Since the latter half of 1989, the US had imposed a prohibition on the export to China of all US-made military hardware and related technical data as a result of the conduct in June 1989 at Tiananmen Square by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In addition, in February 1990, the US Congress imposed a prohibition upon licences or approvals for the export of military hardware to the PRC. In codifying the embargo, the US Congress had specifically named helicopters of all types for inclusion in the ban. Despite this, Pratt & Whitney Canada Corp (PWC), a Canadian subsidiary of the US-based United Technologies Corporation (UTC), and Hamilton Sundstrand Corp (HSC) the US-based subsidiary of PWC, knowingly and willfully consented to the export of 10 (ten) PWC PT6C-67C turboshaft engines (each rated at 1,679shp), which were delivered between 2001 and 2002 along with related HSC-developed dual-channel full authority digital electronic engine control (FADEC) software without obtaining an export licence from the US. Based on documents filed and evidence gathered for an on-going court case initiated by the US Departments of Commerce, Justice and State in the District of Connecticut, it has since emerged that PWC on June 28, 2012 pleaded guilty to violating the US Arms Export Control Act and making false statements in connection with its illegal export to the PRC of US-origin military software used in the development of the PLA’s new-generation attack helicopter, the 6.5-ton ZW-10, which has been under development since the mid-1990s at the Changhe Aircraft Industries Group (CAIG) and China Helicopter Research and Development Institute (CHRDI), both based in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province.
In addition, UTC, its US-based subsidiary Hamilton Sundstrand Corp (HSC) and PWC have all agreed to pay more than US$75 million as part of a global settlement with the US Justice and State Departments in connection with weapons export violations and for making false and belated disclosures to the US government about these illegal exports. While roughly $20.7 million is to be paid to the Justice Department, the remaining $55 million is payable to the State Department as part of a separate consent agreement to resolve outstanding export issues, including those related to the ZW-10. Up to $20 million of this penalty can be suspended if applied by UTC to remedial compliance measures. As part of the settlement, UTC and HSC have admitted conduct set forth in a stipulated and publicly filed statement of facts.
Although PWC knew since 1998 that the ZW-10 was destined to be an attack helicopter, it allegedly decided to ‘suppress’ this piece of information also failed to notify UTC or HSC about the actual application of their products. Instead, both UTC and HSC were reportedly told that their products were meant for a 7-ton civilian multi-role helicopter—the AC-352—that was apparently being developed by CAIG and CHRDI, and since the PRC’s own indigenous engine for the ZW-10, the WZ-16, had not yet been developed by the PRC’s China Helicopter Turbine Engine Corp (CHTEC), the PWC PT6C-67Cs and their FADEC software packages would be used only temporarily only for the ZW-10’s flight-test phase, and would later be removed for eventual and permanent application/fitment on board the AS-352. Furthermore, both UTC and HSC were reportedly given an assurance (first conveyed to PWC by the PRC) by UTC that their products would be exclusive to all civilian variants of the AC-352. Consequently, HSC began cooperating with CAIG and CHRDI, which lasted till early 2004. PWC remained involved in the ZW-10’s R & D efforts till June 2005.
In a related development, as part of its efforts to keep UTC, PWC and HSC more than happy, the PRC’s Aviation Industry Corp (AVIC) decided to enlarge the financial cake by announcing on November 6, 2002 that PWC’s PT6B-67A engine (rated at 1,200shp) and HSC’s dual-channel FADEC had been selected on an exclusive basis to power the three-engined AC-313 civilian multi-role heavylift helicopter, while for the 7-ton EC-175 twin-engined civilian multi-role helicopter (which is being co-developed by AVIC and Eurocopter SA since December 2005), PWC’s PT6C-67E turboshaft, rated at 1,775shp, had been selected as the exclusive powerplant along with HSC’s dual-channel FADEC.
Based on my interactions with several PRC-centric industry officials since 1996 at the biennial Airshow China aerospace expos held in Zhuhai, it can now be confirmed with certainty that the CAIG and CHRDI were mandated by the PLA sometime in mid-1998 to develop four types of new-generation helicopters—attack helicopter, multi-role heavylift helicopter, single-engined 2-ton multi-role helicopter meant for use as a LOH/LUH (this being the AC-301) and a medium twin-engined helicopter—all three of which were required to be capable of undertaking ‘hot-n-high’ flight operations throughout the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other high-altitude regions of China.
Two flight-test prototypes of the ZW-10 were built in 2003 and two more in 2004. The first flight of Prototype No2 took place on April 29, 2003. The latter two prototypes were evaluated by the PLA Army by 2007. Originally designed by the 602nd Research Institute, 608th Research Institute, and the 613th Research Institute since the mid-1990s, the ZW-10 makes use of the indigenous GJV289A digital flight-control data bus, and is equipped with a fly-by-wire flight control system. The auxiliary power unit is centered on a brushless DC electric motor designed by Huafeng Avionics Co, a subsidiary of Guizhou Aviation Industries Group. The weapons package includes eight NORINCO-built 7km-range Lan Jian 7 (Blue Arrow 7/AKD-10) laser-guided anti-armour guided-missiles in box launchers under the stub wings, and a 30mm cannon mounted under the chin, aimed via a gunner’s helmet-mounted sight. Furthermore, TY-90 AAMs can be carried for use against hostile helicopters and slow-moving fixed-wing aircraft. The ZW-10’s mission avionics suite is integrated via a MIL-STD-1553B digital data bus, while its integrated EW suite—called YH-96—is the first of its type developed by the PRC that integrates the millimetre-wave fire-control radar, radar warning receivers, laser warning receivers, and countermeasures dispenser suite together. A large nose turret, developed by the 218th Factory of China North Industries Corp’s (NORINCO) Opticals Science & Technology Ltd subsidiary, houses the FLIR, TV camera, laser rangefinder and target designator. The pilots’ helmet-mounted sight was developed by the 613th Research Institute, while the 69.5kg millimetre-wave target acquisition radar has been built by China Northern Electronic Co, a subsidiary of NORINCO. Twin missile approach warning system (MAWS) sensors are installed on both sides of the fuselage behind the nose turret. The ZW-10 is also fitted with an integrated communications suite, four-axis automatic flight control system, and a ring laser gyro-based inertial navigation system. The ultimate powerplant for the ZW-10 will be the CHTEC-developed and built WZ-16 engines.
The first prototype of the AC-313 multi-role heavylift helicopter made its maiden flight on March 19, 2010 and on September 2, 2010 one of the AC-313 prototypes set an altitude record for PRC-built helicopters by exceeding an altitude of 8,000 metres (26,250 feet) in a flight aimed at proving the on-board fuel, lubrication and hydraulic systems. The helicopter performed the feat at a mass of 9.2 tons (20,300 lb), compared with a MTOW of 13.8 tons. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) issued a certification of airworthiness for the AC-313 on January 9, 2012. The AC-313’s main and tail rotor blades are made of composites, while its ball-shaped main rotor hub is built with titanium. Up to 50% of the airframe is built with composites, while titanium has been used for the remainder. The avionics suite, integrated via a ARINC-429 digital data bus, includes an all-glass cockpit, nose-mounted search radar, and a four-axis automatic flight control system. The AC-313 can carry either 27 passengers or a 4-ton internal load, or a 5-ton load on external slings.
The AC-352 medium twin-engined multi-role helicopter, which was first showcased at the Airshow China expo in Zhuhai in late 2010, bears a strong resemblance to the EC-175, and its military variant will be known as the Z-15. The Z-15’s powerplant too, like the ZW-10, will comprise CHTEC-developed and built WZ-16 engines. What remains unexplained to this day is why the AC-352, whose existence was known since 1998, has yet to make an appearance, let alone its maiden flight. Was it because CAIG and CHRDI were awaiting the transfer of the EC-175’s design packages from Eurocopter SA via AVIC—something that was possible only by 2008? Only time will tell.—Prasun K. Sengupta