Murphy's Law: Northern Hospitality

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September 14, 2011: Canada has become a favorite place for Chinese and European military technology smugglers to operate. This is largely because a lot of American defense manufacturers have operations in Canada, and Canadian judges go easy on those accused of smuggling restricted technology to China and Iran. The United States has been complaining to Canada about this for over a decade, but not much has changed.

Often the Chinese and Iranians get away with a flimsy excuse, in that the needed equipment is only for civilian use. Thus two years ago China ordered Honeywell LTS101-700D-2 engines for its Z-11 light helicopter. Normally, American military grade equipment cannot be sold to China, but the Z-11 is considered a civilian helicopter. This despite the fact that there is a military version, which is armed with four anti-tank missiles, two 12.7mm machine-guns or four rocket launchers. The 2.2 ton Z-11 can carry up to six people, cruises at 259 kilometers an hour and has an endurance of 4-5 hours.

China had more trouble getting a more powerful (three times the horse power of the LTS101) engine for its helicopter gunship; the Z-10. China has been developing this aircraft for over a decade, and less than a dozen prototypes have been built so far. Despite the Western arms embargo on China since 1989 (because of the Tiananmen Square massacre), the Z-10 prototypes are powered by a Canadian engine (two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67Cs). The Canadian firm says it sold the engines to China with the understanding that they were for a new civilian transport helicopter. U.S. efforts to get much more information from Pratt & Whitney Canada officials, or Canadian law enforcement, has been unsuccessful.

Not all countries respond as Canada did. Development of the Z-10 began during the early 1990s. China approached helicopter gunship manufacturers in South Africa and Italy for technical assistance. The South Africans turned them down in 2001, because all the Chinese apparently wanted was to buy a single Rooivalk gunship. The South Africans realized that the Chinese, as they have so often done in the past, simply wanted to reverse engineer elements of the Rooivalk, without paying for any technology used. South African firms have since uncovered evidence of China stealing technology for South African missiles, electronics and artillery.

Pratt & Whitney Canada will not sell any more engines to China, which means that the Z-10 cannot enter mass production until China develops a suitable replacement for the PT6C-67C engine. That might take a few years, at least. Until recently, China refused to release any information about the Z-10, but for the last few years, there have been increasing rumors of Western firms secretly assisting in the gunship's development.

The Z-10 appears to be similar to the Agusta/Westland A129, or the upgraded versions of the U.S. AH-1 (especially the AH-1 SuperCobra). The 4.6 ton A-129 was the first helicopter gunship designed and built in Western Europe, and was introduced in the 1980s. The Z10 appears to have a FLIR (night vision device), radar and is armed with a 23mm autocannon and hard points for up to eight missiles or a larger number of unguided rockets. The Z10 is a Western style gunship. The only gunships the Chinese had previously were Russian designs. But even the Russians have since adopted the Western style, as pioneered in the AH-1. China has been developing its own helicopter for several decades. First they used helicopters and technical assistance from Russia, but for the last two decades, most of the tech has come from Europe.

The Z-11 is similar to the European AS-350, but the Chinese insist that is a coincidence. Many European defense firms want the post- Tiananmen export restrictions lifted, and are willing to tolerate a certain amount of Chinese technology theft in the meantime. 

 

 


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