Between 40 and 50 unmanned air vehicle models were on display at Airshow China in Zhuhai in mid-November, including fixed- and rotary-wing designs. While most of the systems appear to be aimed at intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance applications, several were depicted carrying missiles.
Among the more notable armed mock-ups were those on view at the stands of AVIC and the China Aerospace and Science Corporation (COSIC). However, with officials from both organisations unavailable to comment on the projects, their stage of development - or deployment - is uncertain.
AVIC's Pterodactyl (below) appears to be all but identical to the General Atomics Predator A, complete with a V tail, a large nose with an under-slung sensor dome and two missiles similar to Lockheed Martin's AGM-114 Hellfire. AVIC says the design has "medium to long endurance," but fails to provide specifics.
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Perhaps the most visually striking armed UAV on show was COSIC's CH-3, which has its wings mounted toward the rear of its fuselage and large forward canards with control surfaces. Data displayed by the company claims a maximum take-off weight of 640kg (1,410lb), a top speed of 220kt (407km/h) and an endurance of 12h, with a communications radius of 108nm (200km). The CH-3 (below) can also carry two precision-guided air-to-surface weapons.
COSIC also exhibited a larger design with what appeared to be anti-ship missiles, with the system potentially similar to the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk.
A diagram showed the WJ-600 (above) scanning a large area of ocean and providing a data nexus for weapons platforms including aircraft, ships, submarines and shore-based missile batteries. The UAV was also depicted destroying a helicopter and a ground target with its missiles.
Elsewhere, ASN Technology displayed a model of its ASN-229A armed UAV, with this also carrying two Hellfire-type weapons. The design has a bulbous nose, under-fuselage sensor dome and a twin-tail configuration.
The display model (above) featured a skid landing gear, but the type could also be launched with a rocket booster and recovered by parachute. ASN says the design has a maximum take-off weight of 800kg including a 100kg mission payload, and a mission endurance of 20h. The company, which claims to produce 90% of China's UAVs, says the model is close to entering service.
"The ASN-229A is still in its testing phase, but we expect it to be ready by the end of next year," says an industry source, who adds: "China is investing significant resources in its UAV programmes."
Further evidence of the nation's interest in unmanned systems was widespread, with several designs bearing a close resemblance to Western and Israeli designs. These included COSIC's 6.5kg hand-launched CH-802, reminiscent of AeroVironment's legacy Pointer, and AVIC's Night Eagle (below), which shares common design features with the Australian-developed Aerosonde series.
In the rotorcraft sector, an unmanned development named the V750 was on show (above). With a rotor diameter of 7.24m (23.7ft), this has a 750kg maximum take-off weight including an 80kg mission payload and a reported service ceiling of 9,840ft.
Also on display was a V-tailed non-military design dubbed the SL-200. This was shown with three smoke pipes installed under each wing (above), with these intended to generate artificial precipitation. Exhibit material says the 180kg design could be flown to an altitude of 19,700ft.
Additional reporting by Craig Hoyle in London
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