Z-10ME Debuts in Singapore Airshow with Enhanced Configuration Beyond PLA’s Version

On the 20th, the grand opening of the 2024 Singapore Airshow brought together over a thousand top companies from more than 50 countries and regions worldwide. Among them, China’s independently developed Z-10ME helicopter made its first appearance at an overseas airshow, showcasing the latest achievements of China’s aviation industry in the field of armed helicopters to the world.

The Z-10ME, as the name suggests, is derived from the PLA’s Z-10 with improvements, with the suffix “M” indicating significant modifications, and “E” indicating its use for export. Overall, the deeply improved Z-10ME embodies three major features: high configuration, comprehensive functionality, and strong defense capabilities.

Z-10ME makes its first appearance at an overseas airshow. (Source: AVIC)

Compared to the PLA’s version of the Z-10, the first impression the Z-10ME gives at the outdoor exhibition area is “high configuration,” with a millimeter-wave radar mounted on the top, directly matching the battlefield situational awareness capability of the American-made “Longbow” Apache. Over its more than thirty years of service, the AH-64 “Apache” has undergone four upgrades, among which, the AH-64D variant is particularly crucial due to the installation of the “Longbow” fire control radar on top of its rotor blades.

With the addition of millimeter-wave fire control radar, the armed helicopter can achieve all-weather, long-distance target search and tracking in various weather conditions. This technological innovation enables armed helicopters to rapidly acquire battlefield situational information, effectively search, detect, and identify enemy targets such as ground vehicles, anti-aircraft units, low-altitude helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft.

For instance, the “Longbow Apache” can hide behind terrain, protruding its radar to detect targets on the opposite side, significantly enhancing its battlefield survivability. Moreover, the “Longbow Apache” can hover at treetop height and detect targets over a dozen kilometers away, earning it the nickname “Tree-Top Killer.”

The prominent millimeter-wave radar on top of the Z-10ME. (Source: AVIC)

Additionally, the millimeter-wave fire control radar can provide precise target data to guide weapon systems for accurate strikes. This improvement not only enhances the combat capabilities of armed helicopters but also makes them more advantageous and adaptable in complex and changing battlefield environments.

Full complement of active and passive equipment, formidable defense capabilities

In recent years, the Z-10 has undergone several iterations, with the domestically produced Wozhai-9 engine maturing continuously, resulting in not only further unleashed power but also greatly improved reliability. It can not only afford operational tasks in high-altitude areas but also support extensive composite armor attachments, gradually adopting infrared suppression exhaust structures. The Z-10ME inherits all these features. Moreover, with the addition of luxurious equipment such as active and passive laser and missile proximity warning systems, and laser active interference systems, its defense capabilities are further enhanced and comprehensive.

Z-10ME showcased with a complete set of active and passive equipment. (Source: AVIC)

From this magnified image, we can clearly see that the Z-10ME not only has a more robust body structure, but also external armor added in positions such as under the engine, cockpit, and electronic equipment compartments. Since modern armed helicopters operate at “tree-top height” during missions and face various light weapons harassment from the ground, the majority of them install composite armor in critical areas. There are numerous examples of armed helicopters surviving hits to the abdomen and calmly evacuating from the battlefield.

Furthermore, upon closer inspection, new equipment has been added to the short wings of the Z-10ME, a feature not present in previous models. Judging from the hemispherical transparent cover, this equipment is likely based on a laser directional infrared countermeasure system, capable of actively countering various infrared-guided surface-to-air missiles, providing the helicopter with new protective measures.

Like some of the newer batches of Z-10, the Z-10ME also employs a means of upward-angled infrared suppression at the nozzle, effectively reducing the risk of missile lock. Although this design increases resistance, the increased engine power of the Z-10 can compensate for the loss. According to a previous documentary series by CCTV, after the verification of a new type of engine for the Z-10, the climb rate increased by 20%, and the acceleration increased by 10%. The troop verification was completed in April 2023, and subsequent promotions were comprehensive.

Capable in air and surface operations, comprehensive performance

In addition to numerous upgrades to the airframe, the weapons carried by the Z-10ME armed helicopter are also noteworthy. The Z-10ME is equipped with GR-5 rocket launchers, as well as the matching HJ-10A (GR-5) precision-guided air-to-surface rockets and FS70B airburst fragmentation rockets.

The GR-5 is a 19-round rocket launcher. This means that compared to the previously standard 7-round rocket launchers for Z-10 series armed helicopters, with each helicopter carrying two rocket launchers, each launcher equipped with 19 rockets, the single Z-10ME’s rocket carrying capacity has increased by 170%.

Various weapons displayed by the Z-10ME at the airshow.

Among the many weapons displayed by the Z-10ME armed helicopter, the most notable is the domestically produced CM-502KG multi-purpose air-to-ground missile. Publicly available information shows that the CM-502KG missile has a flight speed of up to 1.1 Mach, weighs 45 kilograms, and carries an explosive warhead weighing 11 kilograms, with a maximum range of 25 kilometers. It utilizes image guidance and bidirectional data link technology, allowing the missile to autonomously seek targets after launch, demonstrating its ability to engage multiple targets within the beyond-visual-range, significantly enhancing combat stealth and assault capabilities.

In addition to conventional ground attack capabilities, the Z-10ME also demonstrated the “Tianyan” air-to-air missile developed specifically for armed helicopters. This air-to-air missile, known as the Tianyan-90 (referred to as the Thunder-90 in the domestic version), is a global first and is designed as an air-to-air combat weapon specifically for armed helicopters.

The Tianyan-90 features a unique attack method. Combined with the pilot’s helmet-mounted sight, it can accurately strike critical vulnerable parts of enemy aircraft such as engines, rotors, and cockpits. With a 5-meter blast radius, the single-shot hit rate of the missile exceeds 80%, fully demonstrating the dominance of the Z-10ME armed helicopter in aerial combat with other armed helicopters.

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