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The Buzz on China’s Drones

Chinease Ajain - Dark Sword

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.

Chinease Xianglong

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.

U.S Global Hawk

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.


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UAV – New Way to Wage War

UAV – Unmanned Arial Vehicle, will only exist if they offer advantage compared with manned aircraft. Contrary to advantages, disadvantages are obvious to some of us as we see and hear everyday. An old military adage (which also applies to civilian use) links the use of UAVs to roles which are dull, dirty or dangerous (DDD). To DDD add covert, diplomatic, research and environmentally critical roles. So, is this the point of UAVs ? Leaving economics of the operation aside, I guess the answer is yes.

Military and civilian applications such as extended surveillance can be a dulling experience for aircrew hence DULL, but the UAV, with high resolution colour video, low light level TV, thermal imaging cameras or radar scanning, can be more effective as well as cheaper to operate in such roles. Other than environmental monitoring over nucler contaminated areas, Crop-spraying with toxic chemicals is another DIRTY role which now is conducted very successfully by UAV.For military roles, where the reconnaissance of heavily defended areas is necessary, the attrition rate of a manned aircraft is likely to exceed that of a UAV.Due to its smaller size and greater stealth, the UAV is more difficult for an enemy air defence system to detect and more difficult to strike with anti-aircraft fire or missiles. Looking at the positive side the UAV operators are under no personal threat and can concentrate specifically, and therefore more effectively, on the task in hand. Power-line inspection and forest fire control are examples of applications in the civilian field for which experience sadly has shown that manned aircraft crew can be in significant danger.

Typically, the UAV is smaller than a manned aircraft used in the same role, and is usually considerably cheaper in first cost. Operating costs are less since maintenance costs, fuel costs and hangarage costs are all less. The labour costs of operators are usually lower and insurance may be cheaper, though this is dependent upon individual circumstances. On the assumption that the disposable load fraction of a light aircraft is typically 40% and of this 10% is fuel, then its gross mass will be typically of order 750 kg. For the UAV, on the same basis, its gross mass will be of order 35 kg. This is borne out in practice.

MQ-9 Reaper

Recently (as per 27 Oct 2010) Raytheon has tested a new UAV weapon Small Tactical Munition (STM) (0.6m-long (2ft), 13lb (5.9kg) bomb) at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. The dual-mode, semi-active laser seeker and GPS inertial navigation system enable it to engage fixed and moving targets in all weather conditions.

With US army moving its concentration from Irqa to Afghanistan, and continuous use of UAVs in Pakistan tribal areas by USA the demand for small unmanned air vehicles is moving into higher gear as well. US Army plans to buy 3,000 Raven small UAVs with already 2,000 in hand.

From the CIA’s silent war in Pakistan – two UAVs extensively used, the Predator and the Reaper, both made by General Atomics, a San Diego defense contractor. The Predator is the older of the two; the first one was delivered to the Air Force in 1994. By the end of the 1990s, the CIA was using it to track bin Laden. Capable of flying for up to 40 hours without refueling, the drone was a “brilliant intelligence tool,” recalls Hank Crumpton, then the CIA’s top covert-operations man in Afghanistan. Although the CIA was keen to weaponize the drone early on, the Air Force resisted the idea until 2000. Even then, firing the weapons was another matter. The Predator’s firepower is limited, but the Reaper can deliver laser-guided 500-lb. bombs like those commonly found on the F-16 jet, together with Hellfire missiles.

But why use UAV, Times (CNN) published a report in Jun2 2009, The CIA’s Silent War in Pakistan saying:

“If we were sending F-16s into FATA–American pilots in Pakistani airspace–they might have felt very differently,” says James Currie, a military historian at the U.S.’s National Defense University.

“The basic problem with all aerial reconnaissance is that it’s subject to error,” says George Friedman, who heads the security firm Stratfor. “But in a place like Pakistan, errors have enormous political consequences.”

Critics of the drones ask if it makes sense for the U.S. to use them when every strike inflames Pakistani public opinion against a pro-U.S. government that is at the point of collapse. And yet Pakistani leaders like army Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Kayani seem to have concluded that using drones to kill terrorists in FATA is generally a good thing. This is a major change in direction; although former President Pervez Musharraf allowed drones to operate, he placed severe limits on where and when they could strike. After Musharraf resigned last summer, the shackles came off. The U.S. struck a tacit bargain with the new administration in Islamabad: Zardari and Kayani would quietly enable more drone operations while publicly criticizing the U.S. after each strike. The arrangement has worked well for the U.S.

While the drones may seem a technological marvel and strategic asset to those waging the campaign on the American side, they don’t impress the local tribesmen. Is the drone war winable ? Question yet to be answered.

Sources: CNN, Times (http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1900248,00.html), FlightGlobal

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