The Chinese Z-10 attack helicopter is now equipped with extra armor involving graphene, a material that is strong and light, a Chinese military expert said on Wednesday after the State broadcaster featured the helicopter.
Video released by China Central Television last week showed the Z-10 landing in an airfield. Extra armor modules could be seen on the side of the helicopter near the cockpit.
Chinese helicopters, including the Z-10, did not have extra armor because their engines could only lift a certain weight, Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military analyst, told the Global Times on Wednesday, noting that the choice was made so that the Z-10 could carry a sufficient payload.
The extra armor shown in the broadcast is likely made of graphene, which is strong and light, and would solve the weight problem, Wei said.
Chinese researchers at the Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Materials developed graphene materials that can be used for making armor and bullet vests, chinanews.com reported in 2016.
It said that graphene is about 200 times stronger than steel, can stretch an extra 20 percent, and weighs only 0.77 gram a cubic meter.
Attack helicopters like the Z-10 often fly low to attack ground targets, making them vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire, Wei said.
The extra armor can effectively protect key parts of the helicopter, like the cockpit and the fuel tank, from being directly hit, thus greatly expanding the aircraft's chance of survival, he said.
Wei said he expects graphene-based armor to be mass-produced and to also be used on other aircraft, noting its high efficiency and low cost.
Z-10ME, a modified and export version for Z-10, is ready for business, Chinese military analysts said.