capt. David L.O. HAYWARD
Abstract. The purpose of this book is to give credence to the perception that the Sino-Russian Bloc (SRB) including its surrogate nations / new allies (Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Laos, Cambodia, North Korea, Philippines, et. al) is intent on dominating Ocean Commons to the disadvantage and exclusion of The West.
“Almost no region worldwide in unaffected by a security threat at sea”2
The battle for maritime sovereignty in Ocean Commons rages unabated.
It is essential to dispel the unfortunate myth among some defense analysts and independent observers that the Sino-Russian Bloc (SRB) is benign and is not a viable threat to The West.
There is overwhelming factual proof to support the main argument embodied in this book. It will be convincingly proved that the SRB is fully integrated so as to work as one solid-entity, not just as a military force, but also as a ideological, geopolitical, logistic, and economic spearhead to achieve world hegemony on a global scale hitherto unseen in world history.
Keywords: Air Defence Identification Zone, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Re-Balance, Center for Strategic and International Studies, militarization, Oil / Gas, People’s Liberation Army Navy, Ocean Commons, commercial and combat drones, missile inventories
There are many reasons as to why the author decided to write this ‘doomsday’ book. These are discussed below in an attempt to elucidate the arguments contained within the book’s seventeen chapters, its explanatory appendices and tables. The task has been a labour of love, concern for the future survival of humanity, supported by consistent enthusiasm, gestated over many years:
To earmark the need for a correlation between the sustained global supply of oil / gas resources and the accompanying protective militarization to guarantee these supplies are successfully maintained to reach insatiable oil consuming nations such as the People’s Republic of China – now the world’s largest net oil / gas importer; make no mistake, China forever wants her oil/gas supply;
To attest to the Sino-Russian Bloc’s (SRB’s) strategic pursuit of maritime control over Ocean Commons including Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) in all the marginal seas surrounding the massive Sino-Russian continental landmass; The various marginal seas and attributes are fully described in this book;
To document the SRB perceived “grab” for and placement of a stranglehold on the world’s remaining hydrocarbons (specifically vast undersea reserves of oil / gas and mineral resources located in marginal seas); together with new oil / gas pipelines on land / under the sea, to ensure hydrocarbon resources meet market destinations;
To indicate the more the West succours and feeds the unpredictable Dragon, consumes copious quantities of hydrocarbons from the Bear; the sooner the evil beasts and their surrogates will turn on us and devour western democracy, the hungry beasts have eyes on the remaining world’s 4.5 billion free peoples, many of whom are oblivious to the dire threat; the West is abjectly confronted by an insatiable Dragon and angry Bear;
To expose the expanding ideological conflict between East and West and the very real dichotomy prevailing between Communism and the democratic nations in the West; the creeping red tide of authoritarian PRC and Russan Federation political warfare and sublime invasive new methodologies is a very real existential threat to the western way of life;
To prove the SRB and its surrogate nations is intent on attaining world hegemony in its widest sense;
To account for the increasing militarization on geographical features in marginal seas and on littoral shores in close proximity to undersea hydrocarbon reserves; the most rapid pace of infrastructure development ever demonstrated in ‘peacetime’ history, composition of warship surface fleets and underwater assets; and technological advances in combat drone and hypersonic manoeuvrable ballistic missile design underwriting the unrelenting missile arms race.
By way of explanation “the words Drone and UAV mean the same thing, and can be used interchangeably. Both are aerial devices that can fly with a human remotely controlling them or in the most advanced cases, fly themselves without any human intervention, such as the fixed wing drone below, named for its straight side wings that don’t move.”3 The term Drone is mostly used by commercial entities, the media and military, and UAV is commonly used by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the military.
Ikhana NASA Fixed Wing Drone
Source: Identified Technologies
There are multiple categories of drones / UAVs namely: Aerial Surveying Drones, Commercial Drones, Construction Drones and Military. “Drones have gone beyond their original data-collecting roles over the battlefield to infiltrate our daily life. They are used to satisfy requirements of many major and minor military and commercial markets including reconnaissance, general surveying, wildlife management, border control, commercial delivery, and real estate. UAVs come in many shapes and sizes and are bred for a myriad of roles to suit customer need.”4
UAVs have proven themselves ideal over modern battlefields and in battle-space, particularly against less advanced foes. It is a booming industry and a hot commodity for any world-class military power and a plethora of manufacturers has popped up to sell their wares to whatever buyer is interested. Some are lightweight and hand-launched, others medium-class and catapult launched. Some have been designed as explosive, disposable suicide machines while, still others, are large, aircraft-like developments able to loiter over contested territory for hours on end.
Recent history is testimonial to the rapid advances in drone technology.
“In 2006, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., obtained a civil version of the General Atomics MQ-9 unmanned aircraft system and modified it for research purposes. Proposed missions included support of Earth science research, development of advanced aeronautical technology, and improving the utility of unmanned aerial systems in general. The project team named the aircraft Ikhana – a Native American Choctaw word meaning intelligent, conscious, or aware – in order to best represent NASA research goals.”5
“Researchers at Dryden have a long history of using remotely piloted research vehicles to expand the frontiers of knowledge. Among the first was the Hyper III, a Langley-designed lifting body. In support of the M2 lifting-body program of the early 1960s, R. Dale Reed had built a number of small lifting-body shapes and drop-tested them from a radio-controlled mothership. Reed and pilot Milton O. “Milt” Thompson wanted to try the remote flying concept on a fullscale design. The remotely piloted research vehicle, or RPRV, weighed 484 pounds, measured 32 feet in length, and spanned 18 feet. On December 12, 1969, the Hyper III was launched from a helicopter at 9,800 feet, glided three miles, reversed course and glided three miles more to the lakebed.”6
“From 1979 to 1983 the aircraft was flown, one of two subscale research vehicles meant to demonstrate advanced fighter technologies that have since been used in development of many modern high-performance military aircraft. About one-half the size of a standard manned fighter, and powered by a General Electric J85-21 jet engine, the HiMAT vehicles were launched from NASA’s B-52 carrier aircraft at an altitude of about 45,000 feet. The aircraft were flown remotely by a NASA research pilot from a ground station, with the aid of a television camera mounted in the HiMAT cockpit that gave the pilot a forward field of view.”7
“Building on experience with these and other unmanned aircraft, NASA scientists developed plans to use the Ikhana for a series of missions to map wildfires in the western United States and supply the resulting data to firefighters in near-real time. A team at NASA Ames Research Center, Mountain View, Calif., developed a multispectral scanner that was the key to the success of what became known as the Western States Fire Missions. Carried out by team members from NASA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, National Interagency Fire Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., these flights represented an historic achievement in the field of unmanned aircraft technology.”8
“In November 2006, NASA Dryden obtained a civilian version of the MQ-9 that was subsequently modified and instrumented for use in multiple civil research roles. These include supporting Earth science missions, development of advanced aero-nautical technology, and acting as a testbed to develop capabilities for improving the utility of unmanned aerial systems”.9
The above are prime examples of how drones can be used for civilian, scientific and emergency mission purposes. Most recently drones have been deployed in order to conduct aerial surveillance to fight bush fires in Australia, the U.S. and elsewhere overseas.
Commercial drone applications in the oil / gas industry are vital. All petroleum processes involve essential usage of drones as depicted in the following Table:
Table: Drone Applications in the Oil and Gas Industry
Source: DroneU website: Reproduced by permission of DroneU. https://www.thedroneu.com/blog/drones-in-oil-and-gas-industry/#comment-2926
“As drone technologies continue to advance, more industries, including oil and gas are increasingly using them for a wide variety of applications. The unmanned aerial vehicles are helping the industry to save costs and time while improving efficiency and safety. Other than the regular aerial photography, the drones are finding many applications in the oil and gas exploration, pipelines, and operations.”10
“Drones have numerous economic and environmental benefits that enable oil and gas companies to reduce costs, improve efficiency and competitiveness. Generally, the devices are used in all phases of oil and gas activities and have the potential to support the extraction, production, and distribution.”11
In oil / gas exploration “the unmanned vehicles provide a cost effective and safe solution in existing and new onshore and offshore sites. In particular, the devices can help oil and gas companies to carry out aerial, underground and undersea explo-rations. In addition to providing visual images, they can carry out other functions such as water sampling and creating 3D maps of prospective sites and surroundings.”12
“The data from oil rigs, offshore platforms and other areas provide valuable information that companies can use to improve operations, production and efficiency as well as ability to forecast and address breakdowns. During exploration, the appropriate sensors and software tools will provide a faster way of collecting data and calculating the geological and seismic data in onshore and offshore exploration sites.”13
British Petroleum (BP) was the first company to utilize drones. “In 2014, BP became the first company to receive permission from the FAA to conduct commercial UAS operations over U.S. land. This is for their Prudhoe Bay oilfield on Alaska’s North Slope”.14
Japan-based Terra Drone Corporation …one of the world’s largest providers of industrial drone solutions, has extended its commitment to the African region by setting up a new branch, Terra Drone Angola. The decision to establish a permanent presence in Angola came after receiving multiple contracts from major oil and gas companies in West Africa.15 It is believed CNOOC is a major investor in Terra Drone Angola.
Drones are used extensively by China worldwide.
“Sinopec, the world’s largest oil refining company, uses drones for inspecting its pipelines in southern China. Since late 2017, the MD4-1000 quadcopter from Microdrones will have flown more than 40,000 kilometers. The result: cost savings and a reduced risk of injury for employees. The drones are also used for a variety of other applications including land surveying, agriculture, construction and mining, and many more.”16
Unmanned aerial vehicles are being used increasingly for surveying … and at CNOOC’s Liuhua 16-2 oil field development in the South China Sea.17 The Liuhua 16-2 oil field is about 240 km (149 mi) south of Hong Kong in a water depth of about 400 m (1,312 ft).18
“China is bolstering its lead in resource exploration and any conflicts in the South China Sea, a sea disputed by five other governments, by stepping up deployment of expendable, cost-effective drones, analysts believe. Last month [October, 2019] the People’s Liberation Army exhibited an “electronic-warfare variant” of drones that had done just reconnaissance missions before, part of an effort to control information during any military movement, American research organization Center for Strategic & International Studies said.”19
In Russia, two particular commercial drones are constantly airborne for specific applications in the oil / gas industry. These are the Rostech Chirok (Teal) UAV used for oil rig support and the VR-Technologies VRT300 drone for offshore drilling in Arctic marginal seas (see Appendix 8).
Armed drones are utilized by some 36 countries20 including China, North Korea, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and India: these particular countries are discussed elsewhere in this book in terms of their inventories of ballistic missiles. The author analyses the drone inventories held by China and Russia later in this Chapter. It is not intended to examine drone inventories held by North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and India. These countries require additional research.
“The United States and Israel are the biggest producers and sellers of drones. America’s leading combat drone is the MQ-9 Reaper, manufactured by General Atomics, which the Air Force has used to support operations around the world for over a decade. After the September 11th attacks, the United States conducted the first strikes under the burgeoning U.S. drone program using the MQ-1 Predator, which the Air Force flew in combat for 21 years. On February 27, 2017, the Department of Defense announced the retirement of the Predator drone to “keep up with the continuously evolving battlespace environment.” The United States has sold drones only to NATO members, but approved selling to India in 2018. If the deal goes through, this will be the first non-NATO sale the United States has initiated.”21
“Israel’s IAI Heron is designed to compete with the Reaper. Israel is the largest exporter of drones in the world. Israel accounted for 41 percent of all drones exported between 2001 and 2011, according to a database compiled by the Stockholm Inter-national Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), though Israel refuses to release the full list of countries to which it has sold military arms. A partial list of recipients includes the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Australia, Germany, Spain, Brazil, India, China, the Netherlands, Azerbaijan, and Nigeria.”22
In China it could be said that yesterday’s fireworks, invented more than 2,000 years ago in an early dynasty, have now been replaced by armed / unarmed drones. Fireworks were invented way back in the 7th century, during the rule of Tang Dynasty in China. They were found at various festivals around China, and eventually, they became popular in other cultures and societies. This unique transformation was recently illustrated in New Year celebrations held in some mainland Chinese cities.
“Shanghai rejected traditional fireworks displays to celebrate the 2020 New Year, filling the skies with thousands of synchronized drones. Nearly 2,000 drones flew over the largest city in China, creating giant spheres, texts and even the figure of a man who seemed to run across the horizon. The traditional midnight countdown was also done by the swarm of drones over the Huangpu River in the east of the city. CCTV said the corridor configuration illustrated “the great changes and glorious achievements that Shanghai has achieved in the last 40 years of reform and openness.” It was achieved through vast programming efforts to coordinate the drones, rather than individual drone pilots.”23
“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is actively advancing its employ-ment of military robotics and “unmanned” (无人, i.e., uninhabited) systems. To date (2019), the PLA has incorporated a range of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) (AKA “drones” or remotely piloted aircraft, RPA) into its force structure,24 while also starting to experiment with and, to a limited extent, field unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), and unmanned surface vehicles (USVs). The PLA’s history with unmanned systems dates back to its initial acquisition a basic target drone from the Soviet Union in the 1950s.”25
An illustration of fireworks
display from the 1628-1643 edition of the Ming Dynasty book Jin Ping Mei’ 26
“China is said by Chinese sources to be the largest exporter of military drones. The best-known Chinese military drones are the Wing Loong family, made by Aviation Industry Corp of China, and China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp’s CH series. CH drones have been sold to military users in more than 10 countries, while the Wing Loong II, which made its maiden flight in late February, has received the largest contract ever for a Chinese drone made for export.”27
“China is a growing drone exporter and has filled gaps in the market with its more liberal export policy. In 2015, Pakistan, Iraq, and Nigeria all conducted strikes using armed drones supplied by, or developed in coordination with, China.”28
“In November 2013, Pakistan’s military unveiled two domestically produced drones that experts say appear to be based on China’s CH-3, a model which Pakistan also has in its arsenal. The CH-3 is one of China’s most popular models, with exports to both Pakistan and Nigeria, and an upgraded Chinese model, the CH-4, has appeared in arsenals across the Middle East. On December 6, 2015, Iraqi armed forces released footage of a CH-4 in action, striking an ISIS position in Ramadi. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan are reported to have purchased the CH-4 as well. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have operated unarmed versions of the CH-4 in their campaign in Yemen.”29
Appendix 7 provides technical details for some 24 major categories of Chinese military drone aircraft. Quoted data sources include the Military Factory (i.e. majority of the listed categories), National Interest, Air University, Beihang University, The Diplomat, Fox News, and Overt Defense (OVD). Explanatory footnotes are provided to identify all sources.
For example, the indigenous range CASC CH-5 Rainbow (UAV) can climb to 30,000ft; carry mission payloads up to 2,205lb, with an endurance window of up to 60 hours. Chinese military drones are thought to lead the world in technical versatility, second only to the U.S. and perhaps Russia.
Source: CASI, Air University, Maxwell AFB, Alabama
Reproduced by permission of CASI
“The PLA appears to be preparing to leverage unmanned systems for a range of missions, including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); integrated reconnaissance and strike; information operations, especially electronic warfare; and data relay, including communications relay and guidance for over-the-horizon (OTH) targeting. Notably, continued progress in swarm intelligence (集群智能) could enable asymmetric assaults against major US weapons platforms, such as aircraft carriers. For instance, China’s Military Museum includes in one exhibit a depiction of a UAV swarm combat system (無人機蜂群作戰系統) with swarms used for reconnaissance, jamming, and “swarm assault” (群打擊) targeting an aircraft carrier.”30
An illustrative depiction of the ‘PLA’s Future Swarm Combat System’ is a popular exhibit at the Military Museum in Beijing. An image of the exhibit is available on page 9 in recent report written by Elsa B. Kania31 at the China Aerospace Studies Institute (CASI) in Montgomery, AL. The image is reproduced above.
In a report issued in June, 2014, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko and Sarah Kreps32 argue: “Russia, China, Iran, South Korea, and Taiwan, for example, have begun to develop increasingly sophisticated indigenous drone capabi-lities. Other countries, including Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have publicized their intent to purchase them.”
Boeing Loyal Wingman Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (Combat Drone)
Australia is not out of the picture. In a joint venture partnership with Boeing (i.e. A$42 million), other partners and the Australian Government (i.e. A$28.5 million government contribution) are developing a pioneer combat drone. Known as the Boeing Phantom Works ATS (Airpower Teaming System), it is largely Australian made. It is believed to be the first high performance military aircraft designed and built in Australia in more than 60 years.33,34 The innovative aircraft has been designed in Brisbane. “ATS features artificial intelligence to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft. It will have a range of more than 3,000 km, giving it a four to five-hour combat endurance, well beyond that of manned fighter-sized aircraft.”35 “Initially, the ATS will employ electronic warfare or sensor payloads, but could eventually be adapted to carry weapons. At 38 feet in length, the air vehicle is about the size of an F-16, and features advanced composite construction and radar cross-section signature management in the form of shaping, materials and aligned edges”36.
The Boeing company rolled out the first “Loyal Wingman” drone for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) during a Tuesday morning ceremony on 5 May, 2020. This event puts the RAAF high on the list of countries experimenting with auto-nomous aircraft.
“This is a truly historic moment for our country and for Australian defense innovation,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “The Loyal Wingman will be pivotal to exploring the critical capabilities our Air Force needs to protect our nation and its allies into the future.”37
Some cursory analysis of Russian military drones is useful at this juncture largely for comparative purposes with current Chinese developments.
The Moscow Times reported in August, 2019, that a new Russian military drone equipped with stealth technologies had taken flight for the first time according to the Ministry of Defence (MoD).38 The drone has been compared to a medium weight fighter aircraft with a much longer wingspan and shorter length (i.e. Sukhoi design).39 The UAV is equipped with a jet engine and anti-radar skin coating. It can attain a speed of up to 1,000 kmh.40
In May, 2014, “Russia’s Defense Ministry said that Moscow would spend upwards of $9.2 billion on UAVs through 2020. This was up from the $8.8 billion Russia intended to spend through 2020.”41
The Russian military operates a fleet of about 500 drones.42 According to some, the total inventory (i.e. comprising civilian, scientific, geographic and military) approxi-mates some 2,000 drones and their variants. Russian officials stress that short-range drones are the most needed in the armed forces.43 While the development of advanced drones obviously poses a significant technological challenge to the Russian defence industry, indigenous production has slowly progressed in the mini and tactical UAV categories (although in the latter category, Russian products lag behind the systems of leading competitors).44
The Russian MoD has tested and placed orders for small drones. Examples are the Eleron-3SV (Enics, Kazan), the Granat; the Takhion (Izhmash Unmanned Systems, Izhevsk) and the Korsar (United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation, Rostec, currently in testing).45
In 2013, the Russian Air Force Academy began receiving the lightweight (18 kilogram) Orlan-10 (Special Technological Center, St. Petersburg). The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) is equipped with Zala drones (Zala Aero Group, Izhevsk), while the Border Guards have been using Zala-421, Irkut-10 (Irkut company), and Orlan systems.46 These are mainly tactical systems. Their small weight does not allow them to be equipped with complex payloads and used as weapon platforms.
“In October 2019, researchers with the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy had separately announced that they were working on a drone swarm concept, known as ‘Flock–93’47, which could involve up to 100 small vertical takeoff and landing capable unmanned aircraft, each with an explosive payload weighing around five and a half lbs.48 The 2019 exercises were especially large with around 128,000 personnel from Russia, as well as China, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.49 Cooperation between all the participants was manifest. Effectively Russia has sent a strong warning to the West. The drone swarms point the way to the future – they are virtually unstoppable and will dominate battlespace.
At the upper end of the scale, the Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik combat drone, as depicted in the photograph below, emulates the F-15 fighter jet:
Russian Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik Stealth combat drone
Source: Diplomasia News Africa
“Russia’s first notable entry into the heavy-class Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) realm appears to be the 6th Generation-minded Sukhoi Su-70 “Okhotnik-B” (“Hunter-B”). Images of the completed form surfaced in mid / late January showcasing a large drone with tricycle landing gear and of full flying wing arrangement being towed by an agricultural vehicle. Development on the type is believed to have been ongoing since about 2012 and a rollout was had in mid-2018 with ground-testing commencing thereafter. Still early in its development, the Okhotnik-B presents a significant step forward for the Russian desire to catch up with the West regarding UAV / UCAV capability.”50
Appendix 8 itemizes some 22 categories of Russian drones / UAVs. Quoted data sources include the AINonline, Aviation Week, The Aviationist, Aviation Week Network, The Diplomat, Military Factory, Military Leak, Military UAS News, YouTube videos (i.e. two videos), War history Online and Wikipedia. Comprehensive footnotes are provided where relevant.
“Beijing is increasingly tapping private Chinese firms to acquire foreign techno-logy for its military, according to officials and a new report, in a strategy that is prompting calls by leaders in Washington to retool U.S. national security policy. Chinese President Xi Jinping is pressing these companies to bid for defense contracts as part of a “military-civil fusion” drive to upgrade an arms industry long dominated by a handful of inefficient state-run contractors and research institutes.”51
According to Alexander Huang52, strategic studies professor at Tamkang Univer-sity in Taiwan; China may merge its drones into a plan announced in 2018 to integrate military and civilian activities. Military personnel would operate them for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).
A comprehensive analysis of China’s potential to become the world leader at the forefront of drone technology53 by 2030 is illuminating as quoted below:
“China’s civilian drones sector is increasingly developing drones with military applications. In large part due to reforms introduced in 2013, private companies are now able to compete against SOEs to produce and sell UAVs to the military. Newcomer drone company Tengoen Tech, for instance, is designing an eight-engine drone that can be customized for search and rescue, aerial refuelling, and intelligence gathering missions.”54
“The blurring of commercial and military UAV development could serve both sectors. As noted by Jane’s, this marriage has “created a vibrant, active and fast-moving UAV development and, increasingly, innovation environment.” China also integrated the development of UAVs into a national strategy to become a world leader in AI by 2030, making UAVs one of the focus sectors of the State Council’s 2017 “New Generation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) Development Plan.””55
“China’s dominance in the commercial drone industry can be attributed primarily to one manufacturer, Dà-Jiāng Innovations (DJI). Due to its speed in producing cutting-edge technology at a low cost, DJI commands an estimated 74 percent of the market. Its market penetration is so significant that DJI became the most widely used commercial drone by the US Army. Due to rising security concerns, however, the US Army discontinued the use of DJI drones in August 2017. Additionally, on September 18, 2019, the US Congress introduced the American Security Drone Act 2019, which would bar federal agencies from buying drones from China and any other country deemed a national-security risk.”56
The subject of drones / UAV is immense as there are so many categories and variants. There are hundreds of devices in fact. Some countries such as China, Russia, India and Pakistan have more than a hundred drones in their inventories. For example India has a fleet of around 100 drones and it plans to add 54 Harop attack drones from Israel to enhance unmanned warfare capability.57 The estimated size of the Indian UAV market is $886 million by 2021.58 The global market for drone applications is estimated to be $100 billion or more.59
It is well nigh impossible to give full treatment to the complexities and techno-logical progress of drone / UAV development in a single chapter. By rights full analysis should encompass a book or a series of books on the topic. The author has attempted to highlight drone / UAV capability mainly for China and Russia in this book; largely in terms of civilian usage in the oil / gas industry and in advances in military warfare.
As for the future, drones are fast becoming human-controlled programmable missiles with online onboard camera / infrared seeking sensors to ensure destruction of selected targets on the battlefield and in battlespace. From the smallest drone operating at 100 ft to the largest effective at altitude of 30,000 ft; they play an essential part in combat logistics in endoatmospheric conditions. They do not have comparative lethality to hypersonic manoeuvrable ballistic missiles, but the ‘swarm concept’ and enhanced programmable features will have a disastrous effect upon troop movements in the battlefield at the front line, rear echelons and localised battlespace. Drones may have small payloads perhaps, but there will be hundreds of them with enormous net effect in totality. Pre-programmed drones can be commanded from a satellite to undertake specific activities in battlespace.
Imagine being attacked by a never ending swarm of hungry blood seeking female mosquitoes unable to swat them away? Combat drones are not mosquitoes. They are sophisticated weapons of war, battlefield / battlespace killing machines, low cost alternatives to more expensive weapons and yet able to inflict immense cumulative damage upon hostile forces. Stochastic flight patterns exhibited by drones make it impossible to defend against multiple swarms with any certainty.
We’re on the verge of creating autonomous weapons that can kill without any help from humans. Thousands of experts are concerned about this – and the latest campaign effort against this technology is a chilling video demonstrating the kind of future confronting all of us.60
On the Science Alert website, in the embedded Slaughterbots YouTube video, “swarms of AI-controlled drones carry out strikes on thousands of unprepared victims with targeted precision. What makes the clip so scary is that the future scenario is entirely plausible.”61 The author encourages readers to access this website and to carefully watch the revealing video. Robots will be better at killing anyone on the planet.
Is this the way future kinetic wars will be fought?
SELECTED CHINESE MILITARY DRONE AIRCRAFT
The 24 items listed below are military drones that have been taken from a number of sources. The majority are taken from Chinese Drone Aircraft entries on the Military Factory website. These entries are listed below in alphabetical order together with those from other indicated sources:
Chinese Drones / UAV62
|Ainjiang (Dark Sword)
Source: National Interest
The Chinese military appears to be working on a fast, radar-evading robotic fighter plane that could be the first of its kind anywhere in the world. The Dark Sword63 drone, as it is known, is the latest in a long line of jet-powered unmanned aerial vehicles that the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation and sister firms have been developing since the early 2000s; The UAV first appeared in a photo that began circulating on social media in early June 2018. The photo depicts a sleek, roughly 30-foot-long aircraft bearing several of the signature features of supersonic stealth warplanes.
Dark Sword has a low observable configuration that differs drastically from more common flying-wing advanced unmanned aircraft designs. Whereas those are optimized for endurance, altitude performance, broadband low observability, and payload, Dark Sword is designed for sustained speed and agility.64 Past renderings depict a conical planform with lifting-body attributes. Non-maneuvering, but possibly retractable canard foreplanes are present on its nose section. A wide, splayed tail section with canted vertical stabilizers and swept wings round out the rest of the design and a single-engine is fed by a sharp, forward-swept, chin-mounted intake.65
At the time of writing, Dark Sword has not been observed in flight and some sceptics have questioned whether it’s a functional aircraft or merely a non-flying mock-up. Small scale models of the Dark Sword design have frequently appeared at industrial events in China and abroad.66
|Aisheng ASN-209 (Silver Eagle)
Source: Military Factory
With its MAME classification, this UAV can fulfil a variety of roles at up to medium altitude levels including target designation, ELectronic INTelligence (ELINT), target tracking, Electronic Warfare (EW), or serve in the communications relay role for accompanying ground or aerial forces. As far as is known, the ASN-209 is not an armed hunter-killer UAV. It is featured with a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of 700lbs, can reach speeds of 115 miles per hour; cruise at 90 miles per hour and range out 125 miles. Its mission endurance window is rated at 10 hours with an operational service ceiling of 16,400 feet.
|Aisheng BZK-600 (UCAV)
Source: Military Factory
Part of the Aisheng family of Chinese-originated drones is the BZK-006 which appears to be a further evolution of the ASN-205/207 (WZ-6) series. It is believed to have been adopted in 2009 and has been seen in regular exercises involving Chinese ground forces. The BZK-600 is part of an extensive Chinese effort to bring multiple UAV types into service covering various battlefield roles with many of these designs emerging from Chinese companies as opposed to foreign suppliers. It is unknown how many BZK-006 units are in service as of this writing (2019). One known variant of the series is the BZK-600A model though differences between the two are also unknown.
|AVIC Cloud Shadow
Source: Military Factory
As its core, the Cloud Shadow represents a Chinese attempt at a budget-friendly High-Altitude; Long Endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft that is weapons capable. Two distinct versions have been mentioned – the standard unarmed reconnaissance model and an armed reconnaissance model. Weapons are held externally along four underwing hardpoints (two to a wing). Munitions supported will include a variety of Chinese precision weapons including both missiles and drop bombs. The listed mission payload is 880 lb. Performance specifications include a maximum speed of 385 miles per hour, a service ceiling of at least 46,000 feet and a Line-of-Sight (LoS) link range out to 180 miles. The aircraft’s mission endurance window is set for six hours. The jet engine is most likely the WJ-600 series or similar.
|BZK-05 Sea Eagle / Giant Eagle
Source: Air University, Montgomery,
The PLAN possesses not only smaller tactical UAVs but also a limited number of sophisticated reconnaissance UAVs. Notably, the PLAN operates the medium altitude long endurance (MALE) BZK-005 or Chang Ying (长鹰), which has a maximum range of 2,400 kilometers and a maximum endurance of 40 hours. The BZK-005, designed by the Beihang University’s UAV Institute and the Harbin Aircraft Industry Group is thus roughly comparable to the U.S. Global Hawk.67 The BZK-005’s development dates back to 2000, under the leadership of chief designer Xiang Jinwu (向锦武), and it underwent testing and verification 2006, ahead of being finalized and delivered around 2007.67,68
The BZK-005 has been operating in the vicinity of the Dong Hai (East China Sea) since at least 2013, when, according to Japanese media, the BZK-005 entered Japan’s ADIZ in the East China Sea and was intercepted by Japanese fighter jets. Based on satellite imagery, there were at least three BZK-005 UAVs stationed at the PLAN airfield on Daishan Island in Hangzhou Bay in the East China Sea as of mid-2015. In addition, by mid-2016, there were also reports that the PLAN had deployed at least one BZK-005 UAV to Woody Island in the South China Sea, based on satellite imagery,69 though it has not been clear whether or not it may be stationed there permanently in the future.70
|CASC CH-3 Rainbow||
The CH-371 is armed version of the unarmed CH-1/CH-2 drone series. All of the products come from China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) and are part of the CASC “Rainbow” line of UAVs that began with the CH-1 and has since evolved into the CH-901 model. The series has found some global takers to date (2015) and provides modern tactical over-battlefield capabilities at a much reduced cost when compared to contemporary Western UAV products.
Externally, the CH-3 carries swept-back wing mainplanes along a streamlined fuselage that sports forward canards for additional stability and control. The mainplanes showcase large vertical fins (“winglets”) at their tips and sport a single hardpoint each for the carrying and delivery of guided-missile ordnance. The undercarriage is wheeled, though fixed, under the aircraft’s mass. At the rear of the fuselage is the engine installation which drives a three-bladed propeller unit in a “pusher” arrangement. Specifications include a wingspan of 8 meters while performance displays a 12-hour endurance window with a payload maximum of 80 kilograms. Range is 2,400 kilometers.
The Nigerian and Pakistani armies are confirmed operators of the CH-3 series. CH-3 designates early models while the CH-3A is a follow-up product which increases the line’s mission payload (up to 180 kilograms maximum) while reducing the endurance window by half to six hours. This model also features a satellite data link as standard.
In October 2015, the Iraqi government released footage of a CASC Rainbow UAV being deployed operationally – proving its existence within the Iraqi military inventory and showcasing a new willingness by the government to expand beyond its purchases of American-made equipment.
|CASC CH-4 Rainbow||
The CASC CH-4 is a dedicated Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) of Chinese origin. It is said to borrow heavily from the proven existing line of American MQ-9 Reaper UCAVs. Both are intended for the strike mission role through various precision-guided munitions and are designed to loiter over target areas for hours (the CH-4 sports a fourteen hour mission endurance window). Externally, comparisons to the American product are justifiable for the Chinese interpretation of the proven machine bears more than a passing resemblance to the MQ-9 right down to the outward-cranked tail fins (though there is no ventral fin), straight mainplane wings and fixed tricycle undercarriage – Chinese industry has not been shy in the past about copying foreign solutions to solve local problems. Currently (2017), the only known operators of the CH-4 are Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The Iraqi military has already put the CH-4 through its combat paces against ISIS forces while the Saudis have deployed some of their fleet against Houthi rebels in that ongoing war. CASC is in talks with the Saudi Kingdom to arrange for local production of several hundred CH-4 drones for the oil-rich nation.
|CASC CH-5 Rainbow||
The CASC CH-5 Rainbow is one of the newer additions to the indigenous Chinese Rainbow line of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The type has been developed for the Unmanned. Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) meaning it can carry (and deliver with a level of precision) munitions of various types. The CH-5 more or less follows the American MQ-9 Reaper UCAV in both its form and function. The aircraft exhibits a straight wing mainplane configuration and seats its conventional turbocharged piston-driven engine (of about 450 horsepower output) at the rear of the fuselage driving a multi-bladed propeller unit in “pusher” fashion. The vehicle is fully integrated into the existing CH-3 and CH-4 framework due to a shared data link infrastructure. The CH-5 has a reported mission endurance window of up to sixty hours, can fly at altitudes nearing 30,000 feet and can carry a mission payload up to 2,205lb. The structure includes a wingspan of 68.8 feet and a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of 6,000lb.
At Zhuhai Air Show 2018, CASC (“Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation”) unveiled a subscale model of its in-development “CH-7” stealth combat drone with a focus on direct-attack of enemy Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C/AWACS) platforms at range through internally-held missiles. The aircraft is a private-venture initiative by the company, who is primarily associated with Chinese space endeavours, and represents a significant evolution of Chinese UAV prowess, particularly concerning flying-wing design as this type of aircraft typically presents a slew of aerodynamic and control challenges for engineers.
The CH-7 certainly shares an appearance akin to several Western all-wing UAV designs, namely the Northrop Grumman X-47B carrier-based drone (detailed elsewhere on this site). The air vehicle sports a “cranked-kite” shape an uses no vertical planes of any kind. It is assumed to carry a single turbofan engine of unknown, model and output buried within the center-section of the fuselage. Aspiration for this unit is through a dorsal-mounted opening and exhaust is through a port at the rear of the fuselage. A retractable tricycle undercarriage is used for ground-running. Despite its advertised “stealthiness”, the aircraft will rely more on onboard equipment to achieve invisibility as opposed to specialized design and skin coatings. Structurally, the CH-7 has an overall length of 33 feet, a wingspan measuring 72 feet, and a gross weight in the 28,500lb range. A selection of powerplant has not yet taken place as of 2018.
In the Chinese scenario, this stealth aircraft would be able to penetrate enemy airspace unmolested and engage opposing AWACS platforms by launching Anti-Radiation Missiles (ARMs) at the target. Several CH-7s could also work in conjunction to designate targets or surveillance / reconnaissance sorties (by replacing the armament load out with specialized mission equipment). Beyond this, the CH-7 would have the same capability to engage ground-based radar facilities with equal lethality. The UAV would also have secure inter-formation communications to provide data and target information to accompanying manned aircraft carrying more considerable war loads. Other sortie types for this vehicle would also include anti-ship and delivery of precision-guided drop bombs.
A flyable prototype is hoped for as early as 2020-2021 with extensive flight-testing to follow throughout the next decade. Serial production is rather optimistically planned for 2022 with the potential for export sales as well. The general non-restrictive approach of Chinese technology places China at the head of a potentially lucrative global UAV market in the coming decade – one in which the United States and Israel generally dominate but restrict sales to certain parts of the world and certain customers (mainly the Middle East).
As of December 2018, the CASC CH-7 is slated to fly for the first time in 2019 and enter operational service in 2022.
|CASIC Skyhawk Series UAV||
The CASIC Skyhawk of Chinese aero-industry encompasses a family of related Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs) for both military and commercial service. These include the Sky Hawk 1 and Sky Hawk 3 lines. A new, 6,600lb all-wing design was showcased by the company at Zhuhai Air Show 2018 (and slated for the stealth surveillance role), further expanding on the current family offerings.
The first entry, the Miniature-UAV “SH-1”, was revealed at Zhuhai Air Show 2008 as an all-wing design driven by a two–bladed conventional engine arranged in “pusher” configuration. The overall arrangement of the fuselage is more traditional than the SH-3 version detailed below. Its payload capacity reaches 66lb and launching of this vehicle is by rocket-assisted, catapult action while recovery is through simple released parachute to retard the fall. Skids make up the undercarriage facilities. Its overall length reaches 7.5 feet with a wingspan covering 13.78 feet. It can reach speeds around 90 mph up to a ceiling of 16,400 feet.
The CASIC WJ-600 is a large-scale Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (“UAV”, though more commonly referred to as a “drone”) currently under development in China under the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation label (CASIC). As it stands, the WJ-600 will be a maritime and overland attack UAV designed as a standalone weapons platform or for operations in conjunction with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). As such, the WJ-600 will be outfitted with the latest in Chinese optics and sensor technology as well as support existing tracking and engagement systems coupled to various ordnance options (primarily missiles though bombs are reportedly supported as well). The WJ-600 was first unveiled in 2010 during the China Airshow.
Internally, the WJ-600 is said to house an electronic synthetic aperture radar system as well as an electronic surveillance suite enabling it to function at different altitudes in day or night hours and in all weather environments. The payload threshold will reach 600 kilograms for a base armed surveillance mission sortie and special mission packages will enable it to undertake active reconnaissance, target simulation, electronic warfare and communications sorties as required. Each wing will support a single hardpoint for a missile or similar ordnance – guided / homing anti-tank, drop bombs, etc… The powerplant will provide an estimated maximum speed of 720 kilometers per hour with a service altitude of approximately 10,000 meters with an operational range out to 2,100 kilometers.
|CETC JY-300 Tian Shao
(Sentinel of the Sky)
One of the many Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) offerings showcased by local Chinese aero-industry at Zhuhai Air Show 2018 was the JY-300 “Tian Shao” (“Sentinel of the Sky”) Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance (MALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) currently being developed by electronics-producer CETC Group (of China). This aircraft is being brought along to specifically cover an Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C/AWACS) unmanned role and carries an embedded Active, Electronically-Scanned Array (AESA) radar fit by way of patented conformal installations.
The general shape of the aircraft appears to be in line with the American General Atomics “Predator” offerings. The nose section is bulbous and housing various components pertinent to the control and general function of the aircraft – an optics “blister” pack is found at the chin position. The fuselage tapers to the rear to which a pair of outward-canted vertical fins is seated – as such there are no horizontal planes featured in the design. A single, small-area ventral fin is positioned under the tail. The wing main planes are seated closer to midships and emanate from the sides of the fuselage which are “chined” (creating a noticeable edge – a common attribute of modern “stealth” aircraft). Furthermore, these flexing members sport winglets for added control and fuel efficiency. The propulsion pack is buried within the aft-end of the fuselage and drives a three-bladed propeller unit in “pusher” fashion (as in the American Predator family). A non-retracting (fixed-in-flight) tricycle undercarriage is used for ground-running.
The most unique quality of this UAV entry is its lack of external radome common to AWACS aircraft around the world. Instead, conforming radar antennas are positioned about the aircraft’s various surfaces including the leading / trailing edges of the wings and along the sides of the forward fuselage for full 360-degree area coverage.
Early performance specs center on a flying machine capable of reaching speeds of 125 miles per hour up to a ceiling of 24,500 feet with a flight endurance window of about 15 hours. Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) is in the range of 2,865lb with a cargo-carrying capacity equal to 880lb. Wingspan appears to reach 55.75 feet.
Should the JY-300 project come to full fruition, it would signify a considerable step forward for Chinese UAV design and development and usher a new age of AWACS control (unmanned). Not only that but the nation would more than likely be open to exporting its newfound technology to customers around the world typically shunned by UAV leaders such as the United States and Israel.
A first-flight of the Tian Shao is believed to have taken place in late-September of early-October 2018.
|Chengdu (AVIC) Soar Dragon
(Soar Eagle EA03)
Like other military powers of the world, China has whole-heartedly embraced the concept of the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) in modern warfare. As such, many in-house initiatives have been set into motion to produce the first generation of viable Chinese military UAV systems for reconnaissance, tracking and engagement of targets. The Guizhou Soar Eagle (also known as the Soar Dragon) is a step in this direction, utilizing a full-scale body and advanced platform with turbojet engine propulsion. The Soar Eagle is currently in development as of this writing (2012) with a few select images having been leaked to the public (as is the Chinese government’s modus operandi in such matters). The Soar Eagle is intended for service in the People’s Liberation Army Air force (PLAAF) and will be initially used in the reconnaissance role with weapons support possibly added later in its developmental life.
From available imagery, the Soar Eagle bears a distinct resemblance to the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk long-range, high-altitude UAV system of the United States Air Force. There are, however, several distinct design features which make the Soar Eagle a wholly unique Chinese design including its single vertical tail fin and joined tandem wing configuration. The Soar Eagle does share the Global Hawk’s general appearance with its bulbous forward fuselage; rear set engine installation and a fuselage spine-mounted air inlet. The Soar Eagle, like the Global hawk, is dimensionally large when compared to medium-class UAV systems – roughly the size of a small manned aircraft – and showcases a wingspan of over 81 feet with a height of nearly 18 feet and running length of 47 feet. As such, the aircraft holds the physical capabilities for long-range, high-altitude service and is therefore being categorized as a “High-Altitude Long Endurance” (HALE) UAV.
|Chengdu (AVIC) Wing-Loong
(GJ-1 & GJ-2 series)
The Chengdu Pterodactyl I (also known as the Wing-Loong I) was unveiled by company representatives during the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition (Zhuhai) in 2010. The system is a “Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance” (MALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) with provision having been developed to convert the type into an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) by supporting various precision munitions’ options. A first-flight is believed to have occurred during 2009 and flight testing into 2013. At least one prototype was lost during development.
Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAC) holds a decades-long history concerning modern Chinese aviation, having begun operations as a manufacturer of Soviet-originated jet aircraft during the Cold War during a time when a close relationship between the two Asian powers ruled. Since then, the concern has evolved to designing, developing and producing largely indigenous products for use by the Chinese military and allies (the latter only when export is approved). The Pterodactyl UAV is one such creation, approved for export and, to date, having been evaluated (though not selected) by Pakistan for its MALE UAV requirement.
Externally, the Pterodactyl showcases an appearance not unlike the American “Predator” UAV series, complete with its bulbous nose housing, streamlined fuselage, wheeled undercarriage and outward cranked vertical tail fins. The main wing assemblies are also straight appendages and can hold underwing stores (it is envisioned that the system will make use of up to four underwing guided bombs or missiles). A blister, held under the nose, contains traversing optics. The undercarriage is wheeled for easier management of the system by ground personnel and is fully-retractable into the body of the vehicle when in flight – all of the legs retract rearwards to promote strong aerodynamic qualities. Power is served through a rear-mounted conventional engine driving a three-bladed propeller assembly in a “pusher” configuration.
Internally, the Pterodactyl is being testing with various equipment packages. The aircraft is suspected to carry a synthetic aperture radar system as well as FLIR (Forward-Looking Infra-Red). The total listed payload of the Pterodactyl series is expected to be in the vicinity of 220lbs on production-quality models. Listed specifications include a 175 mile per hour maximum speed, 2,500 mile operational range (with 20 hour mission endurance time reported) and an operating service ceiling of 16,400 feet.
The Wing-Loong II is a modified, upgraded model with greater support for munitions-carrying – up to twelve-air-to-surface missiles are promoted at underwing hardpoints. It sports a 9,300lb weight and 36-foot wingspan.
Taking a page out of the Boeing Insitu Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) product line-up is the “SG-60”, a Chinese-originated shipborne drone capable of being launched and recovered at-sea. The aircraft, built by the aptly-named Chinese shipbuilder “China State Shipbuilding Corporation” (CSSC), bears an uncanny resemblance to the Insitu “Integrator” (known to the United States Navy as the RQ-21 “Blackjack”) – this air vehicle is detailed elsewhere on this site. The aircraft showcased at IDEX 2019 was shown complete with the same straight-winged mainplane arrangement, twin-boom tail unit configuration, and “pusher” propeller unit at the rear of the fuselage.
The SG-60 is currently restricted to over-water data-collection through its given Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR) role. As with the Integrator, the SG-60 is launched by way of catapult system and recovered by way of skyhook and cable, these residing on any given warship with the space to accommodate the equipment.
The Chinese military commitment to unmanned “drone” aircraft is such that a vast local investment has made possible a slew of modern, over-battlefield offerings ranging from small and portable to large and wholly autonomous. This includes the new “Gongji-11” (also “GJ-11”) Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) debuted at the October 1st, 2019, National Day parade in China. The air vehicle attempts to significantly broaden Chinese unmanned capabilities and appears largely influenced by Western designs – namely the American Northrop Grumman X-47B technology demonstrator – in shape and overall size.
While little is concretely known of the GJ-11’s capabilities, it is assumed that the air vehicle shares some qualities with its global counterparts of same size and role. It is intended as an attack aircraft so an internal weapons bay is included as part of the aircraft’s makeup. Another notable trait is the design’s inherent stealth characteristics, namely its low profile and shrouded exhaust port. In this manner, the aircraft is expected to “sneak” into enemy airspaces and attack targets of strategic value undetected. The aircraft sports an appearance not unlike the X-47B, being of an all-wing platform (no tail fins are featured whatsoever) with the single internal, air-breathing turbofan engine aspirated by a dorsally-mounted intake just aft and above the nose. The engine exhausts through a low-profile port at the rear of the fuselage also seated dorsally. The wings are well-blended into the fuselage, promoting a smooth overall contour. The overall shape of the aircraft is that of an arrowhead, maximizing aerodynamic and fuel efficiency for useful operational ranges. A retractable tricycle landing gear arrangement is featured for general ground-running exercises. An autonomous capability for this new UCAV is assumed.
Despite all the potential that has been associated with the GJ-11 design, it remains a very new and largely unproven addition to the Chinese UCAV line-up. As such, only time will tell if the system lives up to its lofty billing.
Sparrow Hawk 11
Its design shape no doubt inspired by the successful American General Atomics “Predator” Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) line, the Chinese Sparrow Hawk II is an in-development air system intended for the surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering role. Its payload consists of optical systems and sensors for the roles at hand while power is served through a single engine driving a three-bladed propeller assembly in a “pusher” configuration. The engine is – as in the Predator series – fitted at the rear of the fuselage. It also features a Vee style tail unit and wide-spanning main wing planes. The fuselage is slender and well-contoured for flight with a blister pack mounted under the fuselage for its payload-carrying capabilities. The undercarriage is wheeled, requiring the UAV to land and take-off from prepared runways.
The Sparrow Hawk II completed a flight on August 1st, 2011 when testing its double-load remote sensing unit. The flight lasted 4.5 hours and proved successful.
The vehicle has been photographed with underwing hardpoints and dummy missiles showing the intent to make the Sparrow Hawk II an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) at some point in its development.
|Guizhou (AVIC) WZ-2000
It is only natural that the unarmed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) of today become the armed Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAV) of tomorrow. The Guizhou concern of China has developed the latter with its WZ-2000 turbofan-powered model UCAV intended as a high-speed, dedicated attack UAV with surveillance capabilities built in. Development of the aircraft began during 1999 and several mocked up forms followed at the turn of the century, leading to the finalized product of 2002. The WZ-2000 adds a whole new dimension to Chinese air attack capability, a capability currently only seen in first-rate world air forces. Additionally, it threatens the export market on UCAVs currently controlled by a select few – should China choose to offer its UCAV to its multitude of military customers, thusly reducing reliance on nations like the United States and Israel.
At various points during its lengthy development period, the WZ-2000 was known as the “WZ-9” and the “WuZhen-2000”. It is commonly accepted that “WZ-2000” stands as its finalized product designation. First flight of a prototype was recorded on December 26th, 2003.
The WZ-2000 features a running length of 7.5 meters with a wingspan of 9.8 meters. Its listed Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) is 3,750lbs while displaying a 175lb payload capacity for stores and mission equipment. Power is from a single WS-11 turbofan engine (essentially the Russian Lvchenko AI-25 series) developing in the range of 3,800lbs thrust and propelling the airframe at speeds of near-500 miles per hour. Its stated range is 1,500 miles with a combat radius of about 500 miles. Operating ceilings can reach up to 59,000 feet while mission endurance is limited, primarily by the thirsty turbofan engine, at just three hours. It is assumed that the aircraft is crewed by a pair of operators from a Ground Control Station (GCS).
As a UCAV, the WZ-2000 supports the carrying of both air-to-surface missiles as well as precision-guided munitions to suit mission requirements.
|Hongdu Lijian (Sharp Sword)||
In tune with other leading military powers of the world, China has delved into the realm of the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV), a remotely-piloted aircraft with weapons delivery capability, through its unveiling of the Hongdu Lijian (“Sharp Sword”). The aircraft represents China’s first official foray into a jet-powered, stealth-minded Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and is believed to serve the role of technology demonstrator for a possible future combat system.
The design was photographed during a taxiing run in May of 2013, officially marking its appearance in the Chinese aircraft inventory. The “Sharp Sword” is one of several all-wing designs tracing its roots to the AVIC 601-S UAV project. This includes “Wind Blade”, “Cloud Bow”, and “Warrior Eagle”.
Externally, the vehicle takes on the form of the competing (and in-development) Northrop Grumman X-47B complete with frontal air intake and tailless profile.
The Lijian exited a period of development that spanned some three years and involved both Hongdu and Shenyang aircraft makers. The end-result was a flying wing with a turbofan buried within the bulbous fuselage. The overhead profile of the aircraft is reminiscent of the Northrop Grumman B-2 “Spirit” stealth bomber and lacks any vertical fins of any kind. It is presumed that there lies an internal weapons bay for munitions. The tricycle undercarriage is fully-retractable and consists of two main single-wheeled legs and a nose leg.
As it stands, the Lijian is thought to be powered by the same Shenyang WP7 series engine as featured on the J-7 fighter series. Estimated specifications include an operational range out to 80 miles with a payload-carrying capability not exceeding 4,000lb. The structure includes a wingspan of some 46 feet.
|Norinco Sharp Eye III||
NORINCO of China has followed the global lead and developed an unmanned rotary-wing Unmanned Helicopter System (UHS) in the “Sharp Eye III”. The product is intended for the unarmed or armed reconnaissance-strike role. The ability to behave as a traditional helicopter provides unique tactical advantages on the modern battlefield – allowing access to forward-operating areas normally cut-off to fixed-wing aircraft types.
Its design arrangement mimics that of a traditional helicopter with a main rotor mast and torque-cancelling tail-mounted blade unit. Both the main rotor and tail rotor elements are of a two-bladed design. The fuselage houses all major components including mission payloads and powerplant and a slim tail stem emanates from the upper rear section of the fuselage allowing a drive system to reach the tail rotor. The undercarriage is of a simple skid arrangement and is fixed in flight.
Like other UAS products, Sharp Eye III is operated through a manned Ground Control Unit (GCU). The listed operating ceiling is around 3.5 kilometers with a take-off weight in the 450 kilogram range. Maximum speed is 180 kmh with a mission endurance window of four to six hours.
|Norinco Sky Saker||
Chinese military industry is developing a producing a myriad of products for its massive land, sea, and air forces and this has included a large collection of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The drive in this section in multi-fold – attempting to keep pace with the United States, showcasing its technological prowess to its neighbors, and promoting a position of self-reliance in various fields. As a long time export customer of the Soviet Union, the Chinese now take in-house products from the design stage through the development phase and can handle production locally. The reliance on outside help has become, over the decades, largely about more complex individual systems such as engines.
NORINCO of China – primarily recognized for its small arms and armored vehicle manufacturing – is heading a new Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) under the Sky Saker. The UAV no doubt is influenced by the successful General Atomics MQ-9 “Reaper” line of the United States, the Reaper itself born from the unarmed Predator. Indeed, the NORINCO product certainly showcases many of the design elements of its American counterpart including the bulbous nose section, straight wing main planes, rear-mounted propulsion system (in a “pusher” arrangement), wholly retractable undercarriage, and outward-canted vertical tail fins. As a UCAV-class system, the Sky Saker is being developed with an ordnance-carrying capability in mind from the outset, the stores to be mounted along underwing hardpoints in the usual way. As it stands, the Sky Saker will support the carrying and launching of air-to-surface missiles as well as precision-guided drop bombs.
The Sky Saker is based on the earlier Wing Loong UAV detailed elsewhere on this site. It is intended for the export market.
Beyond the promoted attack capability will be the now-standard ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) quality consistent with many modern UAVs/UCAVs. This air vehicle will be able to take on this role alongside its attack role making it a true battlefield “hunter-killer”.
|Shenyang (AVIC) Divine Eagle||
The Shenyang “Divine Eagle” joins the Chengdu “Soar Dragon” (detailed elsewhere on this site) as two possible High Altitude, Long Endurance (HALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to fulfil an ongoing Chinese military requirement. The Divine Eagle is a dimensionally large UAV in the class of the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk and is currently believed to be in the prototype stage based on Chinese internet photographs and satellite image captured – its top-down profile showcased on a runway.
Engineers took an unconventional approach when arranging the Divine Eagle. A twin-fuselage configuration is used joined by a small mainplane at front and a longer-span mainplane at rear. This produces a pseudo “twin-boom” layout and canard-wing form. The primary wing main planes are seated aft of midships and extend outwards from the ends of the two fuselage nacelles. Twin tall vertical fins complete the tail section. The forward mainplane is far more contained, nestled between the two fuselage noses and are not extended beyond the nacelles. The sole turbojet engine powering the air vehicle is seated between the twin vertical fins at rear and atop the joining horizontal section of the rear mainplane. A wheeled tricycle undercarriage is used for ground running. It is believed that the nose sections house radomes and the mission suite made up of sensors. Dorsal fuselage blisters may house SATCOM equipment or similar fits.
The unique design path is intended to reduce the weight of the wings while maintaining the needed high-altitude performance. The creation ends up looking like two conjoined General Atomics “Reaper” UAVs.
The chief concern to the United States and China’s regional neighbors is that the Divine Eagle (and Soar Dragon) will someday be developed to support Chinese anti-ship missiles – for this Americans this means a direct threat to its warships, particularly its aircraft carriers. China’s military growth and aspirations is also seen as a general threat to the region due to its claims over land areas of the South China Sea and airspace associated with it.
The Divine Eagle is not known to have completed a first flight as of yet (2015). Industry analysts place its battlefield role in Airborne Early Warning (AEW), an area of need for the Chinese military.
Source: Overt Defense (OVD)
For the 70th anniversary of their founding in 1949, the People’s Republic of China has shown off a UAV like no other. WZ-872 is a supersonic high altitude unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicle that has perplexed many regarding its capabilities and purpose. The general consensus is that it’s intended to act as a supplement to satellites in providing targeting data (presumably by radar) for China’s long-range strike weapons, notably those intended to destroy US carriers. Able to fly in the region of Mach 3-5, the WZ-8 may have near immunity to air defenses if it keeps its distance.
Such high speed is permitted by an unusual choice of propulsion, rocket motors. While great for getting high and fast, rocket motors offer terrible endurance thanks to staggering fuel consumption. X-15, for example, carried 19,000 lbs. of fuel (more than the aircraft’s empty weight) which gave it only 83 seconds of full power flight. This limits WZ-8 to relatively short-ranged missions, though this isn’t a huge issue given that China’s primary interests aren’t more than a few hundred miles from the mainland. Longer range operations could be supported by the forward operating bases that make up China’s Great Wall of Sand in the Nan Hai (South China Sea).
To aid with range limitations WZ-8 is launched from a host aircraft, most likely the H-6N which has a semi-recessed hardpoint under its belly for large payloads. The WZ-8 displayed at the parade had lugs on top of the airframe for this purpose. Unfortunately, besides assumptions and visual observations very little information is available about the aircraft. China’s arsenal of long-range precision weapons has continued to expand, this year they revealed their first tactical hypersonic weapon the DF-17 as well as a new supersonic cruise missile the DF-100.
Such weapons are useless against mobile targets without timely flexible timing over the target but also offer better resolution assuming similarly capable sensors are used. In the case of WZ-8, this likely involves synthetic aperture radar. There’s also the threat that in wartime satellites could become targets, in comparison WZ-8 is more survivable thanks to its high energy and agility.
Ziyan of China has developed a complete family of Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that includes the “Blowfish I” entry. Blowfish is marketed as a multi-mission platform capable of conducting a plethora of over-battlefields roles and tasks with a helicopter-type toolset in mind. This means critical resupply of forward-operating forces, reconnaissance of enemy positions and direct targeting of enemy elements at range. Additionally, such a system has inherent disaster relief / humanitarian capabilities suitable for Search-And-Rescue (SAR) and related roles.
The platform operates from low-to-medium altitudes and features a three-bladed main rotor overhead working in conjunction with a three-bladed tail rotor unit seated towards port side to counteract torque generated by the main rotor. The fuselage is deep and squat, tapering towards the top as the main rotor unit sits low over it. The undercarriage is simple and low-cost, being a four-point skid arrangement and capable of landing on rough, uneven terrain. The tail stem is short compared to the overall length of the fuselage and houses the drive shaft for the tail rotor unit while sporting vertical surface control planes.
Blowfish I is marketed with an all-weather operational capability and capable of navigating complex terrain types (such as urban settings and mountainous). An autonomous, “single-click” return function is built into the UAV for simply recovery and relaunch. The payload capacity reaches 18 kilograms and mission kits are fitted under the belly for easy access / replacement. An optics / sensor fit is managed at the nose under a transparent aerodynamic dome covering.
Dimensions include an overall length of 1.8 meters, a width of 1.9 meters (rotor included) and a height of 0.6 meters. Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) is 50 kilograms. The helicopter can manage cruising speeds of 90 kmh (145 kmh max) out to a range equal to 60 minutes of flying time. Operating altitudes reach 5,100 meters.
Note: The listed items are taken from The Military Factory website, except where otherwise indicated
1 This excerpt from The Dragon and Bear: Oil, Gas, Drones, Missiles is provided by courtesy of the author
capt. David L.O. Hayward (Rtd) is an, Defense Analyst, founder of China Research Team Australia (2003)
2 Global Maritime Reconnaissance and Surveillance Developments, 14th Annual Forum, Maritime Reconnaissance & Surveillance, Defence IQ, retrieved 2016-08-12, http://www.maritimerecon.com/media/1002489/64209.pdf
3 Identified Technologies; Ending the Drone vs UAV debate: Drone basics 101; Posted at 16:46h in UAV Surveying by admin; July 7, 2019; https://www.identifiedtech.com/blog/uav-surveying/drone-technology-ending-the-drone-vs-uav-debate-drone-basics-101/ Retrieved 2020-03-01
5 Merlin, Peter W., 1964; Ikhana Unmanned Aircraft System: Western States fire missions / by Peter W. Merlin; “August 2009.”; https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/470839main_ikhana_monograph.pdf Retrieved 2020-03-01
10 Zhang, Xinbo; Top 3 Drone Applications in Oil and Gas Industry in 2023; Industrial Skyworks, June 11, 2018; http://info.industrialskyworks.com/blog/top-3-drone-applications-in-oil-and-gas-industry-in-2020 Retrieved 2020-01-18
14 DroneU; Drones in the Oil and Gas Industry – What Is the Reason Behind Their Rising Usage?; blog posted to website; unknown author; April 28, 2018; https://www.thedroneu.com/blog/drones-in-oil-and-gas-industry/#comment-2926 Retrieved 2020-01-12
15 Terra Drone Angola; Terra Drone opens Angola branch due to high demand from oil and gas industry; Terra News, May 10, 2019; company post; retrieved 2020-02-19 ttps://www.terra-drone.net/global/; https:// www.terra-drone.net/global/2019/05/10/terra-drone-angola-demand-oil-gas-industry-africa/
16 Hofmann, Norbert; Microdrones Featured in Investment Platform China/Germany Publication; Commercial UAV News; September 20, 2019; https://www.microdrones.com/en/content/microdrones-featured-in-investment-platform-china-germany-publication/ Retrieved 2020-03-15
19 Jennings, Ralph; Why Drones Matter So Much for China to Control Disputed Sea?; Voice of America (VOA); November 20, 2019. Retrieved 2020-01-10
23 Global Security; Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs); retrieved 2020-03-01; https://www.globalsecurity.org/ military/world/china/uav.htm
24 Michael S. Chase, Kristen A. Gunness, Lyle J. Morris, Samuel K. Berkowitz, and Benjamin S. Purser III, “Emerging Trends in China’s Development of Unmanned Systems,” RAND Corporation, 2015, https://www. rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/ research_reports/RR900/RR990/RAND_RR990.pdf.
25 Kana, Elsa; The PLA’s Unmanned Aerial Systems – New Capabilities for a “New Era” of Chinese Military Power; China Aerospace Studies Institute, Air University, Montgomery; pdf file downloaded and saved; file:///C:/ Users/David%20Hayward/Desktop/PLAs%20Unmanned%20Aerial%20Systems%20-%20Elsa%20Kania.pdf Retrieved 2020-03-17
26 Andrews, Stephan; Fireworks were invented in China in the 7th century to scare away evil spirits; “The Vintage News”; December 30, 2016; https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/12/30/fireworks-were-invented-in-china-in-the-7th-century-to-scare-away-evil-spirits/ Retrieved 2020-03-02
28 New America; Introduction: How We Became a World of Drones; World of Drones database, Think Tank, Washington, DC, regularly updated; authors unknown; https://www.newamerica.org/international-security/ reports/world-drones/introduction-how-we-became-a-world-of-drones/ Retrieved 2020-03-10
30 Kania, Elsa B.; “Unmanned, Intangible, Silent Warfare” – New Threats and Options for Taiwan; CNAS Research; February 9, 2018; https://www.cnas.org/publications/commentary/unmanned-intangible-silent-warfare-new-threats-and-options-for-taiwan Retrieved 2020-03-19
31 Kania, Elsa B.; The PLA’s Unmanned Aerial Systems New Capabilities for a “New Era” of Chinese Military Power; Air University, 55 Lemay Plaza, Montgomery, AL 36112; pdf file downloaded and saved; file:///C:/Users/David%20Hayward/Desktop/PLAs%20Unmanned%20Aerial%20Systems%20-%20Elsa%2 0Kania.pdf Retrieved 2020-03-19
32 The Council on Foreign Relations; archived report; https://www.cfr.org/about
33 McLaughlin, Andrew; Australian Fighter-Sized UAS Unveiled; published in Australian Aviation; www. Australianaviation.com.au; February 28, 2019; https://australianaviation.com.au/2019/02/australian-fighter-sized-uas-unveiled/ Retrieved 2020-02-04
34 Trevithick, Joseph; Boeing Conducts Flight Test of Surrogate Drones for Australia’s Loyal Wingman Program; posted to The Drive, The War Zone, November 19, 2019; https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/31104/ boeing-conducts-flight-test-of-surrogate-drones-for-australias-loyal-wingman-program Retrieved 2020-02-17
42 Adamowski, Jaroslaw; “Russian Defense Ministry Unveils $9B UAV Program”, Defense News, February, 19. 2014
43 “Russia to Receive Hundreds of New Drones Over Next Decade,” SputnikNews.com, May 18, 2015; http://sputniknews.com/military/20150518/1022267492.html Retrieved 2020-02-25
44 Slaski, Bertrand; “UAVs in Russia – Interview of Denis Fedutinov”; DSI – Défense et Sécurité Internationale; December 9, 2011, http://www.dsi-presse.com/? p=3952 Retrieved 2020-03-02
45 “Russian Army to Receive Corsair Surveillance Drones in Late 2016,” SputnikNews.com, December 25, 2014
46 “Izhevsk Company Supplies Drones to Border Service,” Interfax-AVN, February 1, 2010; and “Russian Border Service Plans to Use Russian-Made Drones,” Interfax-AVN, June 2, 2010
47 Atherton, Kelsey D.; Flock 93 is Russia’s dream of a 100-strong drone swarm for war; November 5, 2019; https://www.c4isrnet.com/unmanned/2019/11/05/flock-93-is-russias-dream-of-a-100-strong-drone-swarm-for-war/ Retrieved 2020-01-15
48 Trevithick, Joseph; Russian Drone “Strike Groups” Jammed And Bombed Air Defenses During Huge Exercise; The Warzone; November 7, 2019; https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/30912/russian-drone-strike-groups-jammed-and-bombed-air-defenses-during-huge-exercise Retrieved 2020-02-13
51 O’Keeffe, Kate; and Page, Jeremy; China Taps Its Private Sector to Boost Its Military, Raising Alarms; The Wall Street Journal; September 25, 2019; https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-taps-its-private-sector-to-boost-its-military-raising-alarms-11569403806 Retrieved 2020-03-15
52 Huang, Alexander Chieh-cheng; Professor, Tamkang University, Taiwan; retrieved 2020-02-13; https:// www.csis.org/people/alexander-c-huang
53 China Power Team; Is China at the forefront of drone technology?; China Power. May 29, 2018. Updated October 11, 2019; Accessed March 15, 2020. https://chinapower.csis.org/china-drones-unmanned-technology/
57 Singh, Shelley; How military drones are becoming deadly weapons across the globe; “The Economic Times”, ET Bureau; September 23, 2019; retrieved 2019-10-05;
60 Nield, David; This Horrifying ‘Slaughterbot’ Video Is The Best Warning Against Autonomous Weapons; Science Alert; 22 November, 2017; https://www.sciencealert.com/chilling-drone-video-shows-a-disturbing-vision-of-an-ai-controlled-future Retrieved 2020-03-16
62 The data was extracted from the “Military Factory” website; except where indicated otherwise; https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=2026 Retrieved 2020-03-01
63 Axe, David; Dark Sword: China’s Mysterious (and ‘Robotic’) Stealth Fighter Has Arrived; “the National Interest; June 8, 2018; https://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/dark-sword-chinas-mysterious-robotic-stealth-fighter-has-26175 Retrieved 2020-03-08
64 Rogoway, Tyler; Image Of China’s Stealthy ‘Dark Sword’ Fighter-Like Combat Drone Emerges; The Drive; The Warzone; June 5, 2018; https://www.thedrive.com/ the-war-zone/21324/image-of-chinas-stealthy-dark-sword-fighter-like-combat-drone-emerges Retrieved 2020-03-09
67 “Beihang Successfully Researches and Develops Our Nation’s First Chang Ying Large Long-Endurance UAV” [北航成功研制我国首款长鹰大型长航时无人机], Sina, September 13, 2011, http://mil.news.sina.com.cn/2011-09-13/1345665189.html Retrieved 2020=03-10
68 “On the National S&T First Prize Two-Time Winning Beihang UAV Team” [记两获国家科 技进步一等奖的北航无人机团队], Beihang University, January 9, 2018, http://webcache. googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:wpnuob7nrssJ:news.buaa.edu.cn/info/1002/42164.htm+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=au Retrieved 2020-01-23
69 Ankit Panda, “South China Sea: China’s Surveillance Drones Make it to Woody Island,” The Diplomat, June 1, 2016, https://thediplomat.com/2016/06/south-china-sea-chinas-surveillance-drones-make-it-towoody-island/ Retrieved 2020-03-12
70 Fox News, “Update 2: New Satellite Imagery Shows Chinese Drone on Woody Island,” May 27, 2016, https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/2016/05/27/update-2-new-satellite-imagery-shows-chinese-droneon-woodyisland/ Retrieved 2019-10-24
71 Military Factory, https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=1378
72 Bucklin, Timothy; China’s WZ-8, The Air-Launched Rocket-Powered UAV; Overt Defense (OVD); reported in Aviation, China Daily News, Drone News; et.al; October 10, 2019; https://www.overtdefense.com/2019/10/10/chinas-wz-8-the-air-launched-rocket-powered-uav/ Retrieved 2019-10-15