BEIJING (Reuters) - China unveiled an indigenously developed attack helicopter on Thursday as it eyes a lucrative export market and ramps up an ambitious modernisation programme.
China has rattled nerves around the region with its plan to reform its military, the world's largest, focusing on quality over quantity and replacing old equipment and tactics dating back decades, underpinned by billions of dollars in spending.
The Z-19E, developed by the state-owned AVIC Harbin Aircraft Industry, took to the skies over the city of Harbin for its maiden flight, with images carried on state television.
"The helicopter is the latest narrow-body tandem-seat armed helicopter. It is also the country's first export-oriented helicopter made especially for attack purposes," state news agency Xinhua said.
It is specifically designed to meet the requirements of the foreign market, the news agency added.
"It is able to be deployed for battlefield support and a variety of other missions in a complicated battlefield environment during both day and night," Li Shengwei, deputy chief designer of AVIC Harbin Aircraft Industry, told Xinhua.
The Z-19E is mainly intended to attack tanks, armoured vehicles and other ground targets, flying at very low altitudes, Xinhua added.
With a tandem dual-seat cabin, it provides both pilots with good line of vision, it said.
China has rolled out a series of increasingly advanced equipment in recent years, including stealth fighter jets and the first domestically developed aircraft carrier.
China has also increasingly been focused at getting more defence orders on the world market, trying to shed a reputation for poor reliability or cloning weapons.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel