The Chinese were keen to display their latest unmanned aircraft although, predictably, there was very little information forthcoming on the level of development for each programme.
Perhaps, that has something to do with the fact that some models look like alien spaceships. Others look like suspiciously blatant copies of western unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). All claims about their capability, planned or actual, must be taken with a pinch of salt.
Nonetheless, these offer an interesting glimpse into the Chinese thinking of what they may need 20-30 years from now. It is far too easy to dismiss their attempts to get around the US and European arms embargo and develop indigenous weapons and aircraft. With the Russians and some other unidentified countries with access to western technology reportedly helping, the Chinese are making headway.
There is a growing acceptance among observers, albeit somewhat grudgingly by some, that the Chinese military production industry is growing more competent. A good example is the Chengdu J-10 fighter, which was on flying and static display in Zhuhai. How much of a threat that represents to the west is still moot.
The following photographs should offer an interesting glimpse into what the Chinese have in mind for the future of military aviation. The Shenyang Aircraft Design & Research Institute, which is responsible for almost all Chinese unmanned military aircraft programmes, is also in-charge of most of these aircraft.
China provided the most information about the Wing Loong, which they say came into development in May 2005, had its first flight in October 2007, and is scheduled to finish a performance and mission payload flight test this year. The UAV is primarily for reconnaissance missions.
This medium-to-low altitude UAV has a 100hp piston engine, is fully autonomous flight capable, and can carry day-and-night electro-optical reconnaissance payload or laser designators. The maximum flight speed is 240km/h, it has an operating ceiling of 5,000m, endurance of 20h, maximum take-off weight of 1,150kg, and mission payload capability of 200kg.
The Chinese say that this is a special unmanned strategic reconnaissance UAV, which will be deployed on wide-range long-duration surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence acquisition missions. They add that it will be an important part of the C4KISR mission system.
This is a planned unmanned attack aircraft. The Chinese say that its main missions are to suppress or destroy air defences (SEAD/DEAD), deep strike, battlefield reconnaissance at highly threatened areas, and time sensitive target strikes.
Shenyang says that it has made "extensive exploratory works" into this UCAV programme, with the company adding that "high manoeuvrability" is one of the key targets with the Hidden Sword.
As for those who were looking for models of a different kind, and for an added incentive to visit the show in 2010, here are two pictures of those on display at Airshow China!