In a recent live-fire exercise, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) guided Z-19 gunships to launch missile attacks on maritime targets beyond visual range using reconnaissance drones.
The drills were conducted by an aviation brigade attached to the PLA 71st Group Army recently held the drill in the Yellow Sea.
The drones 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, state-run CCTV reported Tuesday.
Both stationary and moving targets were hit, the report said.
This technique reduces the time needed for an attack, and the chopper can leave the mission area immediately after launching the missile. It also makes use of the maximum potential of missiles. In addition, using drones to guide helicopters will work in low visibility conditions like in bad weather or when the enemy uses smoke.
An expert told the Global Times, “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, analysts said, noting 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.
During the drills, the Z-19s also practiced aerial combat after completing surface target shootings, with live air-to-air missiles launched to take down target drones.