China unveils Z-8L first indigenous 15 ton-class transport helicopter

The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) has unveiled its latest type of transport helicopter, the Z-8L, the first in the 15 ton-class in China, Liu Xuanzun reports on Global Times. The new helicopter is capable of transporting an all-terrain assault vehicle and other heavy equipment. It is expected to enter service with aerial assault troops and to play a major role in multiple scenarios including amphibious assault missions.

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China unveils Z 8L first indigenous 15 ton class transport helicopter

A Z-8L helicopter of the Chinese People's Liberation Army prepares to transport an all-terrain assault vehicle (Picture source: Screenshot from China Central Television via Global Times)

In its first official public appearance, a Z-8L helicopter affiliated with a Jiangxi-based PLA test flight unit recently went through a series of tests on carrying and lifting a Bobcat all-terrain assault vehicle to examine the stability and safety of the transport procedure, Beijing-based Aerospace Knowledge magazine reported over the weekend.

Domestically developed and based on the original Z-8 and being another Z-8 variant in addition to the Z-8G, the Z-8L has a wider body so it can accommodate a Bobcat all-terrain assault vehicle within its well-protected cabin, whose size is comparable to the Russia-made Mi-17 helicopter, the magazine report said, noting that the larger Z-8L is the PLA's first 15 ton-class helicopter. By comparison, the original Z-8 belongs to the 13 ton-class, and another new PLA helicopter, the Z-20, belongs to the 10 ton-class.

Equipped with a new type of photoelectric device and self-defense systems including radar warning receiver and infrared decoys, the Z-8L is claimed to have higher survivability.

The Z-8L will be commissioned into the PLA's aerial assault forces to enhance the troops' comprehensive transport and overall combat capability. In addition to operating in a wide range of terrains including plains, valleys and plateaus, the Z-8L can also join cross-sea amphibious assault missions when paired up with amphibious landing and assault ships, a Chinese military expert who asked not to be named told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Multiple Z-8Ls carrying all-terrain assault vehicles means vertical-landing troops will have vehicles to use the moment they have their feet on the ground, which will allow them to win crucial tactical opportunities, the expert said.

The PLA has been attaching great importance to helicopters and vertical landing tactics in its amphibious landing missions. It has launched two Type 075 amphibious assault ships, also known as helicopter carriers, since 2019. Additionally, multiple types of helicopters attached to the PLA 71st Group Army recently practiced takeoff and landing, replenishment and emergency repair on a civilian semi-submersible ship in the Yellow Sea, China Central Television reported last week. Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie told the Global Times in a previous interview that semi-submersible ships have large decks and can serve as temporary helicopter carriers, landing decks and maintenance centers. In a potential major mission on large islands or reefs, they can be deployed to become maritime relay platforms to extend the combat radius of helicopters, Li said.