China’s Z-10 attack helicopter makes foreign debut, but export outlook uncertain

By Thomson Reuters Feb 21, 2024 | 7:22 PM

By Gerry Doyle

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – China’s AVIC displayed its Z-10 attack helicopter for the first time outside its home country at the Singapore Airshow – the only non-Western design on display in a year in which no Russian defence companies were in attendance.

The model has only one known export customer, Pakistan, and no sales have been announced so far at the air show, where the trade portion ends on Friday.

“The Z-10 may appeal to some of those countries that don’t have access to U.S. defence technology,” said Douglas Barrie of the International Institute of Strategic Studies. “After-sales logistics and maintenance support would be a challenge, given Beijing’s relative inexperience in this area.”

AVIC representatives at the air show declined to comment.

The helicopter, which has a chin-mounted chain gun and was displayed alongside several types of compatible missiles and rockets, sat not far from a Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, operated by the Singaporean military and those of many other U.S. allies.

Experts said it was not likely to compete with the Apache, or many of the rotary-wing offerings at the air show, including those of Bell Helicopters, Airbus and others.

“The performance and capabilities of this platform would certainly make it of interest for export,” said Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. “A key capability gap would be a manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) type capability to allow the Z-10 crew to control UAVs and loitering munitions. … The experience being gained in Ukraine suggests that attack helicopter and armed reconnaissance helicopter operations over a future battlespace will depend increasingly on a MUM-T capability.”

The performance and capabilities of the Z-10 have not been made public, but Chinese state media outlet Global Times reported it had “outstanding flight performance, low-air maneuverability, firepower, survivability, ergonomics and reliability”.

A representative of a European defence company said possible customers for the Z-10 could include Myanmar and countries in Southeast Asia that already use other Chinese-made equipment.

Davis agreed, noting that U.S. export restrictions could also affect purchasing decisions.

Airbus said this week that it expected countries in the Asia-Pacific region to add 1,500 military helicopters of all types over the next decade.

“I imagine likely purchaser candidates would be states on friendly relations with Beijing – Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, and perhaps Malaysia – but do they have a requirement for this sort of capability?” Davis said.

(Reporting by Gerry Doyle; Editing by Jamie Freed)