China is developing at least five models of large-sized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), reports Duowei News, a US-based Chinese political news outlet.
Based on Duowei’s research, China is currently developing the “Sharp Sword” combat UAV, the “Soar Dragon” high altitude long endurance (HALE) UAV, the “Condor” drone series, the “Sky Wing 3” UAV and the “Long Eagle” HALE drone.
Condor – Shendiao drone
The Shendiao is a double-fuselage drone, developed by China, and will give the People’s Liberation Army long-range surveillance and strike capabilities. It is larger than the U.S Air Force’s Global Hawk long-range surveillance drone.
There is no information about the drone except in a book titled Going Straight Forward: Aircraft Design Specialist Li Ming, which mentions Li Ming vigorously promoting cooperation with foreigners related to a high altitude anti-stealth drone.
According to the book, 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, also called the Condor, is a HALE anti-stealth drone which is said to have a higher performance level and better operational capabilities than America’s RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV. With a greater wingspan, the Condor can reportedly fly at a height of 25 km and a speed of Mach 0.8. Additionally, it has a takeoff load of 15-20 tons, meaning it can carry a radar that works at both X and UHF wavebands, offering both accurate fire control information and stealth detection.
The dual-hull drone Condor, with a length of 25 meters and wingspan of 50 meters, is said to have vastly boosted China’s ability to strike US warships, airfields and other land-based targets with long-range weapons, and will make it difficult for the US to attack China with strategic bombers due to its anti-stealth capabilities.
Drawing of the Condor drone
China drone chart and the evolution from manned planes
The Sharp Sword is a variation of the AVIC 601-S series being jointly developed by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, Shenyang Aerospace University and Hongdu Aviation Industry Group. The drone, which is powered by a Russian RD-93 turbofan engine has a wingspan of 14 meters, conducted a 20-minute maiden flight in southwestern China in November 2013.
The Sharp Sword is considered similar to the US X-47B UAV developed by Northrop Grumman in that it has strong stealth and combat capabilities. Made from tungsten and other composite materials, the Sharp Swords’ main mission is long-range reconnaisance, but can also be deployed for combat, rescue and anti-piracy and anti-terrorism missions.
The Soar Dragon HALE UAV is designed by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG) and constructed by Guizhou Aircraft Industry Corporation. Featuring an unusual joined, tandem wingplan, the drone has surveillance, reconnaisance and intelligence collection capabilities. It was first unveiled in June 2011 and has been undergoing radar cross section and other electromagnetic tests in anticipation of flight testing, which some believe may have already taken place.
The primary purpose of the Soar Dragon is expected to be aerial reconnaissance, though it is also expected to be fitted with sensors suitable for designating naval vessels for targeting by anti-ship ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. The drone has a length of 14.3 meters, a wingspan of 25 m, a height of 5.4 m and a takeoff weight of 7,500 kilograms. It is fitted with a Guizhou WP-13 turbojet engine, allowing for a cruise speed of 750 km per hour, a range of 7,000 km, endurance of 10 hours and a service ceiling of 18,000 m.
Sky Wing III
The Sky Wing III is part of a series of UAVs developed by CAIG and is regarded as a smaller version of the US General Atomics Avenger drone. CAIG recently revealed an upgraded version of the drone, which appears to have more powerful engines that have an estimated thrust of 1.6 tons to 2.0 tons. The dimensions of the UAV remain the same, with a length of 8.9 m, a wingspan of 19 m and a height of 3.5 m. The drone’s maximum takeoff weight is nine tons.
With a stealthier airframe and more powerful engines, the new Sky Wing III is reportedly more survivable and may potentially carry more weapons than existing Chinese attack drones.
Long Eagle Hale Drone
The Long Eagle HALE drone is designed by the UAV Design and Research Institute of Beihang University. The program is said to have commenced in 2000, with a maiden flight conducted around 2004. However, the existence of the program was not officially confirmed by Chinese authorities until 2008. It is believed that the program completed around 2011 but very little information about the UAV have been revealed to the public due to alleged sensitivity surrounding its strategic capabilties.
China’s largest ever UAV, the secretive Divine Eagle. Compared to other Chinese aviation projects like the J-20 stealth fighter and Y-20 heavy transport aircraft, the lack of publicly available photos of the Divine Eagle suggests that like the American RQ-180, this giant drone is a strategic and sensitive asset.
Divine eagle drone
SOURCES- Want China Times, Popular Science, Wikipedia, Pictures from around Internet, China Daily Mail