trend. If China efficiently integrates the capabilities of platforms like the Mi-28 and “Apache,” along with drones, it could establish a manned-unmanned combination in the air.

Drones might not just be gliders as before; they could be helicopters. If unmanned helicopter versions can integrate various functions such as attack, reconnaissance, communication, jamming, and relaying, along with heavy-armed helicopters, significant changes in aerial combat capabilities could occur.

Both the Mi and Ka series helicopters, including the Mi-28 and Ka-52, predominantly operate individually at low altitudes, making them vulnerable to enemy low-altitude air defense missiles.

Clearly, the numerous wreckage displayed on the ground suggests that this approach may be outdated. Earlier, “flying tanks” had their advantages in low-altitude rotary wings, but this was before the concepts of networked unmanned intelligence were widely adopted. Now, drones are proving more effective than helicopters in tank engagements, covering almost all areas during attacks.

Loading various unmanned helicopters onto the platform of a heavy attack helicopter could significantly enhance combat capabilities. Whether helicopters or drones are more essential is currently under debate, much like the controversies between anti-tank missiles and tanks in the past.

From a technological and capability perspective, heavy attack helicopters have reached their physical limits. To enhance capabilities, achieving the combat effectiveness against ground targets seen during the Cold War, akin to “harvesting leeks,” is challenging. Heavy attack helicopters must keep pace with the times.

Some argue, why not opt for lighter options? After all, they’re just platforms, a control element in the middle. If numerous unmanned attack helicopters can be integrated, conducting various strike missions, similar tasks could be accomplished. There are many viewpoints now, and this strategy likely needs reevaluation.

Which is more critical, the role of the platform or the control of unmanned aircraft? That’s also a question mark. Combining the advantages of different equipment systems at the lowest cost to accomplish the most significant tasks is the core focus.

If China still needs heavy attack helicopters in traditional conflicts like island capture or unification battles in the future, it must continue developing them. A major power’s army must possess such capabilities and operational ranges. By combining the advantages of current drones with future trends, heavy attack helicopters in China may evolve in this direction.

Discussions on this online image seem to hold some truth. If this can indeed become a reality and be combined with drones during exercises, the resulting combat capabilities will be much stronger than the formidable “flying tanks” of the Cold War era. (Du Wenlong)

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