Chinese Mimic U.S. Design
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — China, which is still far behind the United States in UAV capabilities, appears to be busy copying U.S. designs and conducting espionage to secure unmanned technologies.
“In the last decade, China has invested considerable resources to build what is now a large, varied and innovative unmanned systems sector,” said Richard Fisher, senior fellow, Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center.
Sneak peaks of Chinese UAV models and displays at the biennial Zhuhai Airshow illustrate a growing interest in UAVs and an obvious effort to copy U.S. designs. China’s copycat tradition goes back to the 1960s.
Recovered U.S. AQM-34N Firebee drones lost over China and North Vietnam led to the production of the WZ5 Chang Hong, which ironically may have seen service during China’s 1979 invasion of Vietnam.
Fisher said China’s UAV sector is now developing reciprocal and turbine engine-powered UAVs in three configurations: high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE); medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE); and unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV).
“China’s UAV sector includes the formal large aircraft companies, new upstart UAV-specific companies, along with contributions from cruise missile companies, plus more longstanding contributions from the major Chinese aerospace universities,” Fisher said.
China appears to be modeling three UAVs on the same V-tail configuration of the U.S.-made RQ-4 Global Hawk: the Chengdu Aircraft Corp.’s Xianglong (Sour Dragon) UAV and Yilong UAV, and the Guizhou Aviation Industry Group’s WZ-2000 UAV.
One mystery is why the plethora of UAV models on display at Zhuhai do not go into production, said Andrei Chang, a Chinese military analyst with the Kanwa Information Center in Toronto. China is having difficulty mastering the technical complexity of operating UAVs in real time, he said.
“The companies displaying these are probably trying to elicit foreign investment and probably do not have an actual prototype,” Chang said.
At the 2008 Zhuhai show, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. displayed a model of the CH3 MALE UCAV. The aircraft has a canard airframe design with the tailplane ahead of the main wing.
At the 2006 Zhuhai show, the Shenyang Aircraft Co. unveiled the delta-shaped Anjian (Dark Sword) stealth supersonic UCAV concept. The sophistication of the Anjian could be out of China’s reach for the moment, but it represents a vision of China’s potential, Fisher said.
There are indications China wants to develop a radar and communications jammer UAV system called the SW-6 by the China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp. (CPMIE).
At the 2009 Paris Air Show, CPMIE brochures included an artist’s conception of the SW-6 engaging a U.S. aircraft carrier group, Chang said. After a J-10 fighter aircraft launches the SW-6, the UAV disables the carrier’s air defense radar and communications, allowing for a follow-on attack by J-10s carrying anti-ship missiles.
Chang said the SW-6 is most likely only a research concept, but the effort appears to be part of China’s “antiaccess” strategy designed to stop U.S. aircraft carrier groups from coming to the aid of Taiwan during a war.
China also has an unknown number of Israeli Harpy anti-radar UAVs procured in 1994. The United States blocked efforts by China to upgrade some of the Harpys in 2004 and pressured Israel to forgo further sales.