DevelopmentDevelopment of WZ-10 took decades and was progressed into several phases.
Early explorationIn 1979, the Chinese military studied the problem of countering large armour formations. It concluded that the best conventional solution were attack helicopters. Eight Aérospatiale Gazelle armed with Euromissile HOT were procured for evaluation.
By the mid-1980s, the Chinese decided a dedicated attack helicopter was required. At the time, they used civilian helicopters converted for the military; these were no longer adequate in the attack role, and suitable only as scouts. Following this, China evaluated the Agusta A129 Mangusta, and in 1988 secured an agreement with the USA to purchase AH-1 Cobras and a license to produce BGM-71 TOW missiles; the latter was cancelled following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and the resulting arms embargo. The colour revolutions prevented the purchase of attack helicopters from Eastern Europe in 1990 and 1991; Bulgaria and Russia rejected Chinese offers to purchase the Mil Mi-24.
While attempting to import foreign designs failed, war games determined that attack helicopters had to be commanded by the army, rather than the air force. This led to the formation of the People's Liberation Army Ground Force Aircraft (PLAGFAF), with an initial strength of 9 Harbin Z-9. The PLAGFAF conducted tactical experiments that would help define the future WZ-10's requirements. Research also decided that anti-tank missiles like the BGM-71 TOW were inadequate, and favoured an analogue to the AGM-114 Hellfire. These findings ensured the WZ-10 would be based around the new missile.
Medium helicopter programThe Gulf War highlighted the urgent need for attack helicopters, and revalidated the assessment that a purpose-built design was needed. (At the time, the Chinese military depended on armed utility helicopters such as the Changhe Z-11 and Harbin Z-9.) Also, it demonstrated that the new attack helicopter would need to be able to defend itself against other helicopters and aircraft. The military perceived that once the new attack helicopter entered service, the existing helicopters would be used as scouts.
To fill the gap in the short term, the Chinese attempted to procure a license to manufacture Mil Mi-28s; the deal fell apart in 1994.
This left the indigenous program. In 1990, or 1991, the Armed Helicopter Developmental Work Team (武装直升机开发工作小组) was formed to develop a new medium helicopter design, as opposed to basing the new design on the light helicopters then in service. The 602nd and 608th Research Institutes started development of the 6-ton class China Medium Helicopter (CHM) program in 1994. The program was promoted as a civilian project, and was able to secure significant Western technical assistance, such as from Eurocopter (rotor installation design consultancy), Pratt & Whitney Canada (PT6C turboshaft engine) and Agusta Westland (transmission). The Chinese concentrated on areas where it could not obtain foreign help.
Attack helicopter programIn 1995, Kamov produced the Project 941 design, which formed the basis of the WZ-10.
In 1998, the 602nd Research Institute proposed to either separate the armed helicopter program from the medium helicopter program, or devote all resources to the armed helicopter program. The 602nd Research Institute's called its proposed armed helicopter design the WZ-10 (Wu Zhi (武直)-10), with some sources outside of China calling it the Z-X armed helicopter. As a result, most of the resource went to the WZ-10, although the medium helicopter program continued with reduced priority; the medium helicopter could continue to develop technology used by both military and civilian aircraft.
The WZ-10 program was called the Special Armed Project (专武工程), a short form for Special Use Armed Helicopter Project (专用武装直升机工程). Development was kept under stricter secrecy than the Chengdu J-10 fighter. Nearly ¥ 4 billion was initially invested and the WZ-1- became one of the most important programs begun in the 9th 5-yr plan.
The 602nd Research Institute was assigned as the chief designer, while Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation (HAMC) of China Aviation Industry Corporation II (AVIC II) was assigned as the primary manufacturer. Nearly four dozen other establishments participated in the program. In the summer of 1999, AVIC II began to use a CAMC Z-8 to test newly developed WZ-10 sub-systems. In autumn of the same year, a Harbin Z-9 was added to the test aircraft inventory. These tests concentrated on sub-systems such as the fire-control systems, HOTAS controls and navigation systems.
South Africa provided limited help in the area of flight stability based on experience from designing the Denel AH-2 Rooivalk. South African assistance ceased in 2001.
New manufacturerIn 2000, the Chinese again attempted to obtain a Russian attack helicopter, but the deal for the Kamov Ka-50 fell apart just as the Mil Mi-28 deal several years earlier. The repeated failures in obtaining foreign attack helicopters reinforced feelings that China had no choice but to ignore foreign options and develop its own such aircraft and work on the WZ-10 accelerated. In the same year, HAMC transferred most of its production responsibilities to CAIC of AVIC II. The official reason given was excessive workload; HAMC was busy producing the HC120 and Harbin Z-9, as well as other fixed-wing aircraft such as the Harbin Y-12, and thus was stretched to the limit. However, many speculated that HAMC was not performing well enough due to rigid and ineffective Soviet-style management practices, believed to have caused the company to go into debt.
Although HAMC was in the process of reform, which finally succeeded, the government and military were weary and impatient. The SH-5 factory had become very profitable after its successful restructuring and reform, but it had to get out of the aircraft manufacturing business for good, manufacturing pressurized tanks and other specialized containers. It was decided that the WZ-10 program was too important to be run by HAMC, so a more stable contractor was sought and CAIC was selected. HAMC still retained responsibility for production of certain sub-systems and components, for which it could utilize experience gained from manufacturing parts for foreign helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft such as the Embraer ERJ 145 family.
In May 2002, the WZ-10 tail rotor and some other components were tested on the ground by the 602nd Research Institute. In April 2003, a WZ-10 prototype completed its maiden flight at Lumeng (吕蒙) airfield, the airfield having been assigned to CAIC for such use. According to Chinese sources, the initial test flights were concluded on December 17, 2003, whereas according to other sources they were completed nine month earlier in March 2003. According to Jane's Information Group, a total of 3 prototypes had completed over 400 hours of test flights by this time. By 2004 3 more prototypes were built, for a total of 6, and a second stage of test flights were concluded on December 15, 2004. In one of the test flights the future commander-in-chief of the People's Liberation Army Ground Force Air Force (PLAGAF), Song Xiangsheng (宋湘生), was on board the prototype. A third stage of intensive test flights followed, taking place during both day and night. By January 2006 weaponry and sensor tests, including firing of live ammunition, were taking place.
Prototypes and a small number of pre-production aircraft are in service with the Chinese military for evaluation. The design is undergoing continuous minor modification and upgrade based on the feedback.