China garnered much experience in the license production of the French-made Eurocopter AS365 "Dauphin" (which it produced as the "Z-9" under the Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation label). Thought eventually turned to an armed variant of the type, keeping the general design largely intact though instituting several notable changes including armament pylons and applicable tracking / engagement equipment. From this was born the "Z-19", a dedicated attack helicopter with "stealth" qualities intended to work in conjunction with upcoming Z-10 attack helicopter units. The Z-19 has entered operational service with Chinese forces and has recorded its first-flight in May of 2010. One of the prototypes was lost to an accident sometime in September of 2010 during testing which has delayed development to an extent.
At its core, the Harbin Z-19 comparable in capabilities to current-generation attack helos such as the American Hughes AH-64 "Apache" and the Russian Mil Mi-28 "Havoc" - though more akin in mission scope to the USMC Bell AH-1 "Viper", a highly modernized version of the Vietnam War-era "Cobra" attack platform. As such, it follows conventional wisdom in its design configuration with the two pilots seated in tandem - the primary pilot in the rear elevated cockpit with the weapons officer in the front cockpit. Avionics will feature the latest in Chinese fly-by-wire technology, processing systems and digital functions seen in newer indigenous military aircraft (essentially evolved from their original Soviet/Russian origins). As the Z-19 is built from the French AS365/Chinese Z-9, it shares roughly the same tail unit structure and engine placement - the key defining physical feature of the Z-19 being its stepped cockpit and slim fuselage design. A chin turret holds various optical equipment (TV, FLIR, Laser Rangefinder) while the undercarriage is fixed with two main legs emerging from the fuselage sides and a tail wheel supporting the aft structure. The engines are mounted high and away from the ground to help reduce heat signature and this is further assisted by special dampeners fitted at the exhaust ports. The empennage is nearly identical to that as found on the Z-9 with its shrouded Fenestron tail rotor, high-reaching main vertical tail fin and a pair of vertical stabilizers supported on short pylons along the tail stem. The dual engine layout powers the four-blade main rotor as well as the shrouded tail rotor in a conventional fashion. Armament will be suspended from wing stubs and provide a flexible ordnance mix consistent with current-generation offerings seen elsewhere. The low-altitude attack nature of the Z-19 ensures that it will feature an armored cockpit for the crew and crash resistant seats for worse case scenarios.
Power for the Z-19 stems from 2 x Zhuzhou Aeroengine Factory WZ-8A turboshaft engines - the same as featured on the Z-9B series and a copy of the French Turbomeca Arriel turboshaft. The engines are rated at 848 horsepower each resulting in a maximum speed estimated at 152 miles per hour with a range out to 435 miles.
In terms of armament, the Z-19 will sport the usual pattern of weaponry common to all modern attack helicopters. This will include various Chinese-made air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles (including anti-tank), rocket pods, gun pods and cannon pods. Hardpoints may also be plumbed for the carrying of external fuel stores for longer sorties. The Z-19 has been mentioned with the HJ-8 anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) and TY-90 air-to-air missiles as well as a 23mm cannon.
While the upcoming Z-10 is categorized as a "heavy" attack helicopter, the Z-19 will be of the lighter classification. In this way, the Z-19 will be a direct complement to the Z-10 and work in conjunction as a "hunter-killer" team while the Z-19 will also be further utilized in the armored scout role. At any rate, the Chinese Army is certainly broadening its tactical capabilities in the new millennium, intending to show the world that it belongs as a major defense superpower. For the Asia-Pacific region - and the United States for that matter - this certainly stands as a red flag.
The Z-19 is also intended for export customers and these will carry the designation of "WZ-19". Since the Z-19 remains in development and in prototype form as of this writing (2012), it is suspected that service entry will not commence until sometime in 2015 or later as many of the onboard systems will need to pass their various evaluations before being declared fully operational at the military level.
As mentioned, the Chinese Army has also taken to arming their Z-9 family of helicopters in the latest standard "Z-9WZ" guise with an expansive weapons capability giving the PLA a modern attack performer until the more dedicated helo platforms come online.
AVICopter is developing the export-minded version of the Z-19 (as the "WZ-19").