Saturday, August 15, 2009

Z-9G Attack Helicopter in Air-to-Air Configuration

Recently open source internet images have been seen of the Z-9G mounting the TY-90 lightweight air-to-air missile in two 4-missile racks.

The TY-90 ("TY" stands for TianYan, or ) is a short range air-to-air variant of the Chinese QW-2 shoulder-fired IR-seeking missile. Manufacturer's specifications on display at an arms expo indicate that the TY-90 possesses an all-aspect cooled Indium Antimonide IR seeker that is optimized for anti-helicopter engagements in a low-contrast nap-of-the-earth (NOE) environment.

TY-90 fired from an Mi-17 test platform in 2006

With both left and right-side pylons dedicated to the air-to-air missiles, this Z-9G packs a lot of anti-helicopter punch. While some western helicopters can carry a few air-to-air missiles as a defensive measure, this all air-to-air loadout indicates an offensive “helo-hunting” mission for the Z-9G. As the PLA can hardly expect air supremacy in likely conflicts it may face, the potential exists that PLA helos may face off against other helicopters. This would be particularly true in a cross-strait amphibious scenario.

While many helicopters have the ability to fire short-range IR-seeking missiles, few have the missiles fully integrated into the optics and fire control system. In helicopters where the missile seeker operates independently, the pilot must align the entire helicopter at the target, wait for good “tone” to indicate the missile is tracking something, and then fire. In more advanced systems the missile’s seeker is slaved to the electro-optical sensor of the helicopter; that is, the missile seeker will look for a target where the helicopter gunner wants it to. This latter configuration makes for a very effective anti-air system, where the helicopter gunner knows if the missile is locked on to an opposing aircraft instead of clutter, knows the “quality” of that lock-on, and can send the missile on its way without waiting for the pilot to apply fine corrections to helicopter heading.

There are indications that the TY-90 system enjoys this sort of integration. In 2006 when the TY-90 was first seen during operational tests, the Mi-17 test platform was fitted with the entire sensor assembly of the emerging WZ-10 Attack Helicopter. This unusual fitment likely indicates that the missile and sensor assembly were somehow integrated.

Mi-17 testbed with WZ-10 sensor package

Of particular note is that the Z-9G recently seen with the TY-90 loadout belongs to the PLA’s 4th LH Regiment. Alluding to the possibility of an amphibious role, in December of last year the 4th LH Regiment participated in a difficult nighttime over-ocean exercise ( 2008-12-04 19:19:45).

The 4th LH Regiment is busy now hosting preparations for the 60th Anniversary Parade. Their base at Qishanzhuang has been in-use for the past six-months as a practice ground for units driving in the parade. You can view the units in their parade arrays here:

+39° 48' 36.90", +116° 42' 32.12" (39.810250, 116.708922)

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