Since UAV (or Drones, as known to Asia Pacific) are very much in main-stream these days. So, I had to dedicate some more space within my blog to these unmannes vehicles. In an ongoing Chinease 8th International Airshow – Zhuhai 2010, Chinese commercial and defense aviation companies are exhibiting more than 25 UAV models. That is a record number of UAVs, according to show officials, and continuing evidence of China’s growing interest in unmanned technology. So Chinease are not only competing western industry for civilian or military jets, but UAVs also, as the show reveals. Some of the UAVs will serve as combat and battlefield reconnaissance roles. In one video, a UAV locates a U.S. aircraft carrier and relays the information for a follow-on attack by Chinese anti-ship missiles. Three Chinese companies – ASN Technology Group, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC), and China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) produced most of the UAVs on display.
ASN Technology is the largest UAV production company in China, with a history of developing unmanned aerial platforms, including drones, since 1958, said a company press release. The primary customer is the Chinese military and the company controls more than 90 percent of the UAV market in China. ASN showed off 10 different UAVs, including the new ASN-211 Flapping Wing Aircraft System, which simulates a bird in flight. The prototype on display has a take-off weight of only 220 grams with a maximum speed of six-to-10 meters a second and an altitude ranging from 20-200 meters, primarily for low-altitude reconnaissance missions.
The largest UAV on display by the company was the ASN-229A Reconnaissance and Precise Attack UAV. Equipped with a satellite data link, it can perform aerial reconnaissance, battlefield surveys, target location and artillery fire adjustment during the day or night. It has a take-off weight of 800 kilograms and a cruising speed of 160-180 kilometers per hour with an endurance of 20 hours. Weighing in at 800 kg, ASN’s largest system was the armed ASN-229A Reconnaissance and Precise Attack UAV, which is still under development. Able to cruise at 180 km/h, the 5.5 m-long ASN-229A can perform reconnaissance, target location or artillery observation missions via a satellite data-link. Also among the 600 exhibitors were China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) and China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). Both state-owned companies showcased sophisticated missile-armed UAVs. CASC displayed the CH-3 carrying two air-to-ground missiles akin to the AGM-114 Hellfire. This 640 kg medium-range craft with 220 km/h cruising speed is optimised for reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, artillery fire adjustment and electronic warfare, as well as the depicted attack platform.
CASC displayed the CH-3 multipurpose medium-range UAV system suitable for battlefield reconnaissance, artillery fire adjustment, data relay and electronic warfare. A company official said the CH-3 could be modified as an attack platform carrying small precision-guided weapons. Weapons outfitted on the display included two air-to-ground missiles similar in configuration to the U.S.-built Hellfire. CASIC took the prize for UAVs capable of intimidating the U.S. military. These included the jet-powered WJ-600. Aerospace Science and Industry Group, according to the material, WJ-600 can be mounted opto-electronic reconnaissance, synthetic aperture radar, electronic surveillance and other mission equipment, with fast response, and strong penetration ability, and can all-time effect of all-weather reconnaissance and damage assessmenttask, you can also load other types of equipment to achieve the task of ground attack, electronic warfare, information relay, and target simulation and other military tasks. Moreover, this means that WJ-600 drone is capable of trabelling faster than both U.S Predator and Reaper, currently opnerational in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The general speed of the UAV flying only about 30 m/s (58.3 knots), while the WJ-600 can be up to 200 m/s (389 knots – about 100knots greater than U.S MQ-9 Reaper who is equipped with turboprop engine), better on the flight altitude, up to ten thousand meters altitude – thanks to its jet engine. At this stage the project look rather ambitious
Other UAVs displays included a little-known company called Zhuhai X.Y. Aviation, which exhibited two new reconnaissance platforms, the 200-kilogram Blue Arrow (UR-J1-001) and 40 kilogram Sky Eyes (UR-C2-008). A company spokesperson said there were three prototypes of the Blue Arrow now being test-flown and that the prop-driven engine was from an unidentified “German company.”
Closing the UAV Gap
The recent display of 25 UAVs at the Zhuhai was not only the surprise for westeran but also flet by Japan, North and South Korea, and the Taiwanese officials.Drone technology, thus far, has been led by the U.S. and Israel. China now has UAVs that are comparable, although not equal, to the American Predator and Global Hawk. most of the ASN models in use by the Chinese military are older, more like the 1990s technology found in the U.S. Army Shadow 200 (now being replaced by the Predator-like, 1.2 ton Gray Eagle). One of the most numerous Chinese army models, the ASN-206/207, is a 222 kg (488 pound) aircraft, with a 50 kg (110 pound) payload. The 207 model has a max endurance of eight hours, but more common is an endurance of four hours. Max range from the control van is 150 kilometers and cruising speed is about 180 kilometers an hour. A UAV unit consists of one control van and 6-10 trucks, each carrying a UAV and its catapult launch equipment. The UAV lands via parachute, so the aircraft get banged up a lot. A UAV battalion, with ten aircraft, would not be able to provide round the clock surveillance for more than a week, at best. But Chinese planners believe this is adequate.
Sources suggests that many of the Chinese UAVs demonstrate an American influence, some appear to be using Israeli technology. That’s no accident, as four years ago, Israeli UAV manufacturer EMIT got busted after it was caught shipping UAV technology to China. EMIT was not a major player in the UAV industry, having only three models; the 450 kg Butterfly, 182 kg (400 pound) Blue Horizon, the 48 kg (hundred pound) Sparrow. The twenty year old firm has been scrambling to stay in business. The Chinese helped set up a phony cooperative deal in a Southeast Asian country, to provide cover for the transfer of EMIT UAV technology to China. Most of EMIT’s production is for export, but Israel has agreed to consult with the United States about transfers of technology to China. This is because Israel has been caught exporting military equipment, containing American technology, to China (in violation of agreements with the United States.) China tends to get technology wherever, and whenever, it can.
Two years ago, China revealed that it was developing a new UAV, similar to the U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk. Called Xianglong (Soaring Dragon – shown above), it is about half the size of the Global Hawk (shown below), at 7.5 tons, with a 14.5 meter (45 foot) wingspan and a .65 ton payload. Max altitude will be 18.4 kilometers (57,000 feet) and range will be 7,000 kilometers. It has a faster cruising speed (750 kilometers an hour) than the RQ-4. The Chinese Xianglong is intended for maritime patrol, as is a U.S. Navy model of the RQ-4. The shorter range of the Xianglong is apparently attributable to the lower capabilities of the Chinese aircraft engine industry.
Interestingly, This year’s models in Zhuhai included several designed to fire missiles, and one powered by a jet engine, meaning it could in theory fly faster than the propeller-powered Predator and Reaper drones that the U.S. has used in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The large number of UAVs on display illustrates clearly that China is investing considerable time and money to develop drone technology, not only that the equation is equally balanced by promoting these products to international market. The implications of this is not only China’s internal security, also this is also an opportunity for nations alike China or Pakistan who have sought in vain to acquire drones either for military purposes or for police surveillance and antiterrorist operations. However, this is of particular concern to the U.S. and Israel, whose drones are unrivalled in the world today, and could worry China’s neighbors. A further details about Chinease buzz on drone technology can be read at the Wall Street Journal who has recently published a detailed resarch about the Chinease catch-up to U.S and Israel.