July 30, 2012
Credit: Credit: Aviation Week
Bradley Perrett Beijing
No startling details of military strategy were revealed, nor were wraps taken off a secret weapon. But the Chinese defense ministry at least took a small step toward greater transparency last week by opening an army aviation base to journalists, including foreigners, for the first time.
The habitually secretive military allowed close inspection and photography of Z-9WZ armed reconnaissance helicopters carrying a variety of weapons. It also laid out the range of armament available for the type. Even the cockpits of Z-9WZs were revealed, along with helmets fitted with what looked like low-light goggles.
However, the new Z-10 attack helicopter did not appear at the open day, held at the base of the 4th Helicopter Regiment at Tongzhou, near Beijing.
Foreign countries, including the U.S., urge China to be more open about its defense capabilities. Although officers here say they are trying to increase transparency, activities such as allowing journalists to poke their heads into combat helicopters do not come at all naturally to the People's Liberation Army.
The other step forward at Tongzhou was that Chinese officers were willing to answer outsiders' questions, at least to a limited extent, notes Richard Fisher, an analyst with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
The 4th Helicopter Regiment has 12 Z-9WZs among a total of 30 aircraft, one officer says. The others are Mil Mi-17 and Mi-171 transport helicopters imported from Russia and Y-7 and Y-8 transport airplanes—locally built Antonov An-24s and An-12s, respectively. Among 1,000 people in the regiment, half are qualified as pilots.
Journalists had not previously been allowed on the base, officers say.