China’s ZH-05 integrated assault rifle has proliferated in PLA service. The ZH-05 has already seen service with the Chinese Marines during anti-piracy patrols around the Gulf of Aden. Since then, this futuristic assault rifle has been fielded with elite PLA units and special forces; the ultimate goal is apparently to give each marksman in a PLA infantry fireteam (two fireteams a squad) a ZH-05.
What makes the system so appealing is how it combines the rapid fire action of an assault rifle with a programmable, multipurpose 20mm grenade launcher. While the computerized targeting system, underslung assault rifle and the 20 mm “smart” grenade launcher gives the ZH-05 a passing resemblance the cancelled American XM-29 and South Korean K-11 smart grenade launchers, it’s actually a whole different beast. For starters, the ZH-05 weighs at about 5 kg, compared to the K-11, which weighs 7.2kg. The ZH-05 uses a simple digital camera for targeting, though it would be a simple matter to switch in a night vision capable infrared scope. A 5.8mm assault rifle is based off of the QBZ-03 assault rifle, while the grenade launcher has a 700m range.
Using the laser rangefinder and digital sights, the operator programs the 20mm grenade to explode at a certain distance, such as airbursting over enemy foxholes. Unlike its magazine fed American and Korean doppelgangers, the ZH-05’s lighter single shotgrenade launcher makes it easy to switch between mission specific ammunition during a firefight. That’s the same idea behind the ubiquitous M203 grenade launcher slung under American M-16 rifles. More importantly, Chinese 20mm smart grenades are superior to their American and Korean counterparts, since the single purpose grenades have smaller electronics, and thus more payload space. Currently, there are three 20mm grenades for the ZH-05; an anti-personnel airburst grenade, a shotgun style canister grenade and an anti-material impact grenade. The canister grenade, which directs a spray of lethal pellets, has received praise from Chinese troops as a “long range shotgun”. The canister grenade could also be a nifty way to shoot down small enemy quadcopters and UAVs.
The ZH-05’s current success shows the ability of China’s defense industry to develop innovative solutions to problem plagued high tech equipment. While the XM-29 and K-11 have been plagued by high weights that make them expensive and difficult to carry, the 5kg ZH-05 weighs less than a 6.5kg M40 sniper rifle.
The ZH-05’s simplicity, ease of use and flexibility could make it the AK-47 of smart rifles. At the very least, the ZH-05 could give Chinese soldiers the edge in future urban combat and special operations.