Back in 2001, China and Russia formed a strategic partnership, when their leaders at the time, Jiang Zemin and Vladimir Putin, signed a friendship treaty. Ever since, military and high-tech cooperation between the two countries has significantly increased.
The latest in a string of joint projects is the development of a new helicopter, known as the Advanced Heavy Lifter or the AHL. The aircraft will be manufactured in China, with the help of Russian companies.
One of those is the famous helicopter company MIL, based in Tomilino near Moscow. There, just recently a test flight of a new Mi-26T2V for media representatives was done.
That rotorcraft is the latest version of the world's largest operating helicopter, the Mi-26. It can lift up to 20 tons of cargo on the external sling, and its maximum take-off weight is 56 tons. The helicopter enjoys the latest engineering and technological features, which Russian experts have agreed to share with their Chinese colleagues.
The MIL factory is part of the Russian Helicopters consortium, which is in charge of developing, producing, and selling helicopters Russian manufacturers are making. In their headquarters, we met Sergey Ostapenko, adviser to general director, who gave us a few more insights into joint work with Chinese colleagues on the development of the AHL.
"We have the world's largest heavy-lift helicopter, Mi-26, which we periodically modernize. It can carry 20 tons and no helicopter in the world can compete with it. So, the Russian experience in creating that kind of helicopters is one of a kind in the world. That's why the Chinese asked us for joint cooperation and we'll develop the transmission technology for the new helicopter," Ostapenko told CGTN.
An international project led by China
The Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), will be in charge of designing and manufacturing the aircraft. It will be assembled in China, with engines coming from Ukraine and the transmission technology provided by Russia.
With its lift capacity of up to 15 tons, the aircraft will be smaller than the Russian super heavy Mi-26 and larger than the medium Mi-17. It can, therefore, satisfy China's demand for a helicopter of that size and capacity since no other helicopter can do that at this time.
This project is led by China and will include Russian companies, and the benefits will be shared among all of them, as Igor Korotchenko, director of the Center for Analysis of World Weapons Trade, told us in Moscow.
"Firstly, China is interested in that project and in the framework of technology transfer we are helping our Chinese friends to gain certain experience and competencies. Secondly, it is a commercial project with export potential which allows our aircraft companies to enter the global market."
The AHL was first unveiled to the public during the 2018 China Air Show in a form of a scaled model. According to Rostec, the Russian state-owned corporation in charge of the deal, it is expected that the final agreement is signed between Russia and China in the next few months, which will mark the official beginning of work on that project.
Both Beijing and Moscow are counting on long-term partnerships in many areas. The heavy-lift helicopter is one of those. The first joint Sino-Russian rotorcraft is expected to be delivered in 2032, which is 13 years from now. That is a clear sign of how strong and long-term strategic partnership between the two countries is.