For the first time, the Chinese military has released images of its helicopters carrying dedicated electronic countermeasures or ECM pods under stub wings. The exercise was conducted by the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) recently.
The helicopters appear to be the Mi-171 series medium multirole rotorcrafts, and according to reports, they were used during a ‘penetration flight-training exercise,’ aimed at practicing infiltration into hostile airspace.
The ECM pods help in the detection and jamming of enemy radar signals, acting as a defensive suite against a rogue electronic warfare environment.
These systems may confuse the enemy sensors and prevent the detection or interception of the aircraft by dazzling incoming missiles or prevent radars to get a ‘lock,’ against AAA (anti-aircraft artillery) systems and other offensive equipment. The ECM suites can either be used as separate attachment pods (like in this case) or embedded into the airframe.
While the location of these exercises conducted by the PLA is not disclosed, the report pointed out that the exercise was carried out on 11 November, and also involved the participation of Z-10 attack helicopters used by the PLA’s ground force.
The Mi-171 shown carrying the pods on its stub-wings is assigned to an Army Aviation Brigade under the PLA 73rd Group Army, according to a Chinese portal. The images show the Mi-171 hovering above the sea alongside a similar platform without stub wings.
However, the use of ECM suites on the Mi-17 family of helicopters is not new. Major operators of the platform have developed and deployed their own electronic warfare (EW) suites on the helicopters. Russia itself has developed many EW variants of the Mi-8 (upon which the Mi-17 is based) and the Mi-17. India uses Ukrainian as well as indigenously-developed EW suites on its Mi-17V-5 helicopters, while China has its own and Russian-acquired variants.
On 18 November, the Chinese site also posted information about rather interesting news of a UAV assisting a helicopter to launch a missile at beyond-visual-range targets, a significant enhancement of operational capabilities for the service. The drill was conducted under the PLA’s 71st Group Army.
The Mi-8/Mi-17 helicopters are one of the most successful transport rotorcraft in history; they are in military service with more than 80 countries worldwide, including Canada and the United States, which used them for CIA operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
It is also very successful with paramilitary and civilian operators globally with more than 30,000 airframes produced (Mi-8 + Mi-17 variants) and is the world’s most-produced helicopter.