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China advances drone warfare with range of high altitude stealth drones for surveillance of South & East China Sea, to suppression of air defence , ground attack and air combat

The Sep  2019 attacks on Saudi Arabia’s crude oil hub at the Abqaiq and Khurais production facilities reveal how drone warfare has progressed in terms of  choosing of targets, precision attack, employment tactics that even a nation with a sophisticated military and a massive defense budget is still vulnerable to drone strikes. China is quickly preparing for the disruptive revolution in the use and employment of robotic and autonomous systems on the future battlefields and  is continuing  to develop new drones which are stealthy, faster, high altitude, long endurance and highly autonomous.


China’s defence strategy, calls for increasing the range of its military forces further from its own coasts through what the Chinese call two island chains, stretching from northeast Asia through the South China Sea. China calls its military strategy of “active defense,” a combination of strategic defense, self-defense, operational and tactical offense, and a willingness to counterattack. Chinese military’s primary aim is to prepare itself to fight “local wars under conditions of informationization”—in other words, regional conflicts in which command, control, communications, intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance (C4ISR) would play major roles. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is actively advancing its unmanned weapons systems, while capitalizing upon the military applications of artificial intelligence, in order to enhance its war-fighting capabilities.


To date, the PLA has incorporated a range of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into its force structure, 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 sophisticated unmanned weapons systems will increase its anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities, while its progress in multiple military applications of artificial intelligence could enable a disruptive operational advantage.


In the immediate future, the probable missions for the PLA’s unmanned weapons systems will include intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); integrated reconnaissance and strike; information operations, especially electronic warfare; data relay, including communications relay and guidance for missiles engaged in over-the-horizon (OTH) targeting; and military operations other than war, such as counterterrorism and border defense. In addition, recent breakthroughs in swarm intelligence (集群智能) could enable “swarm warfare” (集群战) for asymmetric assaults against major U.S. weapons platforms, such as aircraft carriers, writes Elsa B. Kania in Testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.


China is already world’s largest producer of UAVs and is working on taking on a greater share in the military drone segment of the global market, competing against traditional leaders like the US and Israel. China is becoming leading Exporter of Armed Drones, Chinese drones such as the CH-3 and CH-4 have been employed by Chinese air force as well been proliferated to a wide range of Militaries from Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt to Pakistan, Nigeria, and Iraq.


China is  building five models of large-sized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for various military work and applications, Duowei News, a U.S.-based Chinese news resource, said. A research conducted by Duowei has revealed that China is developing multiple UAVs: the CH-7, or Rainbow-7, “Sharp Sword,” a combat drone; the “Soar Dragon,” a high altitude long endurance (HALE) drone; the “Condor” drone series; the “Sky Wing 3”; and the “Long Eagle” HALE drone.


China’s supersonic spy drone was unveiled for the first time during a weekend rehearsal for the National Day military parade on October 2019 , according to photographs circulating on social media. The photos, which have prompted discussion among military enthusiasts, show at least two types of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) – identified as the DR-8 or Wuzhen 8, and the Sharp Sword stealth attack drone.  One  drone to watch at the parade, which will mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, was the Sharp Sword – an attack drone that can carry several missiles or laser-guided bombs.


It  loosely resembles a supersonic UAV that was retired by the US more than four decades ago – the D-21. According to Zhou Chenming, a Beijing-based military commentator, the DR-8 could travel faster than the D-21 – whose maximum speed is Mach 3.3 – letting it penetrate the enemy’s air defences and return intact with intelligence. The DR-8 would be expected to play a key role should there be a conflict with US aircraft carrier strike groups in the South China Sea or Western Pacific. The DR-8 reconnaissance drone has a role in assessing the strike impact of China’s “aircraft carrier killer”, the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, and the DF-26 ballistic missile.  The PLA had been using the drone – which can reach strategic locations as far away as the Western Pacific, including Guam – for some time, according to Shanghai-based military commentator Shi Lao.


China will sell 48 high-end armed drones to its “all-weather ally” Pakistan in what a military observer said will be the largest deal of its kind. Wing Loong II is a high-end reconnaissance, strike and multi-role endurance unmanned aerial system, capable of being fitted with air-to-surface weapons. It is roughly equivalent to the American MQ-9 Reaper drone. The drones will also be jointly manufactured by China and Pakistan, state-run Global Times reported. Last year, China reportedly sold to countries like the UAE and Egypt the Wing Loong II at an estimated USD 1 million per unit, reports said.

 CH-7 China’s Most advanced stealth drone unveiled

The CH-7 is a high-altitude, high-speed, long-endurance stealth drone capable of carrying out a range of missions, from reconnaissance and early warning to air defence suppression, ground attack and air combat. While the CH-7, or Rainbow-7, unmanned aerial vehicle is not yet ready to fly, a full-size model of it is currently on display at the 12th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, also known as Airshow China 2018,


The CH-7 makes China the second country, following the US, to produce high-altitude long-endurance combat UAVs with advanced penetration capabilities, Shi said. Due to its high altitude, high speed, stealth capability and endurance, the CH-7 can conduct many missions under dangerous conditions, including reconnaissance, surveillance, combat support, launching missiles or guiding other weapons to strike high-value targets, Shi noted. Shi noted. “The CH-7 can intercept radar electronic signals, and simultaneously detect, verify and monitor high-value targets, such as hostile command stations, missile launch sites and naval vessels.”


It has a wingspan of 22 metres (72 feet), a length of 10 metres and maximum take-off weight of 13 tonnes, and can stay in flight for 15 hours. It can fly at altitudes of up to 13,000 metres and has a top speed of 919km/h (571mph). As it is low-visibility to radar systems, the drone can also penetrate enemy defences and act as a guide for follow up strikes at high-value targets, its developer said.


The drone is capable of carrying a range of weapons, including anti-radiation missiles, air-to-ground missiles, long-range bombs and anti-ship missiles. All of the weapons are stored within bays to maintain the drone’s stealthy profile. Wang Yongzhi, an aerospace expert familiar with the project, said the capabilities of the CH-7 would be similar to those of the X47B, which was a carrier-based long range stealth combat drone developed for the US navy but later cancelled. “Currently, the CH-7 is a land-based drone but has the potential to be modified so it can be used on board carriers,” he said. The CH-7 is expected to make its maiden flight next year and enter mass production in 2022.


Heavily armed CASC CH-5 ( Rainbow 5 ) UAV  is limited than General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) showcased its latest and most capable armed reconnaissance UAV Designated Cai Hong 5 (Rainbow 5, or CH-5), in Airshow China 2016, held in Zhuhai from 1-6 November. CH5  had its maiden flight in August 2015. The medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) CH-5 features a lightweight all-composite airframe structure that is 11 m long and has a wingspan of 21 m. The air vehicle has a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 3,300 kg and can carry a 1,200 kg payload. With an internal mission bay capacity of 200 kg and the remainder provisioned for underwing stores, it can carry as many as 16 air-to-ground weapons.


Typical  payloads include a chin-mounted EO/IR sensor turret with a high-definition daylight CCD TV camera, a thermal imager as well as a laser rangefinder/designator. Internally carried mission payloads can include a range of electronic warfare (EW) systems, such as radio frequency communication disruptors or signals exploitation equipment, or even additional sensors such as a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) for improved air-to-ground intelligence gathering.


CASC has specified an operating range of up to 250 km via line-of-sight datalink, although this can be extended to 2,000 km when satellite communication (SATCOM) protocols are employed. It is also capable of autonomous flight using pre-programmed waypoint navigation, with taxiing, take-off, and landing manoeuvres also fully automated.


China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) has successfully integrated and launched a new precision guided missile (PGM) on its Cai Hong 5 (Rainbow 5, or CH-5) strike-capable, medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (MALE UAV).  The new 80 kg-class PGM AR-2 – carrying a blast fragmentation warhead – was tested via lock-on before launch (LOBL) targeting protocols from a production-model CH-5 at a launch altitude of 11,482 ft.


Company sources also revealed to Jane’s that the 45 kg-class AR-1 semi-active laser (SAL) anti-armour missile was successfully integrated and certified for delivery aboard the CH-5 .  According to official specifications, the AR-1 employs inertial navigation system (INS) as well as SAL guidance to engage armoured targets or buildings up to 8 km away, with a 10 kg blast fragmentation or penetration warhead travelling at a maximum speed of Mach 1.1. It also features LOBL and lock-on after launch (LOAL) capabilities. Accuracy is claimed to be 1.5 m circular error probable (CEP) when engaging targets at maximum range.


The AR-2 is essentially a lighter and less capable variant of the AR-1, but is more cost-effective and can therefore be expended more readily, saving the heavier missile for higher value targets. It is armed with a 5 kg penetration warhead and operates at similar ranges but travels at a maximum speed of around 700 km/h.


Caihong 5 (CH-5), or Rainbow 5, will be fitted with a new heavy fuel engine, which will increase the endurance and range of the aircraft. According to the chief designer of the CH series, Shi Wen, quoted in Chinese state media, the heavy fuel engine will extend the CH-5’s endurance to 60 hours and its range to over 10,000 kilometers. This constitutes approximately a 20 to 30 percent increase, Shi is quoted as saying. CH-5  330 hp heavy-fuel engine (HFE) that provides it with an operating endurance of up to 60 hours with high reliability, although this can be substituted with a 300 hp gasoline engine that offers up to 39 hours of endurance. Yan added that the HFE option enables the CH-5 to achieve a loiter speed of 180-220 km/h and a maximum speed in excess of 300 km/h, with a service ceiling of 30,000 ft (7,000 m).


A prototype of the new UAV was publicly displayed for the first time in November 2016. Last summer, CASC announced that the drone is ready for mass production. Like previous models of the Rainbow UAV series, the CH-5 is designed for export.

Xianglong, or  (Soar Dragon), high-altitude, long-endurance drone: China’s Global Hawk

After over 10 years of development, China’s Xianglong (Soar Dragon) High-Altitude, Long-Endurance (HALE) aerial drones are about to enter service with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). An unknown number of Xianglong, or Soar Dragon, high-altitude, long-endurance drones have been produced by Guizhou Aviation Industry Group, which is part of the State-owned aircraft maker Aviation Industry Corp of China, according to aviation sources.


According to AirForces Monthly, a British military aviation magazine, Xianglong has a cruise speed of 750 kilometers per hour and a flight range of 7,000 km. Xianglong has an estimated maximum takeoff weight of some 12 tons.It is capable of operating for 10 hours and can fly up to an altitude of 18,000 meters, the magazine said. It is likely to become China’s answer to the United States’ Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, considered to be the most well-known unpiloted surveillance drone in the world.


The wings of the Xianglong are very distinctive, with a swept forward wing behind and higher than the main conventional swept back wing. The tips of the aft wing are joined to the main wing about half-way along its span, creating a highly recognisable diamond shape when viewed from above or below, reports IHS Jane. This increases its flight endurance and high altitude performance by reducing wingtip drag.


“Xianglong’s unique design makes it suitable for long operations at high altitude. Once the drone is commissioned to the military, it will boost the PLA’s long-range reconnaissance capabilities,” said Wang Ya’nan, editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine.The operational Xianglong is likely to be used for maritime surveillance of foreign bases and warships, as part of the anti-access/area denial kill chain.


One source, however, said Xianglong will be armed with missiles and smart bombs. In wartime, Xianglong’s jammers will jam radars of enemy fighters and missiles. “Moreover, the jet is a good platform for electronic warfare operations such as signal intelligence collection and electronic jamming,” he added. Chinese engineers have noted that the Xianglong’s large payload, endurance and range makes it ideal for electronic warfare (EW) missions, both for gathering intelligence on electronic activity, as well as carrying jammers to disrupt enemy radars and datalinks.


New satellite imagery acquired on 04FEB2018 by DigitalGlobe shows that China has deployed the Guizhou Aviation Industry Group (GAIG) Xianglong (Soar Dragon) high altitude long endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to Yishuntun airbase in Jilin province. The platform, identified by its unique box wing design and ‘V’ shaped vertical stabilizers, is often considered China’s answer to the U.S.-built Global Hawk.

Project 973 or Shen Diao (“Divine Eagle”) high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) multi-mission platform

China calls its military strategy of “active defense,” a combination of strategic defense, self-defense, operational and tactical offense, and a willingness to counterattack. Chinese military’s primary aim is to prepare itself to fight “local wars under conditions of informationization”—in other words, regional conflicts in which command, control, communications, intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance (C4ISR) would play major roles.


China has unveiled its latest platform for C4ISR, Shenyang Aircraft Corporation’s Project 973 or Shen Diao (“Divine Eagle”) prototype. This new large twin-fuselage turbofan-powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) could serve as a new high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) multi-mission platform for conducting surveillance, cuing, and communication missions. The latest Divine Eagle iteration is less stealthy, having two satellite communications domes, completely vertical tails and an exposed engine intake.


Popular Science describes the Eagle at about 6 meters tall, and 15 meters long (since most high altitude large UAVs have a wingspan to body length ratio of 2.5:1 to 3:1, the wingspan of the Divine Eagle is likely its be 35 to 45 meters across). With a maximum take off weight of at least 15 tons, the Divine Eagle is the world’s largest UAV, edging out the RQ-4 Global Hawk.



Chengdu Aircraft Corp Tian Yi

China’s Chengdu Aircraft Corp. had earlier unveiled its latest iteration of the Tian Yi, high-altitude, long-endurance drone that could have stealth capabilities.
The new modified version is about the same size as the original Tian Yi, but has a redesigned fuselage. The most prominent difference is a wider empennage that incorporates two smaller turbofan engines plus a wider air intake. These modifications are most likely intended to suppress the UAV’s infrared signature, which would stand out against in high cruise altitudes, according to IHS Jane’s 360.


China’s Sharp Sword (Lijian) Unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV)

The Sharp Sword is the first non-NATO stealthy unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV). Duowei said that the Sharp Sword, a variation of the AVIC 601-S series, was being jointly developed by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, Shenyang Aerospace University and Hongdu Aviation Industry Group. Its engine is a non after burning  WS-13 turbofan engine, with serpentine inlet to hide the engine from enemy radars. The drone has  length of about 33 feet, and a wingspan of about 46 feet.


Looking a bit like a mini-B-2 flying wing bomber, the UCAV has two internal bomb bays and a likely payload of about 4,400 pounds. Stealthy UCAVs have a number of advantages over their manned counterparts: Freed from the constraints of accommodating pilot,  they can carry more payload onto a same airframe, and have much longer ranges.


Similar to the U.S. X-47B UAV developed by Northrop Grumman, the Sharp Sword is made from tungsten and other composite materials and has strong stealth and combat capabilities. The research said that the drone can be used for long-range reconnaissance, but can also be deployed for military missions, such as combat, rescue operations and anti-piracy and anti-terrorism missions.


The drone had a 20-minute maiden flight in southwestern China in Nov. 2013.  According to Internet reports  a second, even stealthier Sharp Sword began flying last year (with a stealthy engine). If flight testing with the prototypes goes as well as the initial flight tests did with the first airframe, the Sharp Sword could enter service as early as 2019-2020

 The “Shendiao” of No. 601 Research Institute

China has developed – a high altitude, long-range, anti-stealth drone- the “Shendiao” a double-fuselage drone that will give the People’s Liberation Army long-range surveillance and strike capabilities.

According to a book titled Going Straight Forward: China needed to develop small multifunctional cheap early warning aircraft that are connected to a network and easy to use, as China was lacking in this area.

The Shendiao is an ideal drone to serve as radar sensors for a manned early warning aircraft. A group of Shendiaos can form a multi-based radar system, operating with a manned early warning aircraft.
No. 601 Research Institute has achieved this goal, and has developed an experimental “Shendiao” drone based on the international cooperation.


Northrop Grumman RQ-180

Northrop Grumman, funded through the Air Force’s classified budget has developed a new stealth drone RQ-180, that flies higher (60,000 feet) and has longer endurance of up to 100 hours through in-flight refueling for long-range reconnaissance missions. It is expected that the RQ-180 will be able to fly at speeds up to Mach 3.

RQ-180 has a flying wing design with approximately 130-foot-wingspan, similar in shape and size to the B-2 stealth bomber, another Northrop project. The lack of vertical stabilizers features makes the configuration inherently unstable, so the craft have to adjust continuously via wing-mounted control surfaces.

However longer wingspan allows engineers to place control surfaces farther out on the wing, where smaller adjustments are required to move the plane. This, in turn, means that the control surfaces can be much smaller, so they won’t catch radar, said Eric Adams in January 2015 issue of Popular Science.

The drone cane be manually controlled or sent on preprogrammed routes. RQ-180 is fit with the automatic launch and recovery system (ALR) which enables her to land in without crashing if the command connection between the ground station and the drone fails.

The plane is equipped with active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and passive electronic surveillance measures, and believed to be capable of electronic attack missions, as reported by Aviation week.

“The RQ-180 is a major step toward combining endurance and survivability in a high-end unmanned aerial vehicle. In addition to reconnaissance, it will . . . execute electronic attacks and penetrate well-defended areas where nonstealthy craft are problematic.” Said Loren Thompson, military analyst at the Lexington Institute

Speaking at an aerospace industry event in Virginia on June 9, Air Force surveillance chief Lt. Gen. Bob Otto said the RQ-180 would give the Pentagon “better access to contested airspace,”
The RQ-180 is expected to enter operation in 2015, and will be a joint tool for both the US Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency, says Aviation Week.




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