New drone to beef up PLA aerial skills

Air­craft is said to have cruise speed of 750 km/h and range of 7,000 km

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By ZHAO LEI zhaolei@chi­

The Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army will soon have an un­usu­ally shaped drone, which is ex­pected to strengthen the Chi­nese mil­i­tary’s aerial re­con­nais­sance ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

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.

The air­craft is be­lieved to be un­der­go­ing test­ing and is ex­pected to be de­liv­ered to the PLA soon, sources said, adding that it is likely to be­come China’s answer to the United States’ Northrop Grum­man RQ-4 Global Hawk, con­sid­ered to be the most well­known un­piloted sur­veil­lance drone in the world.

With an in­no­va­tive “joined tan­dem wing” de­sign, the drone’s con­fig­u­ra­tion is dif­fer­ent from all other Chi­nese manned and un­manned planes — it has a con­ven­tional swept wing joined with a for­ward swept wing, which makes it look like a tra­di­tional Chi­nese kite.

In ac­cor­dance with Chi­nese reg­u­la­tions, Guizhou Avi­a­tion In­dus­try Group has not, and will not, re­veal char­ac­ter­is­tics of the drone.

How­ever, AirForces Monthly, a British mil­i­tary avi­a­tion mag­a­zine, said Xian­g­long has a cruise speed of 750 kilo­me­ters per hour and a flight range of 7,000 km. It is ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing for 10 hours and can fly up to an al­ti­tude of 18,000 me­ters, the mag­a­zine said.

Xian­g­long was un­veiled in 2006 at an air show in China, but later dis­ap­peared from pub­lic view un­til 2011 when a pro­to­type was seen at an airport run by the Avi­a­tion In­dus­try Corp of China. coun­tries

in­clud­ing Iraq, Saudi Ara­bia and Kaza­khstan, have ben­e­fited from China’s drone tech­nol­ogy ad­vances.

No other news on the drone’s de­vel­op­ment has been leaked since then, and whether it has con­ducted its first flight re­mains un­known.

How­ever, since July, spec­u­la­tion about the mass pro­duc­tion of Xian­g­long started to cir­cu­late on Chi­nese de­fense tech­nol­ogy web­sites af­ter Guizhou Avi­a­tion In­dus­try Group pub­lished a photo of one of its man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties on the in­ter­net, with two yel­low Xian­g­long mod­els in a cor­ner of the picture, lead­ing ob­servers to dis­cuss whether the in­clu­sion was in­ten­tional.

“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 lon­grange re­con­nais­sance ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” said Wang Ya’nan, editor-in-chief of Aero­space Knowl­edge mag­a­zine.

“More­over, the jet is a good plat­form for elec­tronic war­fare op­er­a­tions such as sig­nal in­tel­li­gence col­lec­tion and elec­tronic jam­ming,” he added.

The PLA has be­come a big user of un­manned air­craft thanks to the rapid de­vel­op­ment of the drone in­dus­try in China. The mil­i­tary showed three types of un­piloted, fixed­wing planes at the most re­cent pa­rade in Septem­ber last year. It is also said to have de­ployed sev­eral other mod­els.

Ad­vances in the na­tion’s drone tech­nol­ogy have also ben­e­fit­ted at least 10 for­eign coun­tries, in­clud­ing Iraq, Saudi Ara­bia and Kaza­khstan, with for­eign me­dia re­port­ing such coun­tries have bought and de­ployed Chi­nese mil­i­tary drones.

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