China Developing Armed/Recon UAVs

2011-02-18

China Developing Armed/Recon UAVs China is ramping up production of unmanned aerial vehicles in an apparent bid to catch up with the U.S. and Israel in developing technology that is considered the future of military aviation.
Western defense officials and experts were surprised to see more than 25 different Chinese models of the unmanned aircraft, known as UAVs, on display at this week's Zhuhai air show in this southern Chinese city. It was a record number for a country that unveiled its first concept UAVs at the same air show only four years ago, and put a handful on display at the last one in 2008.

The apparent progress in UAVs is a stark sign of China's ambition to upgrade its massive military as its global political and economic clout grows.

This year's models in Zhuhai included several designed to fire missiles, and one powered by a jet engine, meaning it couldin theoryfly faster than the propeller-powered Predator and Reaper drones that the U.S. has used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Exhibitors didn't give precise details of which Chinese drones were fully operational, although one confirmed that the People's Liberation Army, or PLA, had deployed at least two propeller-powered reconnaissance UAVs, which featured in last year's 60th National Day parade.

But the large number of UAVs on display illustrates clearly that China is investing considerable time and money to develop drone technology, and is actively promoting its products on the international market.

U.S. anxiety about China's UAVs were highlighted in a report released Wednesday by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which was formed by Congress in 2000 to assess the national security implications of trade and economic relations with China.

"The PLA Air Force has deployed several types of unmanned aerial vehicles for both reconnaissance and combat purposes," the report said. "In addition, China is developing a variety of medium- and high-altitude long-endurance unmanned vehicles, which when deployed, will expand the PLA Air Force's 'options for long-range reconnaissance and strike,' " it said, citing an earlier Pentagon report.

Military and aviation experts said China's drones are still probably several years behind U.S. and Israeli models, noting that many countries have tried and failed to develop their own UAVs. But they also said that China is catching up fast in other areas of civil and military aviation technology, thanks in large part to technology transferred by foreign aerospace companies in Chinese joint ventures.

The Zhuhai Airshow provided plenty of examples of China's efforts in developing combat UAVs.

AVIC

The China Aviation Industry Corp. (AVIC) displayed a model of the new Pterodactyl I UAV. Similar in configuration to as the U.S.-built Raptor, the model was equipped with an unidentified air-to-ground missile under each wing. The nine-meter-long UAV has a wingspan of 13 meters and a fuselage width of 1 meter. Performance capabilities include a range of 4,000 kilometers, an endurance of 20 hours, maximum speed of 280 kilometers per hour and a maximum altitude of 5,000 meters. It was also outfitted with a sensor turret under the nose.
AVIC also displayed a model of the TL-8 training drone capable of simulating second- and third-generation fighter aircraft and cruise missiles. According to an AVIC brochure, the drone can operate at 0.85 Mach with a maximum flight time of 40 minutes.

The company also displayed models of two short-range fixed winged reconnaissance UAVs - Night Eagle and SW-1. Both have an operational flight time of three hours.

AVIC also provided information on the new ducted-fan Whirlwind Scout. The design, is similar to Honeywells ducted-fan system and is supposed to be able to remain airborne for 20 to 40 minutes and follow a flight path of up to 100 waypoints. Multiple patrol patterns can also be programmed into the system. The 8-kg. gross takeoff weight vehicle has an altitude ceiling of 3,000 meters. The cruise speed is 60 km./hr. with a maximum speed of 90 km./hr. Communications range is around 5 to 10 km.

In information displayed at Airshow China 2010, Avic Defense says the system is designed to be able to perch and stare to observe areas or shadow terrorist suspects. With a noise of around 60 dBA, Avic says the system can not be audibly detected by its target at a standoff range of 125 meters. The detection range for a human is 560 meters, with identification possible at 70 meters. Target location error is given is a mere 40 mm.

AVIC also displayed four examples of its YY Series multipurpose electro-optical and multisensor turrets. The stabilized turrets allow for a variety of surveillance and reconnaissance missions, including tracking, identification, observation, range measurement, and aiming and target designation of marine, ground and air targets. The YY Series brochure showed turrets outfitted on two different unidentified UAVs and one manned helicopter.

CASC

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) displayed a full-scale model of an armed CH-3 UAV with air-to-ground missiles. The model was also outfitted with a sensor turret. According to a CASC brochure, the multipurpose UAV is capable of battlefield reconnaissance, fire adjustment, data relay, intelligence collection, ground-strike missions and electronic warfare (EW) missions.

"It can be modified as an unmanned attack platform to carry small precision guided weapons for performing reconnaissance/strike missions." The CH-3 has a cruising speed of 220 kilometers per hour, 12-hour maximum endurance and a 200 kilometer communications radius.

A model of the CASC CH-803 multipurpose UAV was also on display. The aircraft can perform battlefield reconnaissance, fire adjustment, intelligence collection and EW. Parameters include a cruising speed of 80-110 kilometers per hour, five-hour endurance and a communications radius of 50 kilometers.

CASC also provided new data on UAV-related products, including the "TH Mini Precise Attack Missile" for air-to-ground strike missions and the new CP-04 motor for the SK-200 turbofan-propelled UAV booster.

The "TH Mini" can be outfitted on light UAVs and be used to target stationary or low-velocity moving ground targets. The missile, armed with a 5-kilogram blast fragmentation warhead, has a maximum range of 3.2 kilometers at 277 meters per second. Guidance modes include an inertial navigation system and charge coupled-device system.

The 13 kilogram CP-04 motor "gives a boost for the UAV during take-off" then separates and falls to the ground. The motor design has been completed and batch production will soon begin, said a CASC brochure.

CASIC

No armed reconnaissance UAV received more attention than the WJ-600. Produced by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC), the jet-powered, multimission UAV was shown in a CASIC video locating a U.S. aircraft carrier and sending targeting information for a follow-on anti-ship cruise missile attack.

The WJ-600 can conduct "informationized warfare," said a CASIC display. It can be outfitted with a , electro-optical and multisensor turret, information relay and a variety of weapons. Weapons on display included the air-to-ground KD-2 missile and two weapons with the designation "TBI" and "ZD1," which were not clearly described. Operational parameters were not provided.
Another CASIC UAV on exhibit was a stealthy tailless flying wing configuration, the SH-1. The aircraft, outfitted with a sensor turret, can perform battlefield reconnaissance, target identification and positioning, and "strike effect assessments." The SH-1 appears to be a short-range UAV with limited capabilities, though no operational parameters were provided.

ASN

The largest exhibit of UAVs was by ASN Technology Group, a company solely dedicated to UAV development and production, which claims to control 90% of China's domestic market. ASN officials said two of those are already being used by the PLA but neither was designed to carry weapons.

ASN provided new details about the ASN-229A "Reconnaissance and Precise Attack" UAV. A display of a model of the aircraft indicates it can perform reconnaissance and has a "mini precise guidance weapon system." Displayed model was carrying two Hellfire-type weapons. The design has a bulbous nose, under-fuselage sensor dome and a twin-tail configuration.
However, the maximum mission payload is only 100 kilograms and it is unlikely to be able to carry a weapon. The ASN-229A will have a take-off weight of 800 kilograms and a cruising speed of 160-180 kilometers per hour with an endurance of 20 hours.

"The ASN-229A is still in its testing phase, but we expect it to be ready by the end of next year," says an industry source, who adds: "China is investing significant resources in its UAV programmes."

Company officials said that and the other ASN models were all in production, but not yet all on the market, and most could be used for military operations as well as civilian ones such as monitoring electricity pylons and oil and gas pipelines.

One model under development was the ASN-211, which is about the size of a large duck and has flapping wings. It is designed primarily for carrying out reconnaissance behind enemy lines.
"I can't tell you which models we have sold overseas, as that's secret, but of course we're interested in exporting them," said one of the company officials. "That's why we're displaying them here."

Weifan Freesky Aviation Industry Co

Another company with their UAVs was Weifan Freesky Aviation Industry Co . One of the systems now in development is the V750 is based on a Brantly B-2B helicopter design. The system is designed for more than four hours of endurance, with a 3,000 meter service ceiling, 757 kg. maximum takeoff weight and 80 kg. mission payload. There is a clear ship-based role for the system.
Much smaller is the ServoHeli 120, with a maximum takeoff weight of 40 kg., maximum airspeed of 120 km/h., and ability to stay aloft 1.5 hours.

Its obvious that China invested, and investing, substantial recourses in UAV programs, and soon they could compete with world leaders in UAV, USA and Israel. However, currently, UAVs from China are couple of years behind, in terms of technology, USA and Israel. There is a gap which needs to be closed, also Chinas progress likely to spur other countries like Japan and India, in developing their own UAVs, what will create bigger competition in the UAV market.



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