Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Sino-Russian 20+ ton Heavy-Lift Helo Development Underway

Recent internet photos have surfaced of a concept model for the joint Sino-Russian heavy-lift helicopter project. This development is believed to be the latest incarnation of the Mil Mi-46, a heavy-lift helicopter project intended to replace the Mi-6 series and under sporadic development since 1992. The joint project was announced in the Russian media October 13th.

The impetus for Chinese participation in this project stems from at least two operational needs:

The first was identified during the Light Mechanized Infantry Regiment operational experiment begun in October 2005. This experiment focused on the development of a mechanized air assault capability, but the size of air assault vehicles was limited to the capacity of a Mi-171 helicopter. (Read our 2006 analysis of the experiment here).

The second operational need for a heavy-lift helicopter was identified during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Two Mi-26 helicopters previously leased by the Chinese for firefighting duties flew to the devastated area and made a substantial contribution to the relief effort.

While the capable Mi-26 is still in production and available, it is simply too big for many Chinese heavy-lift requirements such as shipboard use.

Read more about this development here.

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