Chinese People’s Liberation Army Practices Drone-guided Helicopter-launched Missile Attack on Maritime Targets

An aviation brigade attached to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) 71st Group Army conducted a live-fire exercise in which reconnaissance drones guided attack helicopters in missile attacks on maritime targets beyond visual range in the Yellow Sea. This technique can boost combat efficiency, bring up the maximum potential of missiles and increase the survival rate of attack helicopters. This technique greatly reduces the time needed for an attack, and the chopper can leave the mission area immediately after launching the missile.

During the exercise, the troops first launched reconnaissance drones from the ground, which then detected, identified and tracked maritime targets from thousands of meters high in the air, and sent the data back to the command center in real time. Upon receiving orders, multiple Z-19 attack helicopters took off and rapidly headed toward the targets at low altitude. Instead of confirming with the naked eye, the pilots launched missiles at the targets based on the guidance of the drones once they entered missile range. Both stationary and moving targets were hit.

Chinese People's Liberation Army Practices Drone-guided Helicopter-launched Missile Attack on Maritime Targets
Attack helicopters attached to a naval aviation brigade under the PLA Eastern Theater Command sit in formation on the parking apron during a flight training exercise in April 19,2021. (Photo by China Military)

It also makes use of the maximum potential of missiles, the range of which is further than the naked eye, and it works also in low visibility conditions like in bad weather or when the enemy uses smoke. In the frontline of battlefields, even when air superiority is secured, some enemies could still threaten helicopters with anti-aircraft weapons like portable missile launchers. But if helicopters launch attack without the enemy seeing them, their survival rate is bound to increase.
The tactic can be used in missions like amphibious landings that helicopters are not the only ones that can benefit, as other weapon platforms like fixed-wing aircraft and artillery could also partner up with reconnaissance drones.

The Z-19s also practiced aerial combat after completing surface target shootings, with live air-to-air missiles launched to take down target drones. On April 23, the PLA Navy commissioned its first Type 075 amphibious assault ship, which is often also referred to as a helicopter carrier since it has a full flight deck and can host about 30 helicopters. Attack helicopters like the Z-10 and Z-19 affiliated with the PLA Army aviation forces could also board the Type 075 in addition to the Navy’s choppers, Shi Hong, executive chief editor of the Chinese magazine Shipborne Weapons told the Global Times.

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