UPDATED: Latest Theory Is The Helo Is From Chinese Museum. No Proof.
A photo of a helicopter that looks quite a bit like an American Apache AH-64 attack helicopter on a truck has surfaced in China. The experts agree on one thing: they aren’t sure what the aircraft is or what it portends.
What do we know? The Chinese have been trying to develop attack helicopters like the Apache for more than a decade. One is a variant based on the Z-9, but it reportedly has limited manueverablity and a pretty light weapons load. The WZ-10 flew at a Chinese air show last year, with its designer claiming it’s already one of the three best attack helicopters in the world.
(This video from Chinese television shows the WZ-10 in flight. The similarities to the Apache are self-evident: the two seats “staggered” one above and behind the other, the sensor pod on the nose, the weapons pylons. But there are several key details that let you tell them apart — see below)
We also know — as Dean Cheng, the Heritage Foundation’s respected expert on the Chinese military, points out — that the Chinese “are very good at deception.” (“All warfare is based on deception,” wrote Sun Tzu millennia ago). Why, Cheng wonders in an email to us, is this helicopter not covered as other prototype Chinese aircraft have been over the last few years? Why is it being moved out in the open on a clear, bright day, on a civilian flatbed with no apparent security? Who took the photo and allowed it to be posted? With China, he said, “we always have to wonder, at least a little, why we’re being allowed to see things.”
Cheng doesn’t rule one way or another on which helicopter this is. Instead, he says, “it would be interesting to see flight-tests, etc. of the helo, before determining whether this particular version is real.” The WZ-10, on the other hand is “at least in prototype flight testing.”
But the chopper in the picture sure looks like an American Apache, not a Chinese WZ-10: It has the Apache’s distinctive side bulges below the cockpit (which house electronics), smooth curves, and its single-canopy cockpit, as opposed to the flat sides, sharp angles, and dual canopies of the WZ-10 (and, for that matter, most non-US attack helicopters). If it’s not a real Apache, it’s a pretty good mock-up of one.
Real or fake, why has this photo surfaced? If it’s an actual AH-64 or a working clone, why on Earth is it riding around in broad daylight with no security? Perhaps, just maybe, to freak Americans and our allies out?
Bottom line: “That the Chinese are working on an attack helo (or perhaps even more than one) is almost certain. Whether it looks like what’s on the flat-bed truck is much less clear,” Cheng writes in his email.
We contacted two other Chinese military experts, Larry Wortzel of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, and Albert Willner, director of CNA’s China Security Affairs Group. Willner said he just couldn’t offer an opinion. Wortzel said speculation in the Aviationist covered most of the bases.
The photos first appeared on the China defense blog.
Finally, our readers will remember that Pratt & Whitney was fined recently for illegally supplying engine technology to the Chinese which was used to help develop the WZ-10 helicopter’s engines.