Pictures have appeared on a Chinese defense blog of what appears to be a U.S. AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship and questions are being asked about how it got there or even if it is an Apache at all. Theories range from it being a movie prop mock-up to a clone copy developed from either espionage or the acquisition of crash remnants.
The helicopter in the pictures certainly bears a striking resemblance to the feared tank killer that has been one of the military’s most potent weapons in the last two decades. In the photo sequence, the undercarriage appears to be missing, as are the main rotor blades, but its silhouette is unmistakable.
The engine nacelles and cockpit cowling are identical and if it is in fact a copy, it is a very sophisticated one with even the Apache’s signature “wart” on its nose being clearly visible. The wart is the highly sophisticated sensor and targeting array that contributes greatly to the overall lethality of the Apache, containing thermal imaging, a laser target designator and, depending on the variant, either a monochrome-daylight camera or a full-color camera.
Over the past decade, China has demonstrated its willingness to go to extraordinary and dubious lengths to advance its military capabilities. There have been several high-profile electronic hacking scandals in recent years, penetrating some of the Pentagon’s most top-secret programs.
In April 2011, China revealed to the public it’s first ‘stealth’ aircraft, the J20 Chengdu, which military officials admitted was likely developed using technology acquired from the downing of an F117A1 Nighthawk by Serbian anti-aircraft forces in 1999.
If this were to be the case with the Apache, the most likely candidate would be from the downing of an Apache in 2003 where an AH-64 Vampire 12 was shot down intact during an assault against Saddam Hussain’s forces near Karbala, Iraq. In that incident, the crew – David S. Williams and Ronald D. Young Jr — were captured by Iraqi forces but later rescued. At the time, the Pentagon said that the crash site had been targeted by an airstrike the following day to prevent the technology from falling into enemy hands.