China is considering buying three dozen Russian naval attack helicopters, a purchase that would “give wings” to the Chinese military’s new generation of amphibious assault ships.
Military analysts said the deal for the Russian Ka-52Ks would be the third biggest for China and would signal a closer defence partnership between the two countries in the face of US hostility.
“The People’s Liberation Army has studied the possibility of buying Russian Ka-52Ks for quite a long time. The Type 075 landing helicopter dock needs a heavy attack helicopter,” said Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology institute in Beijing.
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Russian news agency Avia.Pro reported on Thursday that the PLA was very interested in the Ka-52K and a Chinese delegation had visited the production line in Primorye Krai in Russia’s Far East.
“It’s likely that a contract between Moscow and Beijing will be concluded on the supply of at least 36 Ka-52K helicopters to the PLA Navy,” Avia.Pro reported.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported earlier that one of their camera crews had been invited to visit the plant.
The Ka-52K, or “Black Shark”, was developed for the Russian Navy by the Kamov Design Bureau, a Russian rotorcraft manufacturing company.
It is a ship variant of the Ka-52 Alligator combat helicopter, with modern avionics for navigation at sea, according to its manufacturer.
“The Ka-52K is the Russian Navy’s first ship-borne attack helicopter with folding blades and wings with higher take-off weights, which can save space and fulfill the needs of the PLA’s Type 075 LHDs,” Zhou said.
It is designed to resist corrosion at sea, and can lift off with a weight of 12.2 tonnes, about 1.4 tonnes more than the original Ka-52.
“Another trait of the Ka-52K is its ejection seat. It’s the only heavy helicopter in the world to have one,” former PLA instructor Song Zhongping said.
“If the two countries seal the deal over the Ka-52Ks, it might also encourage more cooperation between the two countries’ defence industries.”
Such an agreement would also be third in value only to China’s purchases of Su-35 fighter jets and S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.
Beijing launched its third Type 075 LHD in January, and hopes to use the amphibious platforms as “mini aircraft carriers”.
The platforms would play an important role in island landings and defending what Beijing says are its maritime interests, particularly in the South China Sea. But one major element has been missing.
“The key problem is, Chinese aircraft manufacturers still can’t produce a heavy armed helicopter that can meet the combat needs of the Type 075,” a source close to the PLA said on condition of anonymity.
China is developing ship-borne versions of the Z-8, Z-9 and Z-20 helicopters for both the Type 075 and the less advanced Type 071, but it will take time to reach the goals, according to the source.
“The Ka-52K deal would be a win-win for Beijing and Moscow – Russia needs money to support its defence industry, while China needs to buy time,” the source said.
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